Key Largo (1948) directed by John Huston

It's the old razzle dazzle and a bag full of chemistry. Time for some Bogey & Bacall. Yes, it's in many ways obvious but it's always a pleasure and a guarantee of quality. Lauren Bacall's passing was overshadowed by Robin William's suicide, which was unfortunate in the sense that we maybe didn't give due credit to one of the most iconic, attitude laced actors to ever grace the screen. Everyone should remember Bacall asking Bogart if he can whistle in To Have And Have Not and they certainly would recall the more than racey dialogue the then real life couple would have shared in The Big Sleep. Bogart and Bacall made four films together, the odd Dark Passage and the mean Key Largo complete the quartet.

Key Largo suffers from a staginess (90% of the movie pretty much happens in two different hotel interiors), but after that slight complaint, it's nothing but gold. Bogart plays the kind of stoic, no messing war hero that only he could muster, Bacall's role is very different here (showing her first signs of diversity as an actress). She's a war-widow, not the usual sassy, tough talking type with an answer to every question. With a great ensemble cast, Edward G Robinson plays the villain of the piece, an evil self obsessed gangster, who'll entertain any levels of cruelty to get what he wants.

And this is where Key Largo mostly works, a claustrophobic tension permeates the picture, where good guys are forced to show weaknesses, because hey, we're all human. The film openly flirts with an immoral cruelty, which still packs a punch. Bogart and Robinson jostle with each other's minds, whilst director John Huston ultimately reminds us that he was making this gritty kind of noir right from the start. As for Lauren B? She's just so classy.

In honour of Lauren Bacall, we decided to view one of her films when we heard she had passed.
We didn't choose any of the most famous classics, but a 1940s Bogart-and-Bacall one anyway. Key Largo has a haunting aggression about it. It never totally erupts, but almost everyone in the movie, we sense, is capable of real hurting. There is also an oppressive hopelessness in the film, something that I have rarely seen in an old movie. There are no jokes, just serious thoughts and attitude. Also, there is really no romance, although there certainly is an electricity between the characters that Bogart and Bacall play.

Key Largo is very much a play, nearly all set inside a house during a hurricane. It's almost like an essay on the lack of moral in individuals and in bigger structures. Lauren Bacall is not the main character here but she represents morality and high-mindedness. She offers motivation for choosing good over evil. Humphrey Bogart is the star of the film. His war-veteran-lost-in-real-life plays out the internal battle of choosing between altruism and egoism. He's an old-school-hero. No need for capes, huge muscles, sex scenes or even poetry.

This movie barks and bites. It is gritty, angry and sometimes a little bit boring. In those boring moments I took delight in the visuals. White shirts play a crucial part in the movie. Both Bacall and Bogart are sporting an outfit of white shirts and tight belts. Bacall is strapping her flowing mid-calf skirt while Bogart belts his classic baggy suit trousers. Both tug their shirt hemps tightly in. Bogie's and Bacall's outfits are basically identical, which helps to tie these characters together. A white shirt is a classic wardrobe staple, which I regretfully do not own. Every time I try on a white shirt it just doesn't seem doesn't seem to create an instant air of sophistication and class, as it should. Still, watching Key Largo has made me reconsider my position on having a white shirt in my closet.


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