Part of the Lauren Bacall Blogathan hosted by In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood
My first movie with Humphrey Bogart was The African Queen and I distinctly remember disliking him. Of course, I was only about 13 at the time, and he seemed like a rough and tumble bully. Fortunately for me, I decided to rewatch The African Queen several years later and liked it so much better the 2nd time around. If I hadn't tried it again, there's a good chance I would never have given Bogart another look, which means I would have never watched Key Largo, and never met Lauren Bacall.
Ahh, Key Largo. The name alone is synonymous with all the best that film noir had to offer its audience. Intense plot, dramatic lighting and shadows, and stunning characters of every description, from the hero Frank McCloud (Bogart) to the villain of Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson). And of course, Nora Temple, played by the estimable Lauren Bacall. A war widow, her character watches over her father-in-law, James Temple, handicapped and the owner of the Largo Hotel in the Florida Keys. When Frank McCloud pays them a mercy visit to tell them stories about the bravery and heroics of Nora's deceased husband, he never imagined for one single moment that he would be walking into one of the most hellish nights of his life, and that's saying a lot considering he's a soldier.
I'm confessing right now that my knowledge of Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart as people is nill. I go out of my way to avoid knowing about the personal lives of actors that I like, mostly because I don't want to let any negative behaviors on their part influence my opinion of them. I've never looked at Errol Flynn the same way since I discovered what a louse and a cad he was in Hollywood, and so I don't want the same thing to happen with Bacall and Bogart. So I can only say what I observe, and that is how much I love in Key Largo.
I don't know why, but I had always assumed that Humphrey Bogart was a stiff actor, when in fact, the opposite is true. His micro expressions bring his performances to life in any and all of his roles, but I do believe Key Largo to be one of his best films, at least the best of the ones I've seen. Part of that, of course, is just Bogie being Bogie, but part of it simply the charisma that infuses any scene in which Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart shared space. I'm not sure if they knew it or not, but their chemistry is almost unrivaled in film noir, at least for me.
They don't have to say anything, looks are enough. Nora Temple and Frank McCloud have entire conversations in just a glance. Little things like when he lays his hand on her head when she's weary and afraid, or gently pressing her face against his side when she's afraid, or the myriad of emotions that rampage across his face when she's being manhandled by Johnny Rocco (a fairly unnerving scene, if I may say).
There is something powerful in the pairing of these two actors. Film noir is a mighty genre on its own, but throw in a cast like in Key Largo, and you're left with a masterpiece. Not just the two leads, but Lionel Barrymore himself adds an extra dimension and quality to the film. If I were to recommend any film noir from the 1940s, it would be hands-down Key Largo. This one really is an absolute must-see, not just if you're a Bogart and Bacall fan, but for any fan of the genre. Although how you could possibly claim to love film noir and have not seen Key Largo is beyond me. It's a real, genuine winner, not just for plot, but for the sizzling tension between its lead stars, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.