Key Largo ★★★

FILM SCHOOL DROPOUT: A 2017 year-long movie challenge
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Week 11: Film Noir

Hey, what's this bullshit? A film noir with clear, unambiguous good guys and bad guys? Boooooo! BOOOOOOOO!!! That was my reaction when watching John Huston's 1948 Key Largo, which to be clear is still a well-done film full of interesting stylistic touches (just to begin with, this might be the first-ever crime film to be set in Florida, establishing a reputation for sleaze that this state has never entirely been able to shake off since). Based on a pre-war stage play by famed leftist socialist Maxwell Anderson, but cleaned up and modernized for an increasingly conservative post-war audience, it's still worth watching for the extraordinary cast on display, including Humphrey Bogart as a decorated war hero now visiting a small fishing resort in the Florida Keys as a final promise to a dead colleague; his then-wife Lauren Bacall as this dead colleague's widow; Lionel Barrymore as the colleague's father and owner of the resort; and Edward G. Robinson as a thinly veiled Al Capone, whose cronies and he are hiding out at the resort so to meet up that night with a boat full of Cuban gangsters and exchange a bag full of counterfeit money.

But that setup alone tells you everything you need to know about this movie's problems; for instead of the murky moral gray zones of film noirs made during the actual war, this is more a premonition of the "rah-rah USA" Eisenhower times just around the corner, a movie that always makes it patently clear who you're supposed to be rooting for and who you're supposed to be hissing like a mustache-twirling Victorian villain. Robinson's character is especially egregious when it comes to this, given two hours of lines that essentially all add up to endless variations of, "Prohibition may have been repealed, BUT GANGSTERS WILL NEVER DIE!" Spoiler alert: they do, especially at the hands of decorated war heroes, which makes this not exactly a terrible film but certainly far from a typical definition of noir. Still worth watching for its visual flair, the pitbull antics of Robinson, and c'mon, it's Bogart and Bacall, and it may just be a federal felony to give a bad review to those two under any circumstances whatsoever; but be warned, sister, The Maltese Falcon this ain't.

Tomorrow, Film Noir Week here at Letterboxd continues, with my look at 1948's The Naked City, notable for being shot in a Weegee-inspired Italian Neo-Realist style on the actual streets of New York City.

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