By 1948, John Huston had honed his craft. This may not be as highly-esteemed a movie as The Maltese Falcon, but it has several dimensions more depth. The whole thing is a situation (meant in the philosophical sense). It reminds me most of Hitchcock’s minor masterpiece Lifeboat. There is also a bit of Rope in this film which never leaves the Hotel Largo once all the major players are inside (save for the end which, like Lifeboat, takes us into the wine-dark sea).
There is something of Frank Capra in the touching scene where Bogie relates the death of the hotel patron’s son in the recently-ended war (a bit like Meet John Doe in the whole tone of it). Perhaps, however, a more accurate comparison is to the heart-wrenching tenor of Anatole Litvak’s Out of the Fog. It is interesting how Huston sets up Bogart’s character to be a hero, but surprises await.
Edward G. Robinson’s emergence from the bathtub is such an iconic film moment…smoking that cigar, a glass of brandy (perhaps) on the tub’s edge…a man worried about nothing…slipping into his silk bathrobe. Robinson is fantastic as the cruel Johnny Rocco…most of all because Robinson’s depiction has such depth. This is, after all, a man who we will shortly see is afraid of storms (to his credit, it is a proper hurricane).
This whole film is (for most of the movie) a very strange role for Bogart. It is as if he were being thrust back into the days when he had to play second fiddle to actors like Robinson. The beautiful Lauren Bacall loses faith in Bogart’s character as he not only seems to cower, but also contradicts the idealism of her father-in-law (the father of her dead husband…a genuine war hero).
It is no wonder Claire Trevor won the Oscar for best supporting actress for her work in this film. When her alcoholic character is baited into singing a song from her long-gone heyday we are again gifted a one-of-a-kind film moment: a pathetic has-been warbling out of pitch and just wanting a couple fingers of scotch. It is, strangely enough, this point at which Bogart regains his cajones and pours the drink which Robinson would withhold on account of her shabby performance. Bacall regains her faith and apologizes to Bogie.
I don’t want to spoil the ending. [Now ain’t I nice?] This is a must-see film and it only further adds to the Bogart legend which has been built upon his performances in more well-known films. Sail on Bogie!