William Holden (Sunset Boulevard) plays a WWII tugboat captain whose job consists of assisting gunned down ships. The job gradually starts affecting him.
Reaction & Thoughts:
“In this work, one must learn how to live with fear.”
Bleak, depressing World War II drama does a fantastic job depicting the stress of battle. The Key also presents in vivid detail how war leads to despondency in soldiers and their loved ones, a real and very serious problem that is often overlooked.
Writer/producer Carl Foreman (High Noon, The Guns of Navarone and Born Free) wrote the screenplay. The Key was Forman’s first credited job after being blacklisted in America for refusing to name names before the House Un-American Activities Committee. The screenplay was based on the 1951 novel Stella by Jan de Hartog.
Characters and situations are adequately fleshed out and developed by Foreman. The Key also benefits from director Carol Reed’s (The Third Man) stylish direction. Reed does get a little carried away with dutch angles, but I thought the movie was extremely well-made. Oswald Morris’s (Oliver!) atmospheric cinematography and Malcolm Arnold’s (The Bridge on the River Kwai) moody music score are big pluses.
William Holden is superb as an American soldier serving in the Royal Canadian Navy struggling with an emotionally draining job. Holden vividly conveys the idea of a man worn down by war’s cruelties. Sophia Loren (Two Women) is also great as a Swiss-Italian woman who has a strange arrangement with tugboat Captains. Loren’s excellent performance adds extra dimensions to the overly downbeat storyline.
Rounding out the cast of excellent actors are Trevor Howard (David Lean’s Brief Encounter) as Holden’s pal and Loren’s lover, Bernard Lee (“M” in the James Bond franchise) as a man in charge of a salvage unit and Oskar Homolka (Hitchcock’s Sabotage) as a tugboat Captain. Director/actor Bryan Forbes (Séance on a Wet Afternoon and The Stepford Wives) plays Weaver, a crew member on a tugboat.
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
The Key is polished, gritty and very suspenseful. While I didn’t like the ending (apparently two endings were shot, but the darker conclusion preferred by director Carol Reed was rejected by U.S. distributors), this is still an engrossing, surprisingly intelligent war drama about little-discussed WWII operations. It’s a must-see movie for fans of Holden, Loren and/or director Reed. B&W, 134 minutes, Not Rated.