Hold on to your fedoras, there’s gonna be a big blow! The Humphrey Bogart Film Festival is coming home…. “Home being Key Largo,” naturally. It’s May 2-5 in Key Largo, Florida. The Festival is hosted by one Stephen Bogart, Bogey and Bacall’s son and a frequent keeper of the flame as regards both their legacies. He’s reportedly named after his father’s character in To Have and Have Not, the first of the four films Stephen’s parents starred in together. (The others were Dark Passage, The Big Sleep, and — of course — Key Largo.)
We hope you’ll agree there’s a lot to like about our Humphrey Bogart Film Festival in Key Largo. It’s hard to pick a favorite element, but being able to take a ride on the real African Queen has to rank right up there. Here is a photo of Stephen Bogart taking the first ride after the boat was fully restored.
Let’s not forget, incidentally, that the book on which The African Queen‘s great James Agee/John Huston script was based was written by another of my favorite historical figures, the great C.S. Forester, author of the magnificent Horatio Hornblower series as well as many fiction and nonfiction books about seafaring men. One was Sink the Bismarck!, which I read well before I knew who C.S. Forester was. It was a defining book of my early childhood. (I believe it’s still known as The Last Nine Days in the Bismarck or Hunt the Bismarck in the UK, and was made into a tolerably good film in 1960.)
And while we’re at it, if you haven’t seen the 1948 film Key Largo, which inspired the festival’s location, you are missing out on a hell of a movie featuring three of the greatest performances in American film history (Bogart’s, Bacall’s, and Edward G. Robinson’s). Lionel Barrymore is also fantastic in this flick. You can also see the brief appearance of Jay Silverheels, who would later play Tonto to Clayton Moore’s The Lone Ranger, as one of the Native Americans wrongly accused of a crime in Key Largo. (Silverheels, incidentally, was also a poet, writing about his experience in First Nations communities.)
Far more than just a great crime movie (which it is), Key Largo is one of the films in American history that walks that line between crime thriller and closet drama without falling prey to the shortcomings of either genre. It is a study in great scripts and great performances. Key Largo was based on a Maxwell Anderson play in which the Native Americans were Mexican banditos and the war of which the main character is a veteran is not World War II, but the Spanish Civil War, which will remind any dedicated Bogeyhead of Casablanca, where Rick Blaine was (allegedly) a Spanish Civil War veteran…or, at least (allegedly) a gun-runner.
Sadly, Key Largo is not available as Netflix Instant View, or I think I’d watch it right now. In fact, none of Bogey and Bacall’s collaborations can be found instant-viewable on Netflix. But The African Queen can be found there, and on Amazon you can instant-view The Big Sleep, Dark Passage, and To Have and Have Not, as well as The African Queen and Casablanca. But not Key Largo, my very favorite of the batch. Bummer. If you want to see it, resort to DVD — it’s more than worth it.