The Humphrey Bogart Film Festival takes its pistache from the idea of the titular angle of the famous actor and placing it in a location that many people associate with him which is Key Largo. An interesting part of the legend is that the key was actually named Rock Harbour and was changed because the place became so known for the Bogie & Bacall perception.
Founded by Stephen Bogart, the only son of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, it is a way to honor the legend by showing a diverse collection of his films while integrating a certain theme and films that might have a direct correlation to their meaning.
The theme this year was romance and, by extension, the three films seen by this critic reflected a cross section of what within the Bogie and Bacalll romance dictated the connection. The first film, “To Have & Have Not”, based on the Hemingway novel, is set in Martinique, not unlike a key in the Lower Keys. It is the first pairing of the legendary couple and you can see the electricity as they slowly seem to fall in love on screen, not unlike the modern pairing of Warren Beatty and Annette Bening in “Bugsy”. The storytelling here is simple but it allows the characters to breathe. And like many of Bogie’s films, it has to do with boats or a journey. The second is the epitomes “Key Largo” which, while obviously shot in a sound stage in Hollywood, shows a more reserved Bogie and Bacall as they deal with the infamous Paul Mundt as a hurricane bears down on the key. The final shootout on the way to Cuba is simple but as effective as any Scorsese showdown. The final film of the weekend, “Dark Passage” shows a divergence of narrative structure in many ways. Its personification of mystery almost brings to mind “Vertigo”. You don’t see Bogart’s face for the first 40 minutes at least. It is done as point of view with Bacall serving almost as his eyes as he hides away from the cops. The great thing about the picture despite its noir styling is its ability to let its characters be flawed without redemption or primary resolution. That is why the ending works so well because there is a sense of background and guilt to go with it.
One of the cornerstones of the festival is the Bogart Gala which recognizes a young performer connecting the legacy or helping to pass it on to the next generation. Held within the Ballroom of the Key Largo Hilton draped in white silk while an auction of Bogie memorabilia swirls outside, the tone of the night felt right. Heightened by the rich cigars from the Mya Cigar Company, the ode of hanging and discussing film outside mixed with the smoothness of retreating inside for wine and music played well. Olivia Thirlby who is starring in the second film from the resurrected Santana Films entitled “The White Orchid” received the award. The dinner was a family affair with her parents having known Bogie’s son Stephen for many years.
Other events also occupied the weekend including a reception at the Murray Nelson Center before the outdoor screening of “To Have & Have Not” as well as an informal discussion with Stephen Bogart and film historian Leonard Maltin showing some intrinsic film clips, one of which showed a pivotal moment in “The Maltese Falcon” which was then dissected by both Maltin and Bogart.
A closing day Brunch at the Key Largo Hilton brought everyone together in the element which the festival is built on: honoring the legacy of Bogie. The theme of the 2015 festival was reflected to be “The Best Of” with many more additions to come.
On a side note, beyond the element of the film Key Largo. the area does have one other attraction which connects it surreptitiously which is the actual African Queen which was restored and relocated to the canals of the main marina leading out to the Atlantic. The boat takes people for a fee on an hour and half cruise using the same basis of the steam engine that would have been used in the Congo when it was originally created and used. Some of the pictures the captain had within his notebook were some very candid shots from the actual film. Their origin was from the original owner of the boat but how he got them and acquired the boat is still a bit of a mystery.
As shown throughout this structure, the Humphrey Bogart Film Festival offers much in parallel with Key Largo insomuch that Bogie itself is indirectly responsible for the name of the place. Rediscovering the films on the big screen and hearing stories from a person personally connect and able to share memories make this homage all the more real.