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This atmospheric CinemaScope war melodrama arrived during the early phase of director Carol Reed's movement into big budget, star-laden studio projects. Already established with smaller scale, cynical European dramas like The Fallen Idol (1948), The Third Man (1949) and Odd Man Out (1947), Reed made an abrupt switch to splashy MGM-style entertainment in 1956 with the bizarre, psychosexual circus melodrama, Trapeze, featuring Gina Lollobrigida. Showing an admirable affinity for designing vehicles for international glamour queens, he then recruited Sophia Loren for his next project, Stella, the supernaturally-tinged 1958 World War II romance which would eventually be released as The Key. The older and more "worldly" Ingrid Bergman was also considered, but Loren - who, fresh from the much lighter aquatic project Houseboat (1958), was already contracted and insisted on keeping the role - stayed firm. The primary opponent of Loren's casting was producer Carl Foreman, the American producer of High Noon (1952) whose leftist tendencies led to his blacklisting and a flight to Europe for continued employment, where his work on prominent films like The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) had to be conducted without credit.
Hollywood's brawniest romantic lead thanks to the recent Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing and Picnic (both 1955), William Holden was the obvious choice for the lead role of David Ross, a tug boat captain who becomes the fourth recipient of a duplicate key belonging to the apartment of pretty Stella, who seems doomed to romance each possessor of the key shortly before his death. Since the tugboat repairs conducted by David occur in a hotbed of U-boat activity, his demise also seems imminent - but his machinations to avoid the hand of fate provide the opportunity for a different kind of outcome. Though their chemistry seemed effortless onscreen, Holden found himself overwhelmed by his leading lady: "She didn't walk into the room, she swept in. I never saw so much woman coming at me in my entire life. Beautiful women have always thrown me. I really don't know how to handle them, especially when they're actresses that I work with. You have to work with them terribly intimately, particularly in the love scenes, and unless you play it neutral you may well have a situation on your hands." (Warren G. Harris, Sophia Loren: A Biography.)
The film was shot over a fifteen-week period in Portland, England, at Her Majesty's Naval Dockyard, where Reed's less then stellar sailing abilities made an impression on the cast. Bryan Forbes, a young actor who later went on to a successful directorial career, recalls that Reed "was the worst sailor of all and seemed to have a mental block about the mechanics of operating a ship at sea. He was consumed with his own private visions, and once he had decided how he was going to shoot a particular sequence he couldn't understand why some of his instructions were impossible to carry out...Yellow of face, chain-smoking and denying himself any solid sustenance, he stared without comprehension as those around him argued the impossibility of his suggestions." (Nicholas Wapshott, Carol Reed: A Biography.)
Due to its potentially controversial subject matter of a heroine of "loose morals," The Key was shot with two different endings one melancholy, the other romantic. The sad ending - meant to appease censors who might oppose a happy union between the leads and Reed's own personal preference - resulted in shorter prints which circulated briefly in America, confusing viewers who were confronted with two completely separate outcomes.
Loren had recently scandalized the Catholic community with her remarriage to producer Carlo Ponti, but the scandal didn't seem to affect her film career; reviews for The Key were quite complimentary, with The New York Times dubbing it "a thoroughly brilliant blending of vivid war action and generally poignant romance," while box office was respectable enough to bolster its stars' already robust careers. With Houseboat and Desire Under the Elms opening the same year, Loren enjoyed consistent box office prominence and received considerable awards promotion from three different studios; though the bid didn't pay off, she and her co-workers continued to spend their careers for the remainder of the decade in high style.
Producer: Aubrey Baring, Carl Foreman
Director: Carol Reed
Screenplay: Jan de Hartog, Carl Foreman
Cinematography: Oswald Morris
Film Editing: Bert Bates
Art Direction: Geoffrey Drake
Music: Malcolm Arnold
Cast: William Holden (David Ross), Sophia Loren (Stella), Trevor Howard (Capt. Chris Ford), Oskar Homolka (Capt. Van Dam), Carl Mohner (Van Barger), Kieron Moore (Kane).
by Nathaniel Thompson
The Key (1958)
Key to the City (1950) is an uncomplicated and charming piece of fluff about a pair ofopposites-attract small-town mayors, played by Clark Gable and Loretta Young, who meet andfall in love at a mayors' convention in San Francisco. Not only did the film have the considerabletalents of the two leads, it also had the expert support of some of MGM's most reliable characteractors (Frank Morgan, James Gleason, Lewis Stone), and some capable younger players(Raymond Burr, Marilyn Maxwell). The film may have been a lightweight comedy, but theproduction was fraught with drama, some of it going back 15 years.
Key to the City was Gable and Young's second and last film together. When they madetheir first, The Call of the Wild (1935), Young had been a 22-year-old contract player atFox, on loan to MGM. And Gable, fresh from the success of It Happened One Night(1934), was fast becoming one of MGM's top stars. The Call of the Wild takes place inAlaska, and the company went on location to the state of Washington. There, snowed in for weeks, it'sgenerally believed that Young and the married Gable embarked on an intense affair. When thefilm (and the affair) ended, Young pleaded a mysterious illness and disappeared for months. Twoyears later, the unmarried Young adopted a two-year-old girl she named Judy. Rumors hadabounded for years that the child was, in fact, Young's own daughter, and the father was Gable. Neither Gable nor Young ever spoke publicly about the alleged affair. But Judy Lewis, Young'sdaughter, later recalled that when her mother was making Key to the City, she invitedthe adolescent Judy to visit her on the set to meet Gable. Judy refused, preferring to go tosummer camp. A few years later, when Judy was 15, she finally met Gable. He came to Young'shome, was introduced to Judy, and wanted to know everything about her life, which Judy thoughtwas odd. Lewis says that her mother finally told her that Gable was her father when Judy was inher early 30s.
Whatever their past history, Gable and Young were cordial during the filming of Key to theCity, and had nothing but complimentary things to say about each other. The producer, Z.Wayne Griffin, was a friend of Gable's, and Young's husband at the time, Tom Lewis, so it was afriendly, relaxed set. But by 1950, Gable's career had lost some of its luster, he was pushing 50,and talking about retiring. Yet he still clung to the perks of stardom, such as his five o'clock quittingtime, which was promised in his latest contract.
The production proceeded smoothly, until Young collapsed on the set. She was rushed to thehospital, and it was discovered that she was three months pregnant. Production halted while sheremained hospitalized for two weeks, as doctors tried to save her pregnancy. She eventuallysuffered a miscarriage, and took more time off to recuperate. When production finally wrapped,Young and her husband threw a "thank God it's over" party, attended by some members of thecast and crew. Halfway through the party, they learned that co-star Frank Morgan had died. Gable, who had made five films with Morgan, was a pallbearer at his funeral.
Reviews for Key to the City ranged from tepid (Variety: "on the wholeamusing, but occasionally labored") to mildly enthusiastic (London Film Weekly: "ClarkGable does his he-man stuff pretty well and Loretta Young makes the most of the part of themayoress."). Box-office, however, proved disappointing, as it did with many films at that time. The problem was the growing popularity of the new medium, television, which was keepingaudiences away from movie theaters. In just a few years, Loretta Young would adopt an "if youcan't beat them, join them" attitude, becoming one of the first film stars to make the move to TV. She would become one of the young medium's first and biggest stars.
Director: George Sidney
Producer: Z. Wayne Griffin
Screenplay: Robert Riley Crutcher, based on the story by Albert Beich
Cinematography: Harold Rosson
Editor: James E. Newcom
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Hans Peters
Music: Bronislau Kaper
Principal Cast: Clark Gable (Steve Fisk), Loretta Young (Clarissa Standish), Frank Morgan (FireChief Duggan), Marilyn Maxwell (Sheila), Raymond Burr (Les Taggart), James Gleason (Sgt.Hogan), Lewis Stone (Judge Silas Standish).
BW-101m. Closed captioning.
by Margarita Landazuri