The Key


2h 14m 1958
The Key

Brief Synopsis

The key to a woman's apartment may hold bad luck for her lovers.

Film Details

Also Known As
Stella
Genre
Romance
Drama
War
Adaptation
Release Date
Jul 1958
Premiere Information
London opening: 28 May 1958; New York opening: 1 Jul 1958
Production Company
Highwood Productions, Inc.; Open Road Films, Ltd.
Distribution Company
Columbia Pictures Corp.
Country
Great Britain and United States
Location
Coast of Dorset, England, Great Britain; Coast of Dorset, England, United States; Elstree, England, Great Britain; Portland--Her Majesty's Naval Dockyard, England, Great Britain
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Stella by Jan de Hartog (London, 1951).

Technical Specs

Duration
2h 14m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1

Synopsis

In 1940, David Ross, a sergeant in the Canadian Army, reports for duty at a British wartime naval port. There Wadlow, the head of operations, explains that David is to command one of the vessels in a fleet of tugboats that is assigned to rescue crippled British war ships. David is pleasantly surprised to be reunited with his old friend Chris Ford, who is also serving as a tugboat commander. While David's boat is being refitted in dry dock, Chris invites him on a mission to rescue a "lame duck" ship. Unused to sea duty, David is sickened by the rough waters and the realization that the tug's only protection is an antiquated machine gun. After a close call with a German submarine, the tug rescues the crippled ship and tows it back to port. With their mission completed, Chris invites David to accompany him to the flat he shares with a woman named Stella. Stella, who seems paralyzed by grief, responds to David's complaint that his uniform jacket is too tight by going to her closet and pulling out another jacket with the name "Van Barger" sewn into it. As Stella hands the jacket to David, she stares at a photograph of her dead fiancé. Later, when Chris, unnerved by the perilous mission, begins to shake uncontrollably, he tells Stella that he is going drinking with David. At a bar, David, who is puzzled by the wedding ring that Stella wears, learns from Chris that her fiancé, tugboat captain Philip Wylie, was killed the day before their wedding. Philip had given the key to the flat to a tugboat captain named Van Barger, who took over the flat after Philip's death. Stella, in despair, stayed on, and was passed to Chris, along with the key, after Van Barger's death. When Chris gives David the key to the flat, David refuses to take it until Chris explains that he promised Van Barger that he would pass it along to another tug man who would look after Stella. Upon returning to the flat, Chris tells Stella that he is pessimistic about surviving the war and asks her to marry him. Stella, who identifies all tug men with her dead fiancé, accepts. That night, David checks into a hotel where he occupies a bed vacated by a recently deceased tug man. The next morning, David meets Van Dam, the captain with whom he will rotate command of the tug. The seasoned Van Dam advises David that "the enemy within is the one that matters." After meeting his crew, David takes the tug out for maneuvers and gradually earns their respect. At the flat that night, Stella tells David that she and Chris are to be married. To celebrate, Chris opens a bottle of wine but accidentally shoves the cork into the bottle, thus splattering red wine all over his shirt. Stella reacts with horror because the wine reminds her of blood. The party comes to an abrupt end when Chris is called to duty and Stella, who has not left the flat since the death of her fiancé, insists on accompanying him to the pier, where she breaks into tears. David is also dispatched to rescue a burning freighter, and when he returns to port, he learns that Chris has been killed. With Chris's demise, his first mate, Kane, is promoted to captain. When David tells Stella of Chris's death, she impassively asks to stay on at the flat until the end of the month. After David insists that she keep the flat, she fatalistically responds "they are all the same," leading David to believe that Stella is a common prostitute unable to love anyone. Some time later, when the gun on David's tugboat once again jams, David demands that it be replaced, prompting Wadlow to tell him that they will never get new guns and that the German submarine that has been menacing his tug is a training ship using the tug for target practice. The news unsettles David, and that night, he returns to the flat drunk and announces "here comes another one." After putting David to bed, Stella sleeps in the other room, and the next morning, David has the key duplicated. After returning from another rescue mission one night, David has a nightmare, and as Stella comforts him, they kiss. Soon after, Wadlow phones the flat with the news that the United States has entered the war. Elated by the news, David kisses Stella, who then calls out Philip's name and breaks down. After David goes to report to headquarters, Stella slips off her wedding ring and leaves the flat. When David returns, he finds that the old uniforms have been removed from the closet. Just then, Stella comes home laden with packages. Begging her never to leave again, David hands her the extra key and proposes. On Christmas Eve, Stella gives David a note that says "I love you." Later, when David uses a newspaper to light a fire, Stella becomes distraught when a photo of a tug boat on the front page goes up in flames. Their celebration is interrupted by air raid sirens, sending them scurrying to a shelter, and when they return to the flat, Stella is unsettled to see the charred remains of the newspaper. When David is called to duty, Stella begs him not to go and he defiantly asserts that he is "not like the others." At headquarters, David listens in dismay as an inexperienced American freighter captain breaks the code of silence and broadcasts an SOS over the radio. Aware that the broadcast has alerted the enemy to the ship's position, thus turning the assignment into a suicide mission, David refuses to go, but the silent disapproval of the staff forces him to reconsider. As he stands on the ship's bridge, David, aware that he is facing death, sees Kane walking on the pier below and tosses him the key. At sea, a German submarine surfaces and shells the tug, setting it on fire. After ordering his crew to abandon ship, David stays aboard to ram the submarine and jumps overboard just before the collision. At headquarters, Kane hears a radio report that the tug has blown up and goes to tell Stella. When he enters the flat, Stella is devastated that David would have treated her like all the rest and turned the key over to Kane. After David and several of his crew are rescued by the freighter and returned to port, he rushes to the flat. Disillusioned by David's breach of faith, Stella refuses to forgive him and orders him to leave. Soon after, Kane finds David in a bar and tells him that Stella has boarded a train to London. Running to the station, David bursts through the gates and jumps onto the train as it pulls away from the platform. When he walks into Stella's compartment, she smiles.

Film Details

Also Known As
Stella
Genre
Romance
Drama
War
Adaptation
Release Date
Jul 1958
Premiere Information
London opening: 28 May 1958; New York opening: 1 Jul 1958
Production Company
Highwood Productions, Inc.; Open Road Films, Ltd.
Distribution Company
Columbia Pictures Corp.
Country
Great Britain and United States
Location
Coast of Dorset, England, Great Britain; Coast of Dorset, England, United States; Elstree, England, Great Britain; Portland--Her Majesty's Naval Dockyard, England, Great Britain
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Stella by Jan de Hartog (London, 1951).

Technical Specs

Duration
2h 14m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1

Articles

The Key (1958)


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).
BW-122m.

by Nathaniel Thompson
The Key (1958)

The Key (1958)

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). BW-122m. by Nathaniel Thompson

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

The working title of the picture was Stella. The film opens with the following written prologue: "In 1940 and 1941, while Britain stood alone in the darkest days of World War II, ocean going tugs of the Salvage Service played a major part in maintaining the Atlantic convoys-lifeline of resistance. The tugs were inadequately armed and virtually defenceless against attack by plane or submarine. At one time, every mission undertaken by the men who manned these tiny rescue ships was, in effect, a suicide mission. They were very gallant men. But they were flesh and blood, too, and they often knew fear and despair." The cast credits end by listing "H.M. Tug Restive and her Master and Crew." Carl Foreman's onscreen credit reads "written for the screen and directed by Carl Foreman." The Key marked Foreman's first production for Columbia. The opening and closing cast credits differ slightly in order. The Variety review incorrectly lists actors Sidney Vivian as "Sydney" and Beatrix Lehmann as "Beatrice." According to a March 1957 Hollywood Reporter news item, Gary Cooper was originally slated to star.
       The British and American release versions had different running times. The British running time was 134 minutes, according to the London reviews. By the time the film was released in the United States, it had been trimmed to 125 minutes. According to an August 1958 New York Times article, Foreman, who, according to the film's file in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, had been warned by the PCA that "the immoral sexual relationship" depicted in the film should not serve as a "prelude to a happy ending," shot two different endings for the film. In one, "David" is left standing alone on the station platform as "Stella's" train pulls away. The second, happy ending, had David jump onboard the moving train to reunite with Stella. According to the New York Times, the PCA unexpectedly approved the happy ending, leaving Columbia with too few prints to distribute for the blanket opening of the film. As a result, the prints with the unhappy ending were shown at several Manhattan theaters, while those with the happy ending were distributed throughout the rest of the country.
       The PCA files reveal the following additional information about the film: Warner Bros. had initially considered producing the picture until PCA director Joseph Breen warned in an September 18, 1952 letter that the story was unacceptable and "impossible to bring within the requirements of the code." An August 18, 1957 Sunday Dispatch (London) article, included in the file, stated that Foreman intended to make two versions of the film, one intended for the European market, the other for the American. The American version would only "imply" a sexual relationship between Stella and David, and at no time would an "unmarried pair be seen occupying at the same time a room containing a bed."
       Although a December 1957 Hollywood Reporter production chart places Belita in the cast, but she was not in the released film. According to a September 1957 New York Times news item, the outdoor scenes were shot on a promontory off the English Coast of Dorset and at Her Majesty's Naval Dockyard, Portland, England. In a modern source, Sophia Loren stated that after she had been cast as "Stella," Foreman told her that she was too young for the part and wanted to replace her with Ingrid Bergman. Because she had a signed contract and wanted to play the role, she refused to resign from the project. Modern sources state that Michael Caine appeared in the film, possibly as an extra, but he was not identifiable in the print viewed.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States on Video July 13, 1989

Released in United States Summer June 1958

CinemaScope

Released in United States Summer June 1958

Released in United States on Video July 13, 1989