- William Holden as David Ross
- Sophia Loren as Stella
- Trevor Howard as Chris Ford
- Bernard Lee as Wadlow
A wartime drama with romance and something of a gloomy aura, The Key at least holds the attention thanks to the stars and direction. No masterpiece, but compelling enough and filled with good parts.
It’s the Second World War and Canadian tug boat captain David Ross arrives in Plymouth, England. He is assigned to salvage missions that entail picking up ships that have been attacked in conflict with the enemy. It’s an extremely dangerous job as the tug boats are ill-equipped to combat any form of onslaught, leaving them open to death every time they venture out. David meets with old friend Chris Ford who is a captain. Later after a number of missions, Chris takes David back to his lodgings, drawing particular attention to the key. It is here that David meets the beautiful Stella; an Italian-Swiss woman who rarely leaves the apartment. We learn that the key to the apartment is seen as an omen as many men have lived there and perished at sea. This has left Stella lonely(especially since the death of her first love), even though she constantly has company. With the life expectancy of these men low, Chris gives David the key to the apartment in case anything should happen to him. When Chris dies, David moves into the flat. At first, he and Stella are distant with each other as he is skeptical about the seemingly cursed nature of the key. But over time, the two fall in love. But the overreaching feeling of darkness from David’s job and Stella’s past experience with men threatens to ruin what is growing between them.
Carol Reed’s direction manages to balance drama and the scenes of war very well. It’s not Oscar-winning direction but it is passable and generates interest in what will happen next. A certain ghostly quality hangs over The Key. Something quite haunting and melancholy is in the air, especially when it comes to Stella who occupies a haunting presence throughout the story. The black and white cinematography aids the dark areas of the story and the possible love that may happen. The Key is good but far from high calibre movie making, marred by the long running time and occasional dreariness that undoes many of the fine things the movie does. At least it still retains attention thanks to the evolving relationship between Stella and David. The second section raises the film up as more momentum is introduced into the narrative. We see Stella emerge from her gloom and discover that love could be on the cards for her and David become less resistant to the idea that their union could be cursed. A highly dramatic score, with a certain haunting aura heard in many instances.
William Holden excellently conveys the tired and uncertainty of a man who has experience in battle, but is still secretly terrified of the prospect. Blended with movie star charm that is never far from view, Holden is endlessly watchable in his part. Sophia Loren is quietly melancholy and haunted as the woman at the centre of things. There’s real sadness and pathos to her work that comes through in her face, which craves love and companionship but knows of the bleak realities of life that have befallen her. Loren plays this lonely character who just wants some form of togetherness with real clarity and acting opposite the great William Holden is wonderfully convincing. They share a tentative chemistry that matures along with the movie. Trevor Howard makes the most of his role with a scene stealing turn as David’s friend and the one who sets in motion the relationship with Stella. He works well with both Holden and Loren when he appears. Also watch out for Bernard Lee in a supporting part of the head of the salvage unit.
Far from flawless but filled with something unusual and with a great cast, The Key is an entertaining way to spend your time.