The Key (1958)

125 mins | Drama | July 1958

Director:

Carol Reed

Writer:

Carl Foreman

Producer:

Carl Foreman

Cinematographer:

Oswald Morris

Editor:

Bert Bates

Production Designer:

Wilfrid Shingleton
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HISTORY

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 Var review incorrectly lists actors Sidney Vivian as "Sydney" and Beatrix Lehmann as "Beatrice." According to a Mar 1957 HR 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 Aug 1958 NYT 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 ... More Less

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 Var review incorrectly lists actors Sidney Vivian as "Sydney" and Beatrix Lehmann as "Beatrice." According to a Mar 1957 HR 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 Aug 1958 NYT 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 NYT , 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 18 Sep 1952 letter that the story was unacceptable and "impossible to bring within the requirements of the code." An 18 Aug 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 Dec 1957 HR production chart places Belita in the cast, but she was not in the released film. According to a Sep 1957 NYT 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.
More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
16 Jun 1958.
---
Box Office
30 Jun 1958.
---
Daily Variety
11 Jun 58
p. 3.
Film Daily
12 Jun 58
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
25 Mar 1957
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
7 Oct 1957
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
6 Dec 1957.
---
Hollywood Reporter
11 Jun 58
p. 3.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
14 Jun 58
p. 864.
New York Times
15 Sep 1957.
---
New York Times
2 Jul 58
p. 23.
New York Times
28 Aug 1958.
---
Saturday Review
20 Sep 1958.
---
Sunday Dispatch (London)
18 Aug 1957.
---
The Exhibitor
11 Jun 1958.
p. 4478.
The Exhibitor
9 Jul 58
p. 4485.
Variety
11 Jun 58
p. 6.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Carl Foreman presents
Carol Reed's production
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
WRITER
Wrt for the screen by
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
FILM EDITORS
Asst ed
COSTUMES
Ward des
Ward
MUSIC
Mus comp and cond
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff supv
MAKEUP
Makeup
Hairdresser
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod mgr
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel Stella by Jan de Hartog (London, 1951).
AUTHOR
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
Stella
Release Date:
July 1958
Premiere Information:
London opening: 28 May 1958
New York opening: 1 July 1958
Production Date:
7 August--12 December 1957 at Elstree Studios, Elstree, England
Copyright Claimant:
Open Road Films, Ltd.
Copyright Date:
28 May 1958
Copyright Number:
LP12305
Physical Properties:
Sound
Westrex Recording System
Black and White
Widescreen/ratio
CinemaScope
Duration(in mins):
125
Countries:
United Kingdom, United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
18876
Passed by NBR:
No
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 ... +


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.
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Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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