Somewhere, Claire Trevor is not very happy about my decision to re-rank the winners in this category since she went down a good 20 places – but this does not mean that my appreciation for her wonderful turn as Gaye Dawn, the mistress of gangster Johnny Rocky in Key Largo, cooled down. My reason for ranking her lower this time is that I think the role itself is rather disappointing and doesn’t allow Claire Trevor to do anymore than constantly beg for a drink she will never get – but I still enjoy her work very much and think that she got as much out of this thin part as humanly possible.
The best aspect of this performance is that Claire Trevor was able to keep Gaye Dawn on the edge for the entire run of the movie – there is never a real moment of piece in her, she is always shaking, always desperate, always humiliated. It’s a character that is very easy to sympathize with but Claire Trevor thankfully never plays for the camera but instead believably shows how much she both loves and hates Johnny.
Claire Trevor belongs to the list of winners in this category who are the best thing about their movies – Key Largo is a sometimes fascinating but ultimately lacking drama which features rather standard work from the male players and an incredibly awkward and unskilled performance from Lauren Bacall.
As mentioned earlier, Claire Trevor mostly gets to display every kind of human misery in her part – while this doesn’t really result in a very developed character or performance it still is scene-stealing on a very high level and Claire Trevor also provides the most energetic and powerful moments of Key Largo. Her big ‘Oscar-scene’, when Johnny forces her to sing for a drink, is an unforgettable gripping and also embarrassing scene – like the other characters in the movie, you can’t help but feel embarrassed for this woman who gives up all her dignity for a bit of liquor. It’s a heartbreaking and chilling moment that belongs to the best this category has to offer.
Once Gaye decides to work against Johnny, the character loses a bit of her fascination but there is no denying that Claire Trevor leaves an unforgettable impression in a role that is both thankless and thankful.