Oscar Roles: Trevor, Claire–Gangster Moll in John Huston’s Key Largo

Key _Largo_claire_trevor_5One of the dramatically strongest scenes in John Huston’s Key Largo occurs when Rocco’s alcoholic former moll, ex-nightclub singer “Gaye Dawn,” played by Claire Trevor, is forced by Rocco to sing a song before he would allow her to have a drink.


Trevor was nervous about the scene. All along, she assumed she would be lip-syncing to someone else’s voice. She kept after director Huston, wanting to rehearse the song, but he put her off, saying “There’s plenty of time.”

Then one afternoon, out of the blue, Huston told Trevor that they would shoot the film without any rehearsal. She was given her starting note from a piano, and, in front of the rest of the cast and the crew, sang the song. It was this raw take that was used in the film.

The song was Moanin’ Low, composed by Ralph Rainger with lyrics by Howard Dietz, introduced on Broadway in the 1929 revue The Little Show by Libby Holman; it became a hit and Holman’s signature song.

Key _Largo_claire_trevor_4Philip Furia said about the song, ‘Moanin’ Low’: “it’s about a woman who’s trapped in a relationship with a very cruel man. And … you see Trevor as Gaye realize that that’s exactly her real life situation. [Trevor’s performance] slowly break[s] down, and her voice falters and she sings off key.” Robinson is dismissive but “Bogart pours her a stiff drink, walks it over … under gunpoint … and gives it to her and says ‘You deserve this’—it’s just a great dramatic scene, and it’s a wonderful use of a song in a non-musical picture. Trevor] won the Academy Award based purely, I think, on that performance.”

“When Hollywood Had A Song In Its Heart,” transcript, Philip Furia interview with Terry Gross; Fresh Air from WHYY-FM, July 20, 2010; discussing Furia’s book The Songs of Hollywood (2010), coauthored by Laurie Patterson.

Audio of full interview also available (25 min 36 sec), including clip of Trevor’s singing and film dialogue.