Monday, December 29, 2014

Classic Movie Tourist: The Ernest Hemingway Home in Key West

I spent the week of Christmas this year in the Florida Keys, where the warm weather and bright blue water worked hard to dispel my usual holiday malaise, despite a particularly wretched end of the year at home. As usual, I kept an eye out for classic movie connections during my travels. I didn't make it over to see the African Queen in Key Largo, but I did manage a visit to the Hemingway House in Key West, which bursts with its own significance for fans of golden age Hollywood.

As most cinephiles know, Ernest Hemingway wrote numerous works that were adapted for the big screen, including A Farewell to Arms (1932 and 1957), For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943), To Have and Have Not (1944), and The Old Man and the Sea (1958). The Hemingway House features nods to the movie adaptations with walls of posters in various rooms, while bookcases display copies of the novels themselves. For an English professor turned classic movie blogger, places like this are pure catnip.

Speaking of cats, the Hemingway House is also famous for its plethora of polydactyl felines, whose extra toes make them oddball celebrities in their own right. 52 cats currently make their home at the house, according to Rusty, our tour guide. Given Hemingway's importance to classic Hollywood, it's no surprise that many of the resident cats have been named in honor of iconic stars. My perusal of the cat cemetery turned up Kim Novak, Ava Gardner, Marilyn Monroe, John Wayne, Errol Flynn, Jimmy Stewart, Joan Crawford, and Charlie Chaplin, just to name a few.

While a visit to the Hemingway House encouraged me to rewatch some of my favorite classic adaptations of Hemingway's work, it also made me curious about other classic movies with connections to the Florida Keys. There's Key Largo (1948), of course, but less familiar are pictures like The Prisoner of Shark Island (1936), Mercy Island (1941), and Reap the Wild Wind (1942). I'm especially interested now in seeing The Prisoner of Shark Island, since we spent a day out at Dry Tortugas National Park, where Fort Jefferson once housed Dr. Samuel Mudd, who is played in the movie by Warner Baxter. The John Ford picture also stars Gloria Stuart, Harry Carey, and John Carradine. I have just added it to my Netflix queue, and of course I will write a review here on the blog once I finish watching it!

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