However at the end, you are victim of a huge surprise, when a battle battered, nearly drowned, Holden unexpectedly returns to the apartment, to find the next in line already holding court. He breaks with his type casting at that point and you're treated to a great ending. Not wanting to reveal the entire idea behind the key, I'm been very vague, but as I added the characters and the roles they played, I've created more confusion than I intended. Let me try to do a short outline on The Key. A rescue boat captain rents an apartment near the South Hampton docks, which includes the beautiful Sophia Loren. Knowing his life has "the same length as a lit match", he copies the key forcing it on a close friend, so that friend, (also a rescue boat captain) may take over the apartment in the occasion of his death. The process repeats itself three times when Trevor Howard becomes the key holder, and the film picks up here. On the very day the Howard character has set to marry the Ms. Loren character the film becomes a hanky grabber. You may only be able to catch this great movie on TCM, but if you are a fan of Loren, Howard or Holden, DO NOT miss it. You will be touched, saddened, then given a good dose of hope.
William Holden joins a group of rescue ships under the command of Trevor Howard. Trevor has a salty, crusty character that's unlikable and unimaginative-and he also has a mistress who's slightly nuts. Sophia Loren lives in an apartment haunted by the memories of all her dead sailor boyfriends. Every time one of them dies, the key to her apartment gets handed off to another man, who then hands it off to another friend in the off-chance he dies. It doesn't sound like much fun for Sophia, does it? It's no wonder she's not convincing in her love scenes. Bill tries to make up for it by overexaggerating his sighs and moony eyes, but it feels pretty ridiculous at times.