Frank McCloud travels to a run-down hotel on Key Largo to honor the memory of a friend who died bravely in his unit during WW II. His friend's widow, Nora Temple, and wheelchair bound father, James Temple manage the hotel and receive him warmly, but the three of them soon find themselves virtual prisoners when the hotel is taken over by a mob of gangsters led by Johnny Rocco who hole up there to await the passing of a hurricane.
Mr. Temple strongly reviles Rocco but due to his infirmities can only confront him verbally. Having become disillusioned by the violence of war, Frank is reluctant to act, but Rocco's demeaning treatment of his alcoholic moll, Gaye Dawn, and his complicity in the deaths of some innocent Seminole Indians and a deputy sheriff start to motivate McCloud to overcome his Hamlet-like inaction.
Humphrey Bogart ... Frank McCloud
Edward G. Robinson ... Johnny Rocco
Lauren Bacall ... Nora Temple
Lionel Barrymore ... James Temple
Claire Trevor ... Gaye Dawn
Thomas Gomez ... Richard 'Curly' Hoff
Harry Lewis ... Edward 'Toots' Bass
John Rodney ... Deputy Clyde Sawyer
Marc Lawrence ... Ziggy
Dan Seymour ... Angel Garcia
Monte Blue ... Sheriff Ben Wade
William Haade ... Ralph Feeney
"Key Largo" was the second collaboration between Humphrey Bogart and John Houston during 1948 (the other being "The Treasure of Sierra Madre). Both films represent both artists at the peak of their respective careers.
"Key Largo" is about a group of gangsters who have taken over a hotel located on Key Largo. Along comes Bogey, who has come to visit the father of a war time pal who was killed, and of course, gets drawn into the drama.
Huston's cast is flawless. Bogart as Frank McCloud is suitably laid back and brave as he confronts the gangsters headed by Edward G. Robinson as Johnny Rocco. Lauren Bacall plays the widow of Bogey's war time friend and the venerable Lionel Barrymore is outstanding as Temple, the hotel proprietor. Claire Trevor plays Rocco's moll Gaye Dawn, an alcoholic former singer for which she deservedly won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. Appearing as as Rocco's henchmen are veterans Thomas Gomez and Dan Seymour and Harry Lewis as Toots a "Wilmer" type character (from "The Maltese Falcon"). Monte Blue and John Rodney represent the law.
Bogart and Robinson appeared together many times during the 30s with Robinson usually playing the hero and Bogey the heavy. This times their roles are reversed. This film was unfortunately, the last time Bogart and Robinson appeared together. It's a pity because they always played against each other so well. I always liked Robinson better on the wrong side of the law. His Rocco is a slimey brutal villain. He even gets to slap Bogey around in this one.
It is interesting to note the name of the boat that the gang make their getaway on is called "Santana". Santana was the name of Bogey's own personal boat and the name of his production company.
This is one of the best movies of the 1940's. Directed and co-written, (along with Richard Brooks), by the great John Huston, it explores themes of honor and courage, themes common to many of Huston's films.
Humphrey Bogart once again demonstrates his remarkable versatility as Major Frank Mcloud, decorated war hero, who travels to Key Largo to meet the father and wife of a man in his regiment who was killed in action. Bogart could be equally effective as a good guy or villain and his performance here reveals once more his ability to create complex and conflicted characters. He had one of the greatest movie star personas in film history, but always managed to become whatever character he played. Whether it was an idealistic night club owner hiding behind a cynical facade, or an average guy destroyed by greed while prospecting for gold, you always believed you were watching a real person and not a movie star.
Come to think of it, this could be said of all the major actors in this film. Edward G Robinson was generally type-cast as a bad guy, but could also effectively play more sympathetic characters. Lionel Barrymore's performance as the feisty yet compassionate James Temple, father of the fallen soldier, and proprietor of the Hotel Largo, is in sharp contrast to the stingy and unfeeling Mr Potter of It's A Wonderful Life, and Lauren Bacall's performance as his austere daughter in-law Nora, is a far cry from the seductress she played in To Have And Have Not. Sadly, there aren't too many actors of this caliber still working in movies today.
Robinson creates one of the great villains in movie history. His role as mob giant Johnny Rocco is as disquieting as any monster brought to life by Karloff or Lugosi. Holed up in the Hotel Largo during a fierce hurricane, he and his gang hold Mcloud, the Temples, and a local cop, at gun-point. As tensions increase in this claustrophobic setting, he takes sadistic delight in mocking them. This is a man without a single redeeming quality, and his challenge to the ideals of Mcloud and Temple, is like a confrontation between the forces of light and darkness. For awhile it looks as if darkness will win out and Mcloud seems to be revealed as a coward, but eventually he regains his idealism and courage in a final showdown with the criminal gang.
Claire Trevor won the supporting actress Oscar as Rocco's alcoholic ex-lover Gaye Dawn. Her devotion to him even as he continuously reviles, and humiliates her, borders on the masochistic, but she has her revenge at last in an unexpected move that I wont reveal here.
The scene where Rocco's seeming invincibility begins to crumble, and the tables are turned, is my favorite in the movie: As the hurricane defiantly rages outside and the terrified gangster holds his gun impotently at his side, Mcloud chides him with the line,"Why don't you show it your gun? If it doesn't stop, shoot it."
They really knew how to write dialogue in those days.
While chiefly remembered as a Bogart/Bacall vehicle, this story of expatriate gangsters commandeering a sleepy tropical hotel is, in actuality, a tightly directed ensemble piece with acting chops to burn.
There's Edward G. Robinson as Johnny Rocco--the brash, boisterous, sleazy gangster whose frailties (cowardice and a yearning for better times) gradually unfold before us. There's Lionel Barrymore as James Temple, the delightfully feisty and crusty hotel owner overcome with revulsion at Rocco's presence. There's Thomas Gomez, Harry Lewis, Dan Seymour and William Haade as Curly, Toots, Angel and Ralphie--Rocco's colorful but hard-edged thugs who are presences unto themselves. There's Claire Trevor as Gaye, Rocco's declining, alcoholic moll who symbolizes more than anything how far Rocco has fallen.
That's an awful lot. Too much scenery-chewing from Bogart or Bacall would push it over the top--and director/screenwriter/demigod John Huston knows it. He coaxes remarkably restrained and subtle performances out of his star couple. The romantic tension between them is suggested but never shoved in the audience's face. Bogart's wandering war vet Frank McCloud keeps his lips tight and plays his cards close to the chest--a streetwise outsider through and through. Bacall's Nora Temple lets her anger and distaste pour out through her smoldering eyes more often than her mouth.
Ultimately, the subtlety is so well-hidden between the gigantic performances of Robinson and Barrymore that you might miss just how sophisticated Frank's story is. Disillusioned and drifting since the war, he stops in to visit the wife (Nora) and father (James) of a fallen comrade whose bravery he admired. Implicit in his visit is an unspoken apology that it is he, and not their loved one, who is returning home. The fallen soldier is a constant unseen presence in the film--his bravery and honor mocking what Frank sees as his own cowardice and inability to stand up to Rocco (Bogart's fast-talking explanation of why he didn't shoot Rocco when he had the chance is classic and rare--a protagonist lying to his friends and his audience--"One Rocco more or less isn't worth dying for!"). Frank's eventual decision to take on Rocco and his hoods is a victory against the fear that plagues and shames him.
In a larger sense, this is a true period movie about a generation of men returning home from the greatest conflict the world has ever known. Most of our national memories of World War II are proud and triumphant, but, as with any war, it left countless people scarred physically and mentally. Though Frank is a decorated soldier, he feels somehow that what he did wasn't enough (because he lived and his friend did not?), and he returns back to a country in which he has no place with no real pride or satisfaction. The confrontation with Rocco affords him a chance (perhaps only possible in Hollywood or on the stage, where the story of "Key Largo" was first performed) to make things right with his world.
While it has not aged as well as the better-known films of Bogart's and Huston's careers, "Key Largo" is a film that, for a little investment of attention and thought, will pay big dividends to anyone that really and truly loves movies.
* Santana was the name of Humphrey Bogart's yacht, which he purchased from June Allyson and Dick Powell. He loved the Santana so much he named his production company after it.
* The character of Gaye Dawn (Claire Trevor) was based on real-life moll Gay Orlova (gangster Lucky Luciano's girlfriend), allegedly executed by a German firing squad.
* The ramshackle hotel where most of the drama unfolds was constructed on the Warner Bros. lot along with the beach area. Exterior shots of the hurricane were actually taken from stock footage used in Night Unto Night (1949), a Ronald Reagan melodrama made the same year at Warner Bros.
* Fourth and final film pairing of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. A fifth film was planned several years later, but Bogart died before it could be made.
* In the film, James Temple describes the 1935 hurricane that devastated Matacumbe Key. This was one of worst hurricanes in U.S. history and many of the victims of the storm were World War I veterans who were building the Florida Keys portion of U.S. Highway 1, also known as the Overseas Highway. A portion of the highway is seen in the film's opening. The storm also produced the lowest-ever recorded barometric pressure over land in the North American continent.
* The film was produced in 1948, the same year in which there actually were two major hurricanes, late in the season, less than a month apart, that went directly through the Florida Keys. (See Hurricanes #7 and #8 of 1948)
* The final confrontation on a boat is actually the ending to the book "To Have and Have Not" which wasn't used in the film version.
* The film version of "Key Largo" has very little to do with Maxwell Anderson's original play. All the characters in the play had their names changed in the film version. This was very unusual for a play written by Anderson, who was then one of the most highly regarded American playwrights, and whose best-known plays had, on the whole, been filmed faithfully.
* The movie was filmed in only 78 days, virtually all on the Warner Bros. lot, except for a few shots in Florida used for the opening scenes.
* The main character, Frank McCloud, describes having served with Nora's late husband in the WWII battle at San Pietro, Italy; director/co-screenwriter John Huston had been involved in that battle as the creator of the documentary film San Pietro (1945) while he was in the U.S. Army's motion picture unit.
* This movie was based on Maxwell Anderson's popular Broadway play which featured Paul Muni in the lead role as a fatalistic ex-member of the Loyalist Army who has returned from the Spanish Civil War. For the film version, the time period and the setting were changed. Director John Huston and screenwriter Richard Brooks rewrote the main character, Frank McCloud, making him a World War II veteran who had served in the Italian campaign. The two writers emphasized the idealism of the early Franklin Delano Roosevelt years and how those ideals began to erode as organized crime spread through urban areas.
* The character of Johnny Rocco was modeled on Al Capone, who retired to Florida and died there of complications due to advanced syphilis a year before this film was produced. Screenwriter Richard Brooks later revealed he had also incorporated biographical details about another famous gangster, Lucky Luciano, into Rocco's character as well.
* Claire Trevor sings "Moanin' Low" acapella. This song was popularized in the early 1930s by Libby Holman.
* Referenced in Bertie Higgins' 1981 #1 hit song, "Key Largo".