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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
One of the finest of the great gangster melodramas KEY LARGO is still a
firm favourite with fans and cultists alike. Produced by Jerry Wald in
1948 for Warner Bros. it was based on the stage play by Maxwell
Anderson and was beautifully written for the screen by Richard Brooks
and John Huston. Stunningly photographed in low key black & white by
Karl Freund it was expertly directed with his customary flair by
Huston. The cast assembled couldn't be better with Humphrey Bogart
delivering one of his very best subdued performances and arguably being
almost eclipsed by a riveting Ed. G. Robinson. The rest of the small
cast is fleshed out with Lauren Bacall, Lionel Barrymore, Claire Trevor
and Thomas Gomez. And complimenting the on screen proceedings is the
splendid music by the tireless Max Steiner who provided one of his best
It is 1946, the war in Europe is over and a returning GI (Humphrey Bogart) arrives at The Largo Hotel in Key Largo. Asked who he is Bogart coolly replies "McCloud, Frank by John out of Helen". He is here to meet with the hotel owner John Temple (Lionel Barrymore) to talk about the death of his son George Temple and how he lost his life in combat in Italy saving his unit. But McCloud notices that also staying in the hotel are a undesirable crowd of sinister looking characters. It's not long before he learns that they are a gang of mobsters led by an abrasive deported racketeer - the infamous Johnny Rocco (Robinson). When McCloud reveals who Rocco is and lists his many illegal and crooked enterprises the aging wheelchair bound John Temple gloweringly chides him "You Filth" which elicits little more than a snigger from Rocco. Then the gang declare themselves and display their violent ways (they murder the deputy sheriff) and make known their intention to force McCloud to sail them to Cuba. However after Rocco's moll (Claire Trevor) slips McCloud a gun he takes them on in a surprise move out at sea which makes for an intense and exciting sequence. The picture ends with McCloud's dispatch of the baddies and turning the boat around he heads back to Key Largo and The Largo Hotel where a new life awaits him.
With some remarkable ensemble playing performances are top notch. Bogart gives one of his best portrayals in a likable reserved manner. Here proving yet again that he remains one of the most enduring icons of the silver screen. But there's little doubt KEY LARGO is Robinson's picture! His snarling and totally mean spirited Rocco is the best thing he has ever done. Good too are those in support especially Lionel Barrymore as the irascible aging hotelier, Lauren Bacall as Nora his daughter in-law and Claire Trevor giving a great turn as Rocco's moll in her Acadamy Award winning best supporting actress performance.
And holding the whole thing together is Max Steiner's great score. His main theme is a lovely gentle anthem-like cue which points up the sadness of George Temple's death in the war and the loneliness now felt without him by his father and widow Nora. Also heard are some great action cues and an appropriate swirling piece for the Hurricane sequence. 1948 was a bumper year for the busy composer. In twelve months the man scored an unprecedented eleven films which included such amazing classics as "Treasure Of The Sierra Madre", "Johnny Belinda", "Silver River" the exceptional "The Adventures Of Don Juan" and of course KEY LARGO.
KEY LARGO remains a memorable and enduring classic from Hollywood's Golden Age. In the tradition of the great noirs it exudes an engaging dramatic thrust throughout and an all encompassing intensity rarely felt in movies today. John Huston demonstrated yet again his prowess as one of film's outstanding directors and with his inspired casting in KEY LARGO the movie will forever maintain its appeal as long as there are movies and a place to screen them..
Footnote: It is interesting to note that the boat used in the final sequence was Bogart's own boat "The Santana".
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
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.
My favorite Bogart movie is also Key Largo. Even before Edward G.
Robinson and his hoods take everyone hostage in Lionel Barrymore's
hotel there is a tension that does not let up for one second. Movie
goers had to be on the edge of their seats in 1948.
There is one scene however that I don't think viewers today can fully appreciate. Lionel Barrymore had been acting from a wheelchair for 10 years and movie audiences were used to that. When Robinson and his goons goad him to a futile gesture of bravado, Barrymore rises from that chair and moves slowly towards the snickering Robinson. He swings and misses and falls down and Bogey and Bacall pick up Barrymore and bring him back to his wheelchair. The shock value of that scene for 1948 audiences would have a dimension that can't be appreciated now.
Robinson's Johnny Rocco is based on Lucky Luciano who had been deported a few years back. He's evil incarnate and Humphrey Bogart as Frank McCloud is the jaded, cynical former idealist who redeems himself and becomes the countervailing force for good. They play well against each other in a reverse from the 1930s Warner gangster flicks where Robinson was usually the good guy.
Who could have known this would be the fourth, last, and best of the Bogey and Bacall teamings.
Key Largo is just one of John Huston's many memorable films that
somehow always seem to transcend the intention--the Hollywood intention
being to make a few bucks--and to this day still plays very well and
indeed appears as something close to a work of art. It features what I
think is one of Edward G. Robinson's finest performances as Johnny
Rocco, a sociopathic gangster holding the off-season personnel of a
seaside hotel hostage as he concludes a counterfeit money deal.
The story begins as Major Frank McCloud (Humphrey Bogart) pays a visit to the family of one of his G.I. buddies who was killed in Italy during WWII. He finds the welcome from the hotel's only "guests" chilly except for Gaye Dawn (a funny and perhaps prescient Hollywood stage name) played by Claire Trevor who is drunk and befriends him. After a bit McCloud discovers that the hotel's owner Nora Temple (Lauren Bacall) and her invalid father-in-law James Temple (Lionel Barrymore) have been tricked into allowing Rocco's gang to stay and now, as a tropical storm begins to blow, are being held at gunpoint. McCloud's delicate task is to keep the megalomaniac and murderous personality of Rocco under some control so that he doesn't murder everyone.
Note that this is a splendid cast, and they all do a good job. Note too that Huston adapted this from a play by the versatile American playwright Maxwell Anderson. So the ingredients for a good film are clearly in place; and aside from some self-conscious mishmash with the Seminoles of Florida, this is a success. Anderson's desire to explore the psychopathic personality (some years later he adapted William March's novel The Bad Seed into a stage play) finds realization in Huston's direction and especially in Robinson's indelible performance. The utter disregard for the lives of others and the obsessive love of self that characterize the sociopath reek from the snares and callous laughter of the very sick Johnny Rocco. I especially liked the crazed and thrilled grin on his face when he emerges from the hold of the boat in the climactic scene, gun in hand, imagining that he has once again fooled his adversaries and is about to delightfully shoot Humphrey Bogart to death. What I loved about this scene was that Huston did not think it necessary to contrive a fight in which the good guy (Bogart) beats the bad guy by fighting fair. What happens is exactly what should happen, and without regard for the fine points of Marquis of Queensberry-type rules. Also good is Rocco beginning to sweat in fear of his life as the storm moves in while Bogey gives us his famous laugh and grin as he assesses the essential cowardice of the petty gangster.
Lauren Bacall, in one of her more modest roles, does a lot without saying much, and Lionel Barrymore is very good as the cantankerous old guy in a wheelchair. Claire Trevor actually won an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actress for her work, and she was good as the alcoholic moll with a heart of gold. Robinson won nothing, but he really dominated the picture and demonstrated why he was one of Hollywood's greatest stars.
Bottom line: watch this to see the gangster yarn meld into film noir with overtones of the psychoanalytical drama that characterized many of the black and white Hollywood films of the forties and early fifties.
(Note: Over 500 of my movie reviews are now available in my book "Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!" Get it at Amazon!)
Basically this film is almost like a play. The whole story is more or
less (apart from the ending) shot in a rustic Florida hotel. A great
location and setting, a real credit to John Huston.
In short, Frank McCloud (Bogart) an ex war hero and living at no-fixed-address, visits (by request) his dead war buddy's father (barrymore) & widow (Bacall). As he arrives, it doesn't take long for Frank to work out the Hotel is temporarily hostage to a big mob gangster - Rocco (robinson) and his cronies.
The film instantly grabs you, it looks beautiful, there is a lot of substance and well thought out scripts, nothing glamorous or smart, just very good story telling. A good side line to the story, are the Native American clan, who due to an approaching hurricane need to find shelter, their plight is placed nicely into the story. There is a scene in which Bacall introduces Bogart to the oldest member of the clan, a 100 and something year old Native woman which is just so genuine, I still don't believe this woman was an actress, Huston must have improvised this into the script.
Not only is Bogart superb in this, but also the whole cast. It goes without saying Edward G Robinson's performance was second to none as to was - his right hand man (Harry Lewis I think), Bacall & Rocco's girlfriend - Ziggy..pretty much the entire cast.
The whole thing ties up well, without Spoilers it does have a great ending. This is a must not just for Bogie fans but for anyone who can appreciate an intelligent film.
It is difficult to resist the temptation to compare William Wyler's
"The Desperate Hours" with John Huston's "Key Largo."
Here again the drama arose when a gangster and his thugs sought a temporary hideout by moving in on an innocent family, and were unable to get away until a raging hurricane had blown itself out
The family were Lionel Barrymore, complete with wheelchair, and Lauren Bacall, apparently without make-upstunningly attractive Their home was a small hotel in Florida, and "just passing through" was a tough and somewhat mixed-up good guy Humphrey Bogart The gangster was Edward G. Robinson
For Bogart "Key Largo" was another "The Petrified Forest," but this time he was the disenchanted idealist and Edward G. Robinson the vicious, antiquated symbol of raw brute force
Paul Muni had appeared in the original Maxwell Anderson play in 1939, and director John Huston and Richard Brooks updated the piece to make it more contemporary As a film, it was treated in a slightly heavy-handed, overly talky manner, displacing action in favor of strong character studies of a group of disparate individuals trapped by a kingpin gangster
Claire Trevor won an Academy Award as Gaye Dawn, Rocco's boozy mistress who was willing to lower herself to any depths for the mere expedient of getting a drink She is finally pushed too far by Rocco, has accepted too many insults and been rejected once too often, so she decides to help the besieged prisoners
Lauren Bacall was Nora Temple, an antiseptic dreamer who persisted in believing that evil should always be opposed by a valiant Sir Galahad and temporarily has her illusions shattered when Bogart apparently doesn't agree to fit into her mold
As Bacall's grandfather, Lionel Barrymore was another heroic figure who, could afford to be a verbal hero, knowing that a retreat to the safety of his confining wheelchair could protect him
Edward G. Robinson as Rocco was a mass of contradictions Brutal with a gun safely in his hand, dreaming of the glories he once knew in the good old days when he was a big shot, all he has left are the memories He was a man whose criminal wisdom permits no ethics and few feelings He offers Bogart an empty gun to shoot it out with him... He is also a man afraid, who sweats when the hurricane approaches and poses a threat to his safety... He detests Bogart because of his wartime heroism, mocking and taunting him because his courage is something differing in Rocco's own unheroic life
As war hero Frank McCloud, Bogart was the most complex character of all Disillusioned, tired of his war-induced killings, unwilling to risk himself in any new test of courage ("One Rocco more or less isn't worth dying for"), he is now a complacent shadow of his former noble self He, like Barrymore, seeks an idyllic world where "there's no place for Johnny Rocco." However, his pattern has been too well established He, like Claire Trevor, can be pushed only so far and then reason and restraint seem no longer acceptable as an alternative to action
With such a cast "Key Largo" could not fall to hold the attention Yet, for all its workmanlike craft, it did not reach the level of Wyler's "The Desperate Hours." Bogart, as a disillusioned war veteran who could not rouse himself to action until the last few minutes, left one frustrated: looking for the vicious power that he was to show as the gangster in the later film
Edward G. Robinson, commanding, convincing, was still not so coldly frightening a villain as Humphrey Bogart And, one can imagine how the idea of the storming hurricane appealed at the time The violence and the drama outside, as the wind tore at the palm trees and the waves threatened to swallow the little wooden hotel, would surely underscore and heighten the tensions within... Not so! And not only because the studio storm was not always up to nature's level...
What William Wyler realized was that the suspense of innocence trapped as hostages by wickedness was vastly heightened by the contrast with a quiet, undramatic, everyday setting No hurricane was needed to put the desperation in "The Desperate Hours."
When I think of the colorized version that, regrettably, is the only copy
this excellent film noir in my video store, I can't help but think of a
comment Orson Welles made to a friend a few days before his death in
to Turner's plans to colorize "Citizen Kane"(thankfully defeated, because
the fact that it came under Welles' original contract with RKO, which
specified that only Welles would make changes): "Keep Turner and his
Crayolas away from my movie." Watching this version of "Key Largo" more
proves Welles' point; the lighting becomes terrible in several key scenes,
particularly the closing ones on the boat, to whereas before, you could
what was going on, now you can just barely tell a thing. That said, it
destroy the fine work that this film truly is.
I was led to this film by my mother, who called it one of her favorites from Bogie (another being "The African Queen") and now I can see why. Leave it to John Huston, the man who was bold enough to make a true adaptation of Dashiell Hammet's "The Maltese Falcon", to give us a tightly woven drama that never feels forced. Bogie's Frank McCloud is probably the most silent of all the strong-silent types he ever played, barely saying more than is necessary for the scene he's in. Such reticience leaves some large blanks for the audience to fill; though he says that he doesn't care one way or another, I really don't believe him. The feeling I get the entire time he's in the clutches of Johnny Rocco's gang is that he's just waiting for his moment. After all, you don't survive WWII's Italian campaign and not know when it's best to stay still and when it's best to make your play. That's why he threw away the gun offered to him by Rocco; no way was Rocco's gang just going to let their boss be gunned down even if the deck was stacked in Rocco's favor. The murders of the deputy and the Indians on the lam just adds to the need to take care of business.
I was a little disappointed to see Bacall in such a minor role (it still had to be better than what she was given, sans Bogie, after this film, from reports I've heard), but her spitting in Rocco's face is an undeniably powerful moment. As for Edward G. Robinson, one of Hollywood's original tough guys imported from Bucharest, Romania, he literally runs away with the part of Johnny Rocco, the former big-shot with delusions of grandeur. He's a casually vicious, ruthless fount of hate, bitter over his fallen status and hungering for a comeback. But he still fails to draw an important lesson from his soused ex-galpal: times change and not necessarily for the better. He may have defied a ton of police in his day or gun down a deputy in this one, but it still doesn't change the fact that the outside world (nicely symbolized by the hurricane) can and will eat him alive without the slightest trace of indigestion. All Rocco is is a dinosaur: proud, strong, but too stupid to realize that his kind have become extinct.
In fact, that may very well be why McCloud was such a natural match for Rocco as an opponent. McCloud had changed his spots many times in his life to fit the job situation he was in, while Rocco has never been anything else but what he is now. Small wonder that one can see the confrontation between them coming to full steam. This core element, and all the others mentioned and not mentioned here, help make "Key Largo" one of the great unsung classics of Humphrey Bogart AND Edward G. Robinson. Here's looking at you, tough guys.
Obviously someone below couldn't tell a well directed, highly regarded
classic film the likes of Key Largo from a Turkey Sandwich - but thanks for
the remedial effort nonetheless.
This movie doesn't get the attention of a Casablanca or a Maltese Falcon, but it's definitely one to see - and not just for the giants on the screen. The build up of tension between the main characters is set well against the backdrop of the impending storm seemingly threatening to cave their hotel in literally and figuratively. Frank's character arc from jaded passiveness to the restrained heroism he is inescapably drawn towards has been seen in other Bogie characters, but usually those guys were either willing participants on the trigger end of their guns, or they were fulfilling their own agendas as well. However Frank McCloud has no ulterior motives. Here, there is a refreshing change from the usual Bogie-isms; Frank doesnt engage in any verbal bravado with Rocco, there are no confident smirks on his face, or promises to 'get even' later.
As for Barrymore, he was just simply an acting genius. Look no further than the scene with him getting out of his wheelchair in a futile attempt to fight Rocco as proof. Fantastic. E.G. Robinson delivers his vitriol so well on-screen, you cant help but hate his guts and wait for his come-uppance. Both Barrymore and EGR were great at delivering speeches - extended lines of dialogue while 'flying solo' - you can almost here the room go quiet as they worked the script. Lauren Bacall's chemistry with her Husband was so natural and unforced, even the scenes with no dialogue show how much they were in love - albeit true she doesnt exactly carry the workload in this one.
Some of the scenes with the Indians seem a little odd, but it still works in the context of the entire movie. Don't overlook this great film!
Humphrey Bogart and John Huston must be considered the artistic equivalent
of De Niro-Scorsese. Huston and Bogie made several films together, this
being one of their best. But there is another combo that comes to an end
cinema's history: Bogie and Bacall appear on screen for the final time
together. It is their finest collaboration. Edward G. Robinson, "Little
Caesar" himself, returns to gangster form after years of playing the good
guy (Wilder's DOUBLE INDEMNITY, Welles' THE STRANGER) and has one of the
more memorable entrances in film villain history. We see him in a tub,
smoking, a fan in front of him. He seems to be decaying in a way, but
"Johnny Rocco" is still to be reckoned with. This is the Robinson we all
love, demented and wise, sinister yet humorous. The Largo Hotel is the
setting and a hurricane of drama, heroism, and rain is
Huston stages the film much like the play it is based on, yet we never feel confined. There is enough colorful dialogue to go around. Surprisingly, much of it is not by Bogart, who plays probably his most quiet role, promoting his character through facial gestures more than words. He plays off Robinson and his posse of mobsters perfectly in this way, allowing Edward G. to dominate the majority of the film, which is the point. Lionel Barrymore plays the chair-ridden owner of the Largo and his daughter Bacall is falling in love with Bogart, naturally. They are at the mercy of Rocco and his boys, all of whom have some itchy trigger fingers. Bogart is just buying his time to make his move. The finale is extremely well done and foresees suspense endings to come.
Lauren Bacall is one of the most beautiful actresses to grace the screen, especially in black and white. Her perfect features look sculpted in this light and her sensual stare is enough to make you melt. Her smoky voice and attitude is an excellent match for Bogie's simple, heroic character. Film Noir becomes Florida Noir here, as the lightening outside the windows of the hotel play games with the shadows and atmosphere of events inside. Robinson murders an innocent man with the look of a terrifying ghost, lightening flashing on him and all. The thunder substitutes for the sound of cars and street-life normally heard in classic noir pictures. KEY LARGO is a very good film, dark and suspenseful, in the most pleasant of locales.
RATING: 8 of 10
"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
"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.
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