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".