Key Largo (1948) Poster



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In a classic case of a director being emotionally manipulative, John Huston informed Claire Trevor that they were to film her song that very day. Trevor was not a trained singer, and had not even rehearsed the song yet. She also felt very intimidated by the A-list actors seated directly in front of her. The result was a hesitant, nervous, uncomfortable rendition, exactly the feeling Huston was hoping to get.
In honor of this film, the real Key Largo hosts a Humphrey Bogart film festival every year.
Although they played on-screen enemies, off-screen Humphrey Bogart and Edward G. Robinson treated each other with great respect. Bogart insisted Robinson be treated like a major star and would not come to the set until he was ready. Often, he would go to Robinson's trailer to personally escort him to the set.
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.
Lionel Barrymore was severely disabled by arthritis (clearly visible in his hands) and was confined to a wheelchair, making the scene in which his Mr. Temple character gets up and falls taking a swing at Toots more than a dramatic moment.
Apart from the opening shots, the movie was filmed entirely at Warner Bros. Studio head Jack L. Warner - still reeling from the cost of shooting John Huston's previous film, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), on location - refused to approve any more location filming for the director. The pier scenes were filmed using the studio tank with miniature boats in the background to give an illusion of depth. The shipboard shots at the end were also filmed using the studio tank, with fog used to mask the artifice.
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.
When Claire Trevor asked John Huston for some insight into her character, he told her, "You're the kind of drunken dame whose elbows are always a little too big, your voice is a little too loud, you're a little too polite. You're very sad, very resigned." Then he leaned on the set's bar in a way that encapsulated the character for her.
Fourth and final film pairing of Humphrey Bogart and his wife Lauren Bacall. A fifth film was planned several years later, but Bogart died before it could be made.
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.
The character of Gaye Dawn (Claire Trevor) was based on real-life moll Gay Orlova (gangster Lucky Luciano's girlfriend), believed at that time to have been executed by a German firing squad. Orlova survived, however, and was known to be living in Paris as late as 1954, trying to join Luciano in Italy.
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.
John Huston's scapegoat on the production was Harry Lewis. The inexperienced actor wasn't very good, and Huston browbeat him mercilessly to get a performance out of him. But Lewis would later say Huston was the only director who ever really worked with him. The character's loud clothes and high-pitched laugh were ideas from Huston that helped Lewis register on screen as he never would again.
Santana was the name of Humphrey Bogart's yacht, which he purchased from June Allyson and Dick Powell. Before that it had belonged to George Raft and Ray Milland. He loved the Santana so much he named his production company after it.
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.
When John Huston was scouting for locations on the Florida Keys, he asked a hotel owner where the storm cellar was. The man informed him that if you dug three feet down you would hit the ocean.
This was the 5th and final movie that Humphrey Bogart appeared in with Edward G. Robinson.
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 D. Roosevelt years and how those ideals began to erode as organized crime spread through urban areas.
Actor Harry Lewis went on to open the popular Hamburger Hamlet chain, which he sold in 1987 for $29 million. He passed away at age 93 in 2013.
Claire Trevor sings "Moanin' Low" acapella. This song was popularized in the early 1930s by Libby Holman.
The movie was filmed in only 78 days, virtually all on the Warner Brothers lot, except for a few shots in Florida used for the opening scenes.
Felipa Gómez, who played the Old Indian Woman, was born just five years after the U.S. Civil War ended.
When Lauren Bacall had problems playing her straight leading lady role, John Huston twisted her arm to get some emotion into her face.
The Writers Guild nominated John Huston and Richard Brooks for Best Written American Drama.
While most of the film was shot in Los Angeles, the exterior shots were shot at the Caribbean Club at Mile Marker 105 on US 1. While the property is still there, much of the old exterior was destroyed in a pair of fires.
The medals on Mr. Temple's desk that his son earned that Frank McCloud momentarily holds are a Silver Star (held near the beginning of the film) and a Purple Heart (held near the end of the film).
The original Broadway production of "Key Largo" by Maxwell Anderson opened at the Ethel Barrymore Theater on November 27, 1939 and ran for 105 performances. The original stage cast includes Paul Muni, Uta Hagen and the Broadway debut of character actor James Gregory.
John Huston originally wanted Charles Boyer for the role played by Edward G. Robinson, but Jack Warner thought Boyer was box office poison.
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)
If you compare the numbers on the bow, the same boat was used in both movies, Key Largo and To Have and Have Not.
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"Lux Radio Theater" broadcast a 60 minute radio adaptation of the movie on November 28, 1949 with Edward G. Robinson reprising his film role.
Johnny Rocco was modeled after Al Capone who retired to Florida after his release from Alcatraz in 1939 rather than after the St. Valentine's Day Massacre which happened in 1929.
A line of Rocco's dialogue was popularly misquoted following the 2000 presidential election and its Florida-centric "recount battle" to make it look as if the movie was prophetic.
Referenced in Bertie Higgins' 1981 #1 hit song, "Key Largo".
The boat that belongs to Bogarts character, the "Santana", appears to be the same boat used in the film, "To Have, and Have Not", with some alterations.
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When this movie first opened as a play some years earlier, it premiered at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre. Ethel was Lionel's younger sister.
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Claire Trevor's Best Supporting Actress Oscar win was this film's only Oscar nomination.
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The trivia items below may give away important plot points.

When John Huston didn't have a conclusive ending to his script, Howard Hawks gave him the shootout on a boat that finishes the film, as he had been unable to include it in To Have and Have Not (1944).
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.

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