A private eye escapes his past to run a gas station in a small town, but his past catches up with him. Now he must return to the big city world of danger, corruption, double crosses and duplicitous dames.
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 the Osceola Brothers and a deputy sheriff start to motivate McCloud to overcome his Hamlet-like inaction.Written by
Actor Harry Lewis (Toots) 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. See more »
During the confrontation between Rocco and Nora (after his shave), the scratch mark from Nora changes sides of Rocco's face. See more »
Sheriff Ben Wade:
[to the driver after pulling over a bus]
Hi, Ben. What gives?
Sheriff Ben Wade:
We're lookin' for a couple Indians broke out of jail. Young bucks in fancy shirts. If you see anything of 'em, telephone my office at Palm Grove.
[after the sheriff and deputy leave, he turns to Frank McCloud in the first passenger seat]
Those Indians they're lookin' for must be from around here. They always head for home.
Home being Key Largo.
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At the southernmost point of the United States are the Florida Keys, a string of small islands held together by a concrete causeway. Largest of these remote coral islands is Key Largo. See more »
Also available in a computer colorized version. See more »
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!)
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