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
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. See more »
At the beginning of the film, when the police car pulls up next to the bus, the bus is empty (no people). But, a few seconds later when the bus stops and the policemen go in, the bus is full of people. See more »
[Rocco is showing strain at the height of the hurricane's force]
You don't like it, do you Rocco, the storm? Show it your gun, why don't you? If it doesn't stop, shoot it.
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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 »
The film may lack substance and coherence but it is first-rate drama and entertainment
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."
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