Key Largo (1948)

Key Largo is a 1948 film noir directed by John Huston and starring Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson and Lauren Bacall. The supporting cast features Lionel Barrymore and Claire Trevor. The movie was adapted by Richard Brooks and Huston from Maxwell Anderson‘s 1939 play of the same name, which played on Broadway for 105 performances in 1939 and 1940.

The script was adapted from a 1939 play by Maxwell Anderson. In the play, the gangsters are Mexican bandidos, the war in question is the Spanish Civil War, and Frank is a disgraced deserter who dies at the end.

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Robinson had top billing over Bogart in their four previous films together: Bullets or Ballots (1936), Kid Galahad (1937), The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse (1938) and Brother Orchid (1940). For this movie, however, Robinson’s name appears to the right of Bogart’s, but placed a little higher on the posters, and also in the film’s opening credits, to indicate Robinson’s near-equal status. Robinson’s image was also markedly larger and centered on the original poster, with Bogart relegated to the background. In the film’s trailer, Bogart is repeatedly mentioned first but Robinson’s name is listed above Bogart’s in a cast list at the end.

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Exterior shots of the hurricane were taken from stock footage used in Night Unto Night, a Ronald Reagan melodrama which Warner Bros. also produced in 1948.

The boat used by Rocco’s gang to depart Key Largo, with Bogart’s character at the helm, is named the Santana, which was also the name of Bogart’s personal 55-foot (17 m) sailing yacht.

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Spoilers Ahead:

The film is about Frank. He returns from the war disillusioned and depressed both from the horrors he has endured and the lies he was told. Remember why he is here, he has come to tell his best friends’ relatives how he died. If you do not understand Frank, his actions will seem bizarre and inexplicable.

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Once Rocco’s gang takes over, and everyone realizes they are prisoners there, Nora looks to Frank to save them. Frank gives a little speech, the point of which is, he went through hell trying to rid the world of Johnny Rocco’s and here is another one right in front of him. James tries to tell Nora that no man who went through what Frank did could possibly be a coward. Nora snaps, and unleashes a tirade on him about what a pathetic coward he is. Rocco will tolerate no challenges not even verbal. His reaction is to try and bait him into letting Rocco shoot him. Nora tries to convince herself Frank knew the gun was empty. When she discovers he didn’t that is when she goes postal on him. The movie follows Frank learning to care again. As Rocco, becomes more and more cruel to everyone around him. Frank begins to hate him and the old Frank is on his way back.

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The scene where Rocco makes Gaye sing for her drink is one of the saddest scenes on film. This is the fate of the moll who has outlived her usefulness, now she is discarded like garbage. When Johnny says,”You stink,” Faye answers,”Johnny you’re as mean as can be.” It won Trevor the Oscar; she earned it what a powerful scene. There is a parallel here to Treasure of Sierra Madre, watch as the storm grows, like the fire in Madre, how Rocco gets more and more frightened. Mr. Temple starts praying for divine retribution and almost gets shot by Rocco. Gradually, the film builds to the decision point. They all urge Frank to run; it is a death sentence for sure. Frank hesitates, you can see the anguish on his face, he is through running. He climbs aboard with the gun Gaye gave him secreted away. He is not the same docile, nihilistic Frank who gave that speech at the beginning. He has decided no more Johnny Roccos. The cruelty and evil of the man brought Frank back to his senses.

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Huston pulls no punches, Frank is almost killed several times, and gets a serious wound for his trouble. Rocco is portrayed as a mendacious, cowardly, cruel monster. This was before villains were heroes like in today’s movies. See how strong the normative structure of the country was back there. When Frank returns, with the fog dissipating and the sun rising behind him, both beautiful existential metaphors, the message is unmistakable; the hero has returned. What gives the movie its power is the struggle within Frank to find the hero buried under all that suffering and disillusionment. As the music ascends, and Nora rushes to meet him, his nobility reminds all of us that it is within each of us. It just has to be brought up and out with courage. A GREAT MOVIE.

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shock value

9/10
Author: bkoganbing from Buffalo, New York
2 April 2004

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.

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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.

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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.

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Edward G. Robinson at this best

8/10
Author: Dennis Littrell from United States
21 June 2004

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!)

Key Largo (1948)


One of Bogart’s, Bacall’s & Robinson’s best.

10/10
Author: Paul Browne from Oldham, England.
5 February 2005

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.

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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.

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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.

-Paul Browne.

Enduring Warner Gangster Melodrama.

8/10
Author: jpdoherty from Ireland
5 June 2012
*** 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.

Alberto Morin (in hat) in Key Largo (1948)

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 forties scores.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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”.

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