Key Largo (1948) – Movie Review

you can see the headlines can’t you
local deputy captured johnny rocco
your picture had been all the papers
you might even get to tell on the
newsreel how you pulled it off
well listen hick
that was too much for any big city
police force to handle
they tried but they couldn’t
key largo from 1948 was an excellent
crime film directed by john huston and
starring humphrey bogart lauren bacall
and edward g robinson as well as a
number of other big names the story
takes place on the little island of key
largo in south florida in a hotel with a
bunch of shady criminal characters right
as a hurricane is about to arrive and i
love this film i’ve seen it a bunch of
times and it’s not just because i’m a
bogart fan but for a whole bunch of
reasons that i’ll get into with this
review i’ll give an overview of the
movie and then wrap up with some closing
thoughts well the film opens up and the
story is set on key largo a remote
island it’s off the coast of florida the
character major frank mccloud played by

is going to visit the family of one of
his gi buddies who was killed in world
war ii
now as he arrives right away we can tell
something fishy is going on he gets a
cool reception
from some of these guys that are hanging
around at the bar only one who is
initially nice to frank is a character
of gay who’s played by actress claire
trevor i’ve seen in a bunch of other
movies and
she’s there she’s totally drunk but
she’s the only one who is initially kind
to him
these rough characters around the bar
are curly inspired by actor thomas gomez
who looks a lot different than how he
looked in the movie ride the pink horse
which i’ve reviewed recently
there’s a character toots who is this
tough guy played by harry lewis
actor william haid and angel played by
actor dan seymour who was also in the
film to have and have not that i
reviewed recently anyhow these are the
bunch of thugs that give frank a cold
reception but they claim they’re just
there for the fishing and the keys but
we the viewer we know better frank meets
with the widow of his friend nora temple
played here by lauren mccall
and his father james lionel barrimore
who is this older man in a wheelchair
who owns the hotel now because the
winter vacation season is over and a
hurricane is on the way the only ones
staying at this hotel are the suspicious
characters frank met earlier
so they’re preparing the house for the
hurricane when sheriff ben wade arrives
played by actor monty blue and his
deputy and they basically mentioned
they’re looking for the osceola brothers
who are a pair of fugitive american
now these two are only a brief subplot
of the film but it is noteworthy that
while watching this film last week with
my dad he pointed out that one of the
brothers was played by actor jay
silverheels who was also known for
playing tonto
in the lone ranger program i only point
that out because it’s usually
i’m the one who’s pointing out obscure
actors from a film and my dad beat me to
the punch this time by pointing out that
anyhow as the storm gets closer the bad
guys pull out their guns
and they take frank nora and james
hostage and it’s here
that we finally meet the leader
of these bad guys this is notorious
gangster johnny rocco
he’s played amazingly here by actor
edward g robinson we find out that he’s
entered the country illegally from cuba
to make a delivery of counterfeit money
but because of the storm his contact has
been delayed so they’re just hanging out
this house and waiting
well the thugs discover this deputy
sawyer actor john rodney who’s been
snooping around outside
they find him and they grab him and
there’s a tense standoff that ends with
rocco shooting sawyer and rocco’s guys
then take his body out
to just dump it out at sea before the
so we can see right away this johnny
rocco guy means business but frank seems
to be
cautiously biding his time at this point
he’s not ready to jump into action just
yet the storm moves in and as it pounds
the house
everyone is trapped and note
the power gets knocked out so as we’re
watching the film the house is filled
with you know strong shadowy contrast
and it just gives you an uncomfortable
feeling of dread and heat too i mean
this is south florida after all
and we get to the infamous scene where
forces gay his female companion to sing
for everyone now she’s an alcoholic and
just badly wants a drink
rocco agrees he’ll give her a drink if
she sings
and what follows is an amazing but
uncomfortable song
as she just sings on the spot with these
ironic lyrics about my man i love him so
even though he’s mean to me
and watch the scene and watch
everybody’s faces as they just
watch kind of anxiously
this performance take place she finishes
and rocco just puts her down and insults
and refuses to give her a drink but it’s
here that frank finally steps up
pours her a drink and gives it to her
followed by rocco giving him a series of
slaps to the face
while they all wait for the storm to
pass there’s wind and there’s rain and a
tree crashes through a window
as it finally slows
james temple offers frank their home to
stay at and it’s a sweet scene
as you know he’s given an opportunity to
maybe put his life back together again
start with a new family and we see him
looking at nora
quietly considering this offer it’s a
it’s a neat scene in the film rocco
at this point discovers that his boat is
gone washed away from the storm
well the sheriff returns looking for his
deputy at this point and everyone at the
basically they’re quiet about what
happened to him but the sheriff does
find the deputy’s body washed up outside
he asks rocco who did it and
cold as ice rocco blames it on the
osceola brothers so wade confronts and
kills them both
and then leaves with sawyer’s body
so rocco’s contact ziggy finally arrives
it’s played by character actor mark
lawrence who i’ve seen at several films
before like the asphalt jungle he’s
there to buy this large amount of
counterfeit money from morocco
after this rocco forces frank to take
him and his gang back to cuba on the
small boat that’s at the hotel and
just before he leaves though
gay secretly steals rocco’s gun and
gives it to frank
and as he and these bad guys were all
getting on this boat to make this trip
and with not much of the film left i’ll
leave the review here so you can go see
the exciting ending for yourself if
you’ve never seen this film before so
some closing thoughts key largo was
produced by warner brothers and directed
by legendary director john huston who
also co-wrote the screenplay
you know i’m really growing to
appreciate the films of john huston as i
review more of them on this channel
and his work here on key largo is no
the feeling here almost from the
beginning is one of paranoia and dread i
mean right as bogart’s character arrives
at the hotel
and initially meets these shady
characters we know this isn’t a safe
and i love how the direction of this
film is
largely restricted to shadowy confined
locations in this house
it leaves you feeling
hot confined and claustrophobic and i’m
seeing how well john houston handles
like physically uncomfortable
environments and films you know
this film or films like african queen or
treasure of sierra madre
these are films that kind of give you a
visceral feeling of
discomfort and i like that
the film was adapted from a play by
playwright maxwell anderson
and honestly the film has a theatrical
feel like you’re watching a play almost
especially as the setting is confined
mostly to the interior of the small
house as i mentioned
and even the outdoor areas of the film
these were just constructed on a
hollywood set
and i didn’t find that distracting at
all if anything is mentioned it’s just
it’s like you’re watching a play
i’ve noted in some previous reviews such
as ride the pink horse that one of the
i’m going to appreciate from some of
late 1940s movies
is the character of the jaded world war
ii veteran he’s coming back from the war
and struggling to find his place in a
direction to go often with a cynical
outlook and bogart really nails that
element with his character here
we don’t really see him as like a spring
into action movie hero necessarily
but he’s a little bit more subdued here
a character who just bides his time
quietly watching and waiting and
calculating what steps to take next i
like that it’s a little different from
other roles i’ve seen him in
in any case i thought bogart was great
in this movie and
oh well heck i’ve enjoyed him in
everything even return of dr x you can’t
go wrong with humphrey bogart i thought
that lauren bacall was excellent in this
film as well and what i liked about this
film is how different she was from other
films i’ve seen her in like the big
sleep where
she’s not necessarily the sultry
seductive woman but here
she’s more of just a quiet woman who’s
concerned about caring for her
who does seem to show a passive interest
in bogart’s character that
gradually grows through the film but
it’s not really like a fiery romance or
anything like some of the other films
they’ve been in
i actually really liked their
interactions throughout this film and it
made for a good ending
to what would be ultimately their fourth
and final film together
and of course edward g robinson is
amazing as the crime boss here i think
he’s in a just an awesome actor and he’s
completely in his element as the
scheming controlling cigar chomping bad
guy and he plays off bogart’s character
very nicely
and i also like how we see that he’s not
above being a little jumpy with the
storm that’s rolling around outside of
the house too i thought that was great
and i thought lionel barrymore was
noteworthy as the old father who you can
see is really struggling with that sense
of powerlessness with these criminal
characters who have just invaded his
it was interesting in researching the
film i was listening to eddie mueller’s
review and he makes mention
of that interesting scene in the film
where we see barrymore’s character
briefly rise from his chair to confront
the thugs
as mueller explains it
since the late 1930s
beremore had a hip injury that had left
him confined to a wheelchair
so in the context of like the 1940s
movie audiences who would have been
watching this you know they were
familiar with him being seated in the
chair for most of his roles so it would
have been something of a shock to see
this scene of him rising up from his
it’s also noteworthy that this film had
an amazing score by max steiner you
really can appreciate it during some of
those tense moments of the film and a
final note about claire trevor’s song in
this film
from a couple different sources i was
reading john huston didn’t tell claire
trevor about when she was going to
perform her song solo until the very day
that it was filmed now she wasn’t a
trained singer and hadn’t rehearsed the
song at all
so what you see in here in the film that
kind of uncomfortable unrehearsed
nervous rendition you know with a real
sense of anxiety this was the first take
that they used and it just works
perfectly in the film
it’s an amazing scene that if you’ve
never seen key largo at the very least
go research and find this one moment of
the film and she won an oscar
for her performance in key largo
anyhow that’s my thoughts on key largo
from 1948 it’s an excellent crime film
directed by john huston starring
humphrey bogart lauren mccall and edward
g robinson it’s an amazing film and one
worth checking out

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