Key Largo (1948)

Seventy-four years ago today, the film Key Largo Premiered. A Bogie and Bacall pairing that solidified the legend. You have to see this movie.

key largo

Title: Key Largo
Directed by: John Huston
Produced by: Jerry Wald
Screenplay by: Richard Brooks, John Huston
Based on: Key Largo 1939 play by Maxwell Anderson
Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson, Lauren Bacall, Lionel Barrymore, Claire Trevor
Music by: Max Steiner
Cinematography: Karl Freund
Edited by: Rudi Fehr
Distributed by: Warner Bros.
Release date: July 16, 1948
Running time: 101 minutes
Budget: $1.8 million
Box office: $3.3 million
ACADEMY AWARD: Best Supporting Actress – Claire Trevor

Army veteran Frank McCloud (Humphrey Bogart) arrives at the Hotel Largo in Key Largo, Florida, visiting the family of George Temple, a friend who served under him and was killed in the Italian campaign several years before. He meets with the friend’s widow Nora Temple (Lauren Bacall) and father James (Lionel Barrymore), who owns the hotel. Because the winter vacation season has ended and a hurricane is approaching, the hotel has only six guests: dapper Toots (Harry Lewis), boorish Curly (Thomas Gomez), stone-faced Ralph (William Haade), servant Angel (Dan Seymour), attractive but aging alcoholic Gaye Dawn (Claire Trevor), and a sixth man who remains secluded in his room. The visitors claim to be in the Florida Keys for fishing.

Frank tells Nora and James about George’s heroism under fire and shares some small and cherished details that George had spoken of. Nora and her father-in-law seem taken with Frank, stating that George frequently mentioned Frank in his letters.

While preparing the hotel for the hurricane, the three are interrupted by Sheriff Ben Wade (Monte Blue) and his deputy Sawyer (John Rodney). They are searching for the Osceola brothers, a pair of fugitive American Indians. Soon after the police leave, the local Seminoles seek shelter at the hotel, among them the Osceola brothers.

As the storm approaches, Curly, Ralph, Angel, and Toots pull guns and take the Temples and Frank hostage. They explain that the sixth member of their party is notorious gangster Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson), who was exiled to Cuba some years before. Rocco is waiting for his Miami contacts to arrive to conclude a deal. The gang discover Deputy Sawyer looking about and capture him. A tense standoff ensues. Frank declines to fight a duel with Rocco, stating his belief in self-preservation over heroics and that “one Rocco more or less isn’t worth dying for”. Rocco shoots Sawyer, and Rocco’s men take Sawyer’s body out on a rowboat in the approaching storm and drop it in the ocean.

The storm rages outside. Inside, Rocco forces his former moll, Gaye, to sing for them but then demeans her. In contrast, Frank politely gives her the promised drink and ignores Rocco’s slaps. Nora understands that Frank’s heroism matches her husband’s, who was killed around Monte Cassino in Italy. Mr. Temple invites Frank to live with them at the hotel, a prospect that intrigues Nora.

The storm finally subsides. Sheriff Wade returns looking for Deputy Sawyer. When the sheriff discovers his deputy’s body washed up by the storm on the hotel driveway in his car’s headlights, Rocco blames Sawyer’s death on the Osceola brothers. Wade confronts and kills them both before leaving with Sawyer’s body. Rocco’s contact Ziggy (Marc Lawrence) arrives to buy a large amount of counterfeit money. Rocco then forces Frank, who is a skilled seaman, to take him and his henchmen back to Cuba on the smaller hotel boat. As the gang prepares to board the boat, Gaye steals Rocco’s gun and covertly passes it to Frank.

Out on the Straits of Florida, Frank uses seamanship, trickery, and the stolen gun to kill the gang members one by one. He then heads back to Key Largo, while radioing for Coast Guard help and to get a message to the hotel. Meanwhile, Gaye tells Wade that Rocco bears the blame for Deputy Sawyer’s murder. Wade mentions that Ziggy’s gang has been captured and leaves with Gaye to identify them.

The phone rings: James and Nora are delighted to hear that Frank is returning safely. Nora opens the shutters to the sun while out at sea Frank steers the boat towards shore.

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