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Movie Critique - Key Largo

For review of all movies starring Humphrey Bogart, go here.

Stars: 5 / 5

Recommendation: Superb cast, a very intense drama and a under appreciated classic, the film shocks you into reality; gives you the terror; makes you fight for the underdog; wants you to kill the antagonist; and over all a first-rate entertainment in every way.

Key Largo is a 1948 American film noir starring Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Edward G. Robinson, Lionel Barrymore and Claire Trevor in the lead cast. Directed by John Huston and Produced by Jerry Wald, this was an adaptation from Maxwell Anderson's 1939 play of the same name.

Army veteran Frank McCloud (portrayed by Humphrey Bogart) comes to Hotel Largo in Key Largo, Florida to meet the invalid father, James Temple (portrayed by Lionel Barrymore) and young widow Nora Temple (portrayed by Lauren Bacall) of his friend George Temple, with whom he had served together. With an impending hurricane and the hotel preparing for it, Frank ends up staying along with six other guests and Temple's family and lands himself in the middle of a hostage situation by a powerful gangster Johnny Rocco (portrayed by Edward G. Robinson).

This is the fourth and last film pairing Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. The other three were 1944 To Have and Have Not; 1946 The Big Sleep; and 1947 The Dark Passage.

Ironically in the 1936 American drama film The Petrified Forest, Humphrey Bogart's character Duke Mantee takes people hostage, in contrast to what happens in this film a good 12 years after. 

Bacall and Bogart have the minimum of dialogues in the film compared to Trevor or Robinson in the film. Most of their communication between them and to the viewers is through their eyes and expressions. I found it interesting that the main characters had less talking to do. 

Claire Trevor for her role as drunken ex-singer Gaye Dawn in the film won her first and only Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role; a good 11 years after her very first Academy Award nomination for Best Actress in Supporting role in the 1937 American crime drama Dead End. Hers was the shortest role in the film and yet won a nomination then. She paired with Bogart in Dead End as his long-lost girl friend, Francie; and in this she shares screen space with him.

Trevor's Dawn does an a cappella version of the song Moanin' Low from the 1929 entertaining revue The Little Show by Libby Holman. Music was composed by Ralph Rainer and Lyrics were penned by Howard Dietz. The song also brings out the hidden feelings in Dawn's character; makes her to face her own fears and understand that her relationship with Rocco was not healthy.

At the time of the filming, Lionel Barrymore was confined to wheelchair and was disabled with severe arthritis. It is amazing to see his character get up from a chair and take a swing at one of the gangsters.

Edward G. Robinson's Johnny Rocco scared the hell out of me. With some mere glances and few words his opening scene simply terrified me; his silent whispering into Nora's ears chilled me to bone; and the way Nora's expression doesn’t change but fear shows in her eyes simply blew me off; his subtle insults to Dawn feels as if he insulted me. Robinson certainly evoked so may emotions in the viewers through his character effectively.

Although it was Bacall and Bogart who were the lead, Robinson's Rocco takes the cake, in my opinion. Single-handedly he holds the threads of every single character in the plot. Even Bogart's Frank is his puppet for a little while.

Screenplay was by director John Huston and Richard Brooks. There were quite a few changes to the script, it's location and about the lead protagonist in the movie compared to that from the original play. Perhaps filmmakers didn’t want to have a certain negative characterization associated with Bogart's character. 

Apart from the gangster stuff, the terror, the hurricane, filmmakers show the unrest between the Natives and the Americans, even if it was for a few scenes. The assumption that Natives always commit crime; the prejudice that the Americans have towards the Natives; and above all the subtle racial discrimination that comes through.

Superb cast, a very intense drama and a under appreciated classic, the film shocks you into reality; gives you the terror; makes you fight for the underdog; wants you to kill the antagonist; and over all a first-rate entertainment in every way. A movie must watch!

Spoiler Alerts:

1) Movie Trivia:

a. Edward G. Robinson and Humphrey Bogart acted together in four more films prior to this - 1936 Bullets or Ballots; 1937 Kid Galahad; 1938 The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse (Claire Trevor was also in this); and 1940 Brother Orchid.  

b. The hurricane shots used in the film were stock footage from Ronald Reagan's 1949 American melodramatic film Night Unto Night, which had released earlier the same year as Key Largo.

c. The boat the gangsters use to escape Key Largo is called Santana, which is the name of Bogart's own boat as well. And the boat used is also the same boat used in 1944 Bogart's To Have and Have Not film.

d. Lux Radio Theater did a 60 minute adaptation on radio in 1949 in which Edward G. Robinson reprised his role.

e. I remember reading the 16th book Murder In A Minor Key in the Murder, She Wrote book series in which the protagonist Jessica Fletcher remembers this movie when she and her companion Dr. Seth Hazlitt travel to Key West.

2) Grammatical / Historical / Location / Character Errors:

a. In the beginning of the film when the police car is cruising beside the bus, it is clear that the bus is empty except for the driver. However, a few seconds later when the bus stops and the policeman goes inside to check, it is full of people.

b. In the beginning of the film Frank holds a "Silver Star" medal given to George in his hand. Only one medal is shown at that time. Towards the end when he holds that medal again, it is a "Purple Heart" now.

c. When Frank and Nora walk down the pier to secure the boat before the hurricane hits, both their shirts are wrinkle free and crisp. However in the next shot when they are shown again from behind, we can see creases on both their shirts making it clear that the scenes were filmed a while apart and that they might have rested themselves on a chair in between. 

d. The amount of shaving cream on Rocco's face keeps changing from more to less to more to none in between shots without him or his assistant touching.

e. The position of scratches that Nora makes on Rocco's face changes between scenes. So does the length of Rocco's tie constantly changes from scene to scene.

f. In several scenes, the background scenery such as the palm trees or ocean water don’t move at all, they stand still clearly showing that they are painted sets.

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