Key Largo (1948)
Saturday, July 6th
Frank McCloud (Humphrey Bogart) has arrived in Key Largo to meet with the family of one of the men he commanded during the war. James Temple (Lionel Barrymore) is the proprietor of the Hotel Largo and runs it with his late sons’ wife, Nora (Lauren Bacall). The arrival of Frank has allowed them to find out more about George’s time in the war and subsequent death. However, Frank becomes involved in the drama that will unfold at the hotel during a summer hurricane.
Mobster Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson) has been deported by the United States government to Cuba being deemed an undesirable. Up until then, he spent his time pulling strings, maneuvering deals, and controlling the cities he had ties to. Now, he is ready to reestablish himself as a major player in the underworld, starting with this deal selling counterfeit money in Key Largo. Rocco has brought along with him his gang of thugs and his alcoholic companion Gaye Dawn (Claire Trevor).
With the hurricane approaching the mobsters exhort their influence and forcefully take over the hotel. Causing a clash between man and man, good and evil, and an examination of what makes a hero and a coward. However, the hurricane proves to challenge the group more than the heat ever could.
Like The Petrified Forest (1938) which featured Bogart early in his career, Key Largo primarily uses a singular setting to tell the story of the extraordinary circumstances which cause the characters to face their own lives. McCloud once considered a good soldier, now wants nothing to do with the world. He has seen heroes fall when placing the lives of others above their own. Yet, his encounter with the Temples allows him to face the beliefs and truths that he has created for himself since the war. Rocco is attempting to reestablish himself as a player in crime in the United States since being deported to Cuba. He has accepted how far he has fallen from being on the top to being a nobody. All the politicians he helped and got them where they are, turned their backs on him when the going got tough. Now all he has is his small gang, some of who never knew how important he used to be. Also, by his side is his alcoholic girlfriend Gaye Dawn. From what we learn Gaye used to be very much like Nora till Rocco took her in, changed her name, and gave her a job in a club. Claire Trevor won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance. The song ‘Moanin’ Low that she performs at the request of Rocco is simply heartbreaking and shows her vulnerability to this brutal man. It is said that for the performance of that song, Trevor had been promised that she would be lip-synching to a pre-recorded track from another singer. With no rehearsal, director Walter Huston informed her that he would be shooting the scene with the song next. Her raw performance is haunting and heartbreaking, well deserving of the Academy Award.
Another note, this was the final film that Bogart and Bacall filmed together. There were plans for another film, however, that never happened. This was also the final film that director John Huston would film for Warner Brothers, but as we know this was not the end of his partnership with Bogart.
Images from: Key Largo Dir. John Huston. Warner Brothers, 1948. DVD.
Tagged: Claire Trevor, Edward G. Robinson, Humphrey Bogart, John Huston, Key Largo, Lauren Bacall, Lionel Barrymore, The Petrified Forest, Warner Bros, Warner Bros. Pictures, Warner Bros. Studios, Warner Brothers