movie review of the classic film Key Largo, where a gangster (Edward G. Robinson) breaks into a hotel during a storm, taking the innkeeper (Lionel Barrymore) and his daughter-in-law (Lauren Bacall) – who’s only hope is the returned G.I. (Humphrey Bogart) who can stand up to the gangster; if he can find his courage again.
Editorial review of Key Largo, starring Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson, Lauren Bacall, Lionel Barrymore courtesy of Amazon.com
John Huston (The Maltese Falcon) directed this smart thriller about a gangster (Edward G. Robinson) who holds a number of people hostage in a hotel in the Florida Keys during a tropical storm. Humphrey Bogart is the returning war veteran who takes on the villains, and Lauren Bacall is on hand as one of the people on the wrong end of Robinson’s gun. Somewhat similar in tone to Howard Hawks’s To Have and Have Not (which also featured Bogart and Bacall), this moody movie captures a certain despair offset by the bond between individuals united by common purpose. Claire Trevor won an Academy Award for her part as Robinson’s alcoholic girlfriend. —Tom Keogh
Product description of Key Largo
A hurricane swells outside, but it’s nothing compared to the storm within the hotel at Key Largo. There, sadistic mobster Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson) holes up – and holds at gunpoint hotel owner Nora Temple (Lauren Bacall), her invalid father-in-law (Lionel Barrymore) and ex-GI Frank McCloud (Humphrey Bogart). McCloud’s the one man capable of standing up against the belligerent Rocco. But the postwar world’s realities may have taken all the fight out of him. John Huston co-wrote and compellingly directs this film of Maxwell Anderson’s 1939 play with a searing Academy Award-winning* performance by Claire Trevor as Rocco’s gold-hearted, boozy moll. In Huston’s hands, it becomes a powerful, sweltering classic.
Movie quotes from Key Largo
[Rocco is showing strain at the height of the hurricane’s force]
Frank McCloud (Humphrey Bogart): You don’t like it, do you Rocco, the storm? Show it your gun, why don’t you? If it doesn’t stop, shoot it.
Frank McCloud (Humphrey Bogart): When your head says one thing and your whole life says another, your head always loses.
Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson): After living in the USA for more than thirty-five years they called me an undesirable alien. Me. Johnny Rocco. Like I was a dirty Red or something!
Frank McCloud (Humphrey Bogart): One Rocco more or less isn’t worth dying for!
Nora Temple (Lauren Bacall): Charlie! Charlie Winook and his family, Crawfish Island. Charlie’s a prince of the Seminole Nation. His ancestors go back to the gods. He sells sea shells by the sea shore.
Ralphie: Hey Curly, what all happens in a hurricane?
Curly: The wind blows so hard the ocean gets up on its hind legs and walks right across the land.
Toots: And singin’ this song: Rain rain, go away, little Ralphie wants to play.
James Temple (Lionel Barrymore): Are you thieves or what? You want money, is this a robbery?
Toots: Yeah, Pop, we’re gonna steal all your towels.
Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson): You’d give your left arm to nail me wouldn’t you? I could see the headlines now, ‘Local Deputy Captures Johnny Rocco’. Your picture’d be in all the papers. You might even get to tell on the newsreels how you pulled if off, yeah. Listen hick, I was too much for any big city police force to handle. It took the United States Government to pin a rap on me. And they won’t make it stick. You hick, I’ll be back pulling strings to get guys elected mayor and governor before you get a ten buck raise.
Toots: I say smack her and let it go at that.
Deputy Clyde Sawyer: Down in the lobby, I ran up against these two.
[indicates Toots and Curly]
Deputy Clyde Sawyer: Well, they didn’t look right to me, so I asked them a few questions. By the way they answered me, I knew there was something fishy. So I put in a call to Ben Wade, but before I could get through, the lights went out on me. I woke up in there. Rocco was standing over me. I recognized him right away from the pictures. I made a break for the door, and the lights went out again.
Toots: I’m the electrician.
Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson): There’s only one Johnny Rocco.
James Temple (Lionel Barrymore): How do you account for it?
Frank McCloud (Humphrey Bogart): He knows what he wants. Don’t you, Rocco?
Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson): Sure.
James Temple (Lionel Barrymore): What’s that?
Frank McCloud (Humphrey Bogart): Tell him, Rocco.
Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson): Well, I want uh …
Frank McCloud (Humphrey Bogart): He wants more, don’t you, Rocco?
Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson): Yeah. That’s it. More. That’s right! I want more!
James Temple (Lionel Barrymore): Will you ever get enough?
Frank McCloud (Humphrey Bogart): Will you, Rocco?
Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson): Well, I never have. No, I guess I won’t. You, do you know what you want?
Frank McCloud (Humphrey Bogart): Yes, I had hopes once, but I gave them up.
Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson): Hopes for what?
Frank McCloud (Humphrey Bogart): A world in which there’s no place for Johnny Rocco.
Gaye Dawn (Claire Trevor): [finishes her song and goes over to the bar] Give me that drink now, Johnny.
Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson): No.
Gaye Dawn (Claire Trevor): Johnny!
Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson): [louder] No.
Gaye Dawn (Claire Trevor): But you promised!
Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson): So what?
Gaye Dawn (Claire Trevor): You said that…
Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson): But you were rotten.
Trivia for Key Largo
- Santana was the name of Humphrey Bogart’s yacht, which he purchased from June Allyson and Dick Powell. He loved the Santana so much he named his production company after it.
- The character of Gaye Dawn (Claire Trevor) was based on real-life moll Gay Orlova (gangster Lucky Luciano’s girlfriend), believed at that time to have been executed by a German firing squad. Orlova survived, however, and was known to be living in Paris as late as 1954, trying to join Luciano in Italy.
- The ramshackle hotel where most of the drama unfolds was constructed on the Warner Bros. lot along with the beach area. Exterior shots of the hurricane were actually taken from stock footage used in Night Unto Night (1949), a Ronald Reagan melodrama made the same year at Warner Bros.
- Fourth and final film pairing of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. A fifth film was planned several years later, but Bogart died before it could be made.
- In the film, James Temple describes the 1935 hurricane that devastated Matacumbe Key. This was one of worst hurricanes in U.S. history and many of the victims of the storm were World War I veterans who were building the Florida Keys portion of U.S. Highway 1, also known as the Overseas Highway. A portion of the highway is seen in the film’s opening. The storm also produced the lowest-ever recorded barometric pressure over land in the North American continent.
- The film was produced in 1948, the same year in which there actually were two major hurricanes, late in the season, less than a month apart, that went directly through the Florida Keys. (See Hurricanes #7 and #8 of 1948)
- The final confrontation on a boat is actually the ending to the book “To Have and Have Not” which wasn’t used in the film version.
- The film version of “Key Largo” has very little to do with Maxwell Anderson’s original play. All the characters in the play had their names changed in the film version. This was very unusual for a play written by Anderson, who was then one of the most highly regarded American playwrights, and whose best-known plays had, on the whole, been filmed faithfully.
- The movie was filmed in only 78 days, virtually all on the Warner Bros. lot, except for a few shots in Florida used for the opening scenes.
- The main character, Frank McCloud, describes having served with Nora’s late husband in the WWII battle at San Pietro, Italy; director/co-screenwriter John Huston had been involved in that battle as the creator of the documentary film San Pietro (1945) while he was in the U.S. Army’s motion picture unit.
- This movie was based on Maxwell Anderson’s popular Broadway play which featured Paul Muni in the lead role as a fatalistic ex-member of the Loyalist Army who has returned from the Spanish Civil War. For the film version, the time period and the setting were changed. Director John Huston and screenwriter Richard Brooks rewrote the main character, Frank McCloud, making him a World War II veteran who had served in the Italian campaign. The two writers emphasized the idealism of the early Franklin Delano Roosevelt years and how those ideals began to erode as organized crime spread through urban areas.
- The character of Johnny Rocco was modeled on Al Capone, who retired to Florida and died there of complications due to advanced syphilis a year before this film was produced. Screenwriter Richard Brooks later revealed he had also incorporated biographical details about another famous gangster, Lucky Luciano, into Rocco’s character as well.
- Claire Trevor sings “Moanin’ Low” acapella. This song was popularized in the early 1930s by Libby Holman.
- Referenced in Bertie Higgins’ 1981 #1 hit song, “Key Largo”.
- The original Broadway production of “Key Largo” by Maxwell Anderson opened at the Ethel Barrymore Theater on November 27, 1939 and ran for 105 performances. The original stage cast includes Paul Muni, Uta Hagen and the Broadway debut of character actor James Gregory.
- Lionel Barrymore was severely disabled by arthritis (clearly visible in his hands) and was confined to a wheelchair, making the scene in which his Mr. Temple character gets up and falls taking a swing at Toots more than a dramatic moment.
- “Lux Radio Theater” broadcast a 60-minute radio adaptation of the movie on November 28, 1949 with Edward G. Robinson reprising his film role.
- SPOILER: When John Huston didn’t have a conclusive ending to his script, Howard Hawks gave him the shootout on a boat that finishes the film, as he had been unable to include it in To Have and Have Not(1944).