Key Largo, 1948, Warner Bros. Starring Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson, Lauren Bacall. Co-starring Lionel Barrymore, Claire Trevor. Directed by John Huston. B&W, 101 minutes.
Frank McCloud (Humphrey Bogart), a Major in World War II, drops in on the widow and father of one of his men, who was killed in battle. He plans a short stay at their hotel in Key Largo, but a hurricane is fast approaching. His hosts, Nora (Lauren Bacall) and James (Lionel Barrymore) Temple insist he wait out the storm at their hotel.
What they don’t know is the other guests include mobster Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson) and his crew, not to mention Rocco’s moll, singer and alcoholic Gaye Dawn (Claire Trevor). Rocco has plans, and nothing is going to get in his way. While the group is held hostage by the storm, Rocco is gaining control.
The hotel guests aren’t the only ones with everything to lose. A group of Native Americans, accustomed to finding shelter with the Temples when winds blow wild, are shut out of the hotel by Rocco and his men.
Unlike To Have and Have Not and The Big Sleep, Bacall’s character leans to the sedate and conservative, with unexpected sass showing itself when Rocco makes sinister moves on her. It is impossible to hide the spark between her and Bogart, however, and their chemistry is palpable.
The stronger female character in the film is Gaye Dawn, a woman you pity yet somehow admire. Even without the specifics, the backstory to Trevor’s character is clear in her performance. The weight of the life she leads is bearing down on her.
Robinson made a memorable—and somewhat disturbing—entrance in this film. Naked in a bathtub, drink and cigar in hand, one immediately has a sense of foreboding. He is sizing up the situation before him, and he isn’t someone to toy with. The unusual approach to introducing Rocco was Huston’s way of letting him “have the look of a crustacean with his shell off.”
In a similar manner to the way he presented the plight of the black man in his second film, In This Our Life, Huston addresses the inhumane treatment of Native Americans in a subplot of the story. One poignant scene shows a group of Seminole Indians seeking shelter in the hotel. From the youngest to the oldest, they are portrayed with heart.
In her book By Myself, Bacall looked back on the production of Key Largo as “a good time of life…the best people at their best. With all those supposed actors’ egos, there was not a moment of discomfort…they were all actors, not just ‘stars.'” This was her fourth film with husband Bogart, and her first film under the direction of John Huston, something she said she was longing to do. Bogart had a long history of working with Huston, including his recent raw performance in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and the film that helped launch his career as a leading man, The Maltese Falcon.
Key Largo won one Academy Award, a well-deserved accolade for Best Supporting Actress (Trevor). This was the film’s sole nomination for any Oscars. It is not the best Bogie-Bacall film, but it is worth seeing, particularly for the performances of Robinson and Trevor.