Humphrey Bogart - Frank McCloud
Lauren Bacall - Nora Temple
Lionel Barrymore - James Temple
Edward G. Robinson - Johnny Rocco
Claire Trevor - Gaye Dawn
John Rodney - Deputy Clyde Sawyer
John Huston - Director
Jerry Wald - Producer
John Huston - Screenwriter
Richard Brooks - Screenwriter
Karl Freund - Cinematographer
Max Steiner - Film Score
In Key Largo Richard Brooks and John Huston's adaptation of the Maxwell Anderson play changes its protagonist from a Spanish Civil War deserter to an ex-World War II GI and locates the action on an island off the coast of Florida. Though a borderline entry, the recognition of this film as noir indicates that the sensibility was more far-reaching than many have thus far acknowledged.
Frank McCloud (Humphrey Bogart) arrives at a hotel run by Nora Temple (Lauren Bacall), the widow of a war-time friend and daughter of wheelchair-bound James Temple (Lionel Barrymore). The hotel is taken over by a gang led by Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson), who are awaiting payment for delivery of some counterfeit money. After the gang have murdered a sheriff's deputy (John Rodney), for which they blame local Indians, Bogart is forced to pilot the villains from the island to Cuba on a fishing boat after a hurricane has destroyed their yacht. The interest of Key Largo now lies not so much in the rather verbose dialogue--about the need to make a moral choice and act on it--but simply in the sense of Rocco / Robinson as an ageing and cruel figure, caught out of time in his gangster role.
The alien, isolated setting is appropriate and effective. The film was clearly an opportunity for Warners to reunite Bogart and Bacall after their three previous teamings, To Have and Have Not (1945), The Big Sleep (1946), and Dark Passage (1947). But Robinson has the most memorable moment: after making his alcoholic mistress (Claire Trevor) perform a song, he then declines to reward her with the promised drink, a nice instance of the gangster as sadist.
The basic plot situation is reminiscent not only of the later The Desperate Hours (1955), where Bogart plays Glenn Griffin, an escaped gangster who, along with his gang, holds a family hostage, but also of the earlier The Petrified Forest (1936) where Bogart plays another escaped gangster who holds a group of people hostage in a film in which Robinson had originally been intended for the Bogart role. Claire Trevor won an Academy Award in Key Largo for Best Supporting Actress as Gaye Dawn, the drunken girlfriend of Johnny Rocco.
For those unfamiliar with American geography, the film opens with a foreword explaining that: At the southernmost point of the United States are the Florida Keys, a string of small islands held together by a concrete causeway. Largest of these remote coral islands is Key Largo.
Key Largo has been portrayed as a political statement, a position enhanced by director/screenwriter John Huston's frequent contemporary and retrospective statements. The character of Johnny Rocco represented fascism, with a desire to return to the "good old days" when democracy and freedom were not allowed in his world. Bogart, a war hero, complains about America's post-war aimlessness and political corruption. Finally, of course, he realizes that he cannot allow the thugs to win and he takes up arms (in this case, a handgun slipped to him by Rocco's boozy mistress) to "clense the world of ancient evils," as the script portentiously puts it.
--PHIL HARDY, from The Gangster
Film Encyclopedia, 2001.
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