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Key Largo
IMDB Rating: 7.9/10 from 6 votes
Release: 31 July 1948 (USA) /

Key Largo

Genre: Crime, Drama, Film-Noir
Director: Richard Brooks,
Stars: , , , , , , , , , , ,
Synopsis: Frank McCloud travels to a run-down hotel on Key Largo to honor the memory of a friend who died bravely in his unit during WW II. His friend's widow, Nora Temple, and wheelchair bound father, James Temple manage the hotel and receive him warmly, but the three of them soon find themselves virtual prisoners when the hotel is taken over by a mob of gangsters led by Johnny Rocco who hole up there to await the passing of a hurricane. Mr. Temple strongly reviles Rocco but due to his infirmities can only confront him verbally. Having become disillusioned by the violence of war, Frank is reluctant to act, but Rocco's demeaning treatment of his alcoholic moll, Gaye Dawn, and his complicity in the deaths of some innocent Seminole Indians and a deputy sheriff start to motivate McCloud to overcome his Hamlet-like inaction. Written by Brian Greenhalgh

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Critic Reviews


While chiefly remembered as a Bogart/Bacall vehicle, this story of expatriate gangsters commandeering a sleepy tropical hotel is, in actuality, a tightly directed ensemble piece with acting chops to burn.

There's Edward G. Robinson as Johnny Rocco--the brash, boisterous, sleazy gangster whose frailties (cowardice and a yearning for better times) gradually unfold before us. There's Lionel Barrymore as James Temple, the delightfully feisty and crusty hotel owner overcome with revulsion at Rocco's presence. There's Thomas Gomez, Harry Lewis, Dan Seymour and William Haade as Curly, Toots, Angel and Ralphie--Rocco's colorful but hard-edged thugs who are presences unto themselves. There's Claire Trevor as Gaye, Rocco's declining, alcoholic moll who symbolizes more than anything how far Rocco has fallen.

That's an awful lot. Too much scenery-chewing from Bogart or Bacall would push it over the top--and director/screenwriter/demigod John Huston knows it. He coaxes remarkably restrained and subtle performances out of his star couple. The romantic tension between them is suggested but never shoved in the audience's face. Bogart's wandering war vet Frank McCloud keeps his lips tight and plays his cards close to the chest--a streetwise outsider through and through. Bacall's Nora Temple lets her anger and distaste pour out through her smoldering eyes more often than her mouth.

Ultimately, the subtlety is so well-hidden between the gigantic performances of Robinson and Barrymore that you might miss just how sophisticated Frank's story is. Disillusioned and drifting since the war, he stops in to visit the wife (Nora) and father (James) of a fallen comrade whose bravery he admired. Implicit in his visit is an unspoken apology that it is he, and not their loved one, who is returning home. The fallen soldier is a constant unseen presence in the film--his bravery and honor mocking what Frank sees as his own cowardice and inability to stand up to Rocco (Bogart's fast-talking explanation of why he didn't shoot Rocco when he had the chance is classic and rare--a protagonist lying to his friends and his audience--"One Rocco more or less isn't worth dying for!"). Frank's eventual decision to take on Rocco and his hoods is a victory against the fear that plagues and shames him.

In a larger sense, this is a true period movie about a generation of men returning home from the greatest conflict the world has ever known. Most of our national memories of World War II are proud and triumphant, but, as with any war, it left countless people scarred physically and mentally. Though Frank is a decorated soldier, he feels somehow that what he did wasn't enough (because he lived and his friend did not?), and he returns back to a country in which he has no place with no real pride or satisfaction. The confrontation with Rocco affords him a chance (perhaps only possible in Hollywood or on the stage, where the story of "Key Largo" was first performed) to make things right with his world.

While it has not aged as well as the better-known films of Bogart's and Huston's careers, "Key Largo" is a film that, for a little investment of attention and thought, will pay big dividends to anyone that really and truly loves movies.

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