on February 23, 2000
"Key Largo" is one of the great film dramas. It is truly refreshing, in this day of "in your face" violence and sex, to see a film that builds tension almost entirely through dialog and characterization. This is one of Humphrey Bogart's most underrated performances. Bogart plays a returning WWII veteran who has become somewhat jaded by his war experience. He comes to south Florida to visit the father (Lionel Barrymore-Mr. Potter in "It's a Wonderful Life) of a dead war buddy, who owns a hotel and is living with his son's widow, played by Lauren Bacall. Bacall, especially, is noteworthy in that she has very few speaking parts and communicates fear and anger primarily through looks, glances, and body movements. This is in contrast to her previous roles ("To Have and Have Not" and "The Big Sleep") in which was glamorous and sensual. In a way she is barely recognizable here. Edward G. Robinson is perfect as the insecure and easily manipulated gangster, Johnny Rocco. The entire film centers around Rocco and his cronies taking over the hotel and keeping the above characters hostage during a hurricane. The movie becomes a psychological cat and mouse game between Bogart and Robinson. At first, Bogart's "head" tells him to watch out for himself, but later he follows his "heart" in attempting to protect and free the hostages. Bogart is understated in communicating a man who is psychologically wounded by the war and who questions the very values he and others fought and died for. By the end of the film he becomes a heroic figure, but not in the mundane or facile sense. He is heroic in that he sublimates his own feelings of survival for that of the greater good and recognizes the need for one man to fight the evil represented by Rocco. This is directed by John Huston ("The Maltese Falcon") and in spite of the fact that all the action takes place in just a few rooms, his direction is dynamic and action packed.
KEY LARGO sits right beside THE BIG SLEEP as a very entertaining film noir classic. It features Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in one of their most memorable pairings.
Based on the play by Maxwell Anderson, KEY LARGO tells the story of ex-GI Frank McCloud (Bogart) who travels to a hotel in Key Largo owned by his old army buddy's widow Nora Temple (Bacall) and her crippled father-in-law (Lionel Barrymore). Also staying at the hotel is notorious gangster Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson), his cronies and his good-hearted moll (Claire Trevor).
As Johnny holds Frank and Nora hostage in the hotel, a vicious storm rages outside, rivalled only by the storm of passions and tempers inside the hotel at Key Largo.
Claire Trevor won a well-deserved Oscar for Best Supporting Actress here. Her heartbreaking performance includes singing the song "Moanin' Low".
The DVD includes the trailer.
on October 30, 2004
Somewhat enigmatically, the text only "Behind the Scenes" Special Feature on the KEY LARGO dvd tells us that director John Huston was so angry with producer Jerry Wald for forcing him to deal with the "delicacies" in Maxwell Anderson's stage play of the same name that he barred him from the set. What's more likely is that co-screenwriters Huston and Richard Brooks gutted Anderson's play of most everything but the title, took a few veiled swipes at the House Un-American Committee, and threw an incredible cast at it.
Claire Trevor won the Best Supporting Oscar for her role as a boozy, faded nightclub singer, but Edgar G. Robinson steals the show. He's simply wonderful as Johnny Rocco, an old gang lord (reportedly styled after real-life gangster Lucky Luciano) with happy dreams of returning to the old days - maybe they'll reinstate prohibition! Lionel Barrymore plays a crusty old hotel keeper, Lauren Bacall his daughter-in-law, and Humphrey Bogart is the ex-Army officer blown into town to tell the widowed Bacall, and Barrymore, about her late husband's heroic military career.
This was Bacall's third movie with Bogart, and they seem to fall in love by osmosis this time around. Bogart plays the disillusioned vet with quiet dignity, which works for the movie's sake but robs the audience of the opportunity to see any high sparks ignite between his and Robinson's character.
Ah well. We can't have everything. This is still a great movie, one of Bogart's most underrated gems.
on February 3, 2000
Key Largo gives the viewer a chance to see three of Warner Brothers' greatest stars in one movie: Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson, and Lauren Bacall. Bogart stars as Frank McCloud, a WWII G.I. who has seen death firsthand, and it's taken a toll on him. While visiting a late G.I. buddy's wife (Bacall) and father (Lionel Barrymore), Bogart finds himself held prisoner in their hotel by mobster Johnny Rocco (Robinson). Bogart's mettle is repeatedly tested as he is challenged by Robinson to fight back. Ultimately, he has to decide if there is still a hero inside him that the war didn't kill. The performances are all very good, especially Claire Trevor as Robinson's much abused, alcoholic girlfriend. Robinson is also terrific, and has a great opening shot smoking a cigar in his bathtub. John Huston, the director, creates a tense, realistic atmosphere in the movie. You can almost feel the humidity in Key Largo. The script is intelligent, and it's an opportunity to see Bogart and Bacall together in a different type of relationship on camera than most movie buffs probably remember them for. The movie presents memorable characters in a suspenseful situation, and it's very well made.
I've heard a lot about this 1948 film and had never seen it. I sure was in for a treat. Filmed in black and white, the tension starts right at the beginning and doesn't let up till it runs its full 101 minutes. It's the story of an ex-GI who visits a Florida Keys hotel run by the father and widow of a former buddy who was killed in action. The hotel, however, has been taken over by gangsters. And there's a hurricane brewing. Add some great directing by John Huston from a play written by Maxwell Anderson. Then throw in the stars of the day. What a mix! What a film!
I'm not a big Humphrey Bogart fan. I usually find him stiff and wooden. But he's better in this film, showing real emotion and animation on his face. Maybe it's because his leading lady is Lauren Bacall, cast as the widow. She fresh and young and beautiful and there is real chemistry between them. And then there is Edward G. Robinson. His gangster screen presence sure is real. He's the best of the best in this kind of role. All the performances were great but Lionel Barrymore, cast as the crippled owner of the hotel, is one of the best actors I've ever seen. With all this talent and terrific screenplay, though, the only academy award winner in the lot was Clare Trevor. She's cast as the gangster's girlfriend, aging and alcoholic. There's one scene in which she's forced to sing in order to get a drink. She's lost her voice but she pushes through the song as her small audience exchange knowing looks between them. It was more than an outstanding performance; it was absolutely sensational.
And then there's the hurricane. And a scene on a boat. All this was done so well that I didn't miss any high-tech special effects. The mood was set. The danger was there. There's even a great theme about good and evil and willing to put your life on the line. And it was all combined perfectly with the screenplay, the directing and some of the best acting to come out of that era.
I give this film one of my highest recommendations. It's a real treat. And a classic that has not only stood the test of time, but has aged like fine wine. Don't miss it.
Yet another stellar teaming of Humphrey Bogart and John Huston, and as good as it is, the second best released in 1948, the better film being the spectacular THE TREASURE OF SIERRA MADRE. I have not read the Maxwell Anderson play upon which it is supposed to be based (and the film before they all go onto the boat near the end does have a stagy feel to it), but I would be willing to bet money that the part on the boat is taken from the last half of the novel TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT by Hemingway (also with Bogart and Bacall, though directed by Howard Hawks, supposedly based on the Hemingway novel, but not actually having much in common with it). That novel ends with the main character transporting gangsters on a boat in the same area and shooting it out pretty much like they do in the movie.
The plot resembles to some extent not merely the end of the novel TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT but Bogart's first screen success, THE PETRIFIED FOREST, only with Edward G. Robinson as the gangster instead of Bogart. The role was a return to form for Robinson, who had been one of the great screen villains of the thirties. In the forties, with Hitler making hoodlums look rather small time, the traditional gangster film gave way to film noir, and although Robinson appeared in a couple as a non-heavy, he ceased primarily being a gangster. He had been in the previous few years in several superb films--THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW, SCARLET STREET, THE STRANGER, and the quintessential film noir DOUBLE INDEMNITY--but in none of them did he portray the kind of gangster upon which he built his reputation. Johnny Rocco is a complete return of the kind of role upon which he had first become famous. But because of the war, he and his kind seem so much less dangerous. Interestingly, he is depicted primarily evil because of his rapaciousness and greed, not unlike the major characters of THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE. When Bogart asks him what he wants and then explains he knows what it is that Rocco wants, he tells him, "More," to which Rocco excitedly replies, "Yeah, that's what I want. More." Given Huston's politics and social understanding--he and Billy Wilder were about the only two major Hollywood directors at the time who remained steadfast leftists during a period of violent right wing reaction against supposed un-Americanism--it is easy to see this as a commentary not merely on bad gangsters, but on post-War American values. I suggest that is pretty much confirmed by linking KEY LARGO with THE TREASURE OF SIERRA MADRE.
This truly is a cast to die for. The film itself is a bit slow at times, unquestionably because it is an adaptation from a stage play, but the actors are so, so very good that you can forget the relative lack of action and watch masters of their craft go to town. Lionel Barrymore manages one of his last major performances (he was a virtual invalid because of a series of leg and hip problems that began in the 1930s). Lauren Bacall is great with Bogart, but her performance is utterly overshadowed by Clare Trevor, who won a greatly deserved Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role.
This is not one of the best films made by any of the major participants, but it is a reflection on the overall excellence of their careers than on the movie itself. A "must see" for any fans of any of the principals.
Correction: One reviewer below indicated Edward G. Robinson was around five feet tall. He was actually 5'5 or 5'6, a tiny bit shorter than James Cagney.
on April 17, 2007
Bogart and Bacall made four films together, three of which are usually dubbed classics. From best to worst, they are:
The Big Sleep
To Have and Have Not
"The Big Sleep" is probably the best of the three. The plot is confusing, but there's obvious chemistry between the stars and you tend to forget about the story. "To Have and Have Not" is also known mostly for the chemistry between the two stars and the quotable lines from Bacall.
"Key Largo" doesn't contain a lot of snappy dialog and the scenes between Bacall and Bogart aren't even essential to the plot, but that doesn't stop it from being a good film, perhaps because it has the strongest story of the bunch. In this movie, Bogart is a war hero who pays a visit to Bacall and her father-in-law because he served with her husband, who died in action. Shortly after he arrives, they learn that the only other guest at the hotel is a notorious, exiled gangster (Edward G. Robinson) who's trying to get back into the business. Robinson and his cronies take everyone hostage just as a hurricane arrives and prevents them from escaping.
There's a little bit of action in this movie, but it's more or less a psychological drama, similar to other John Huston directed films like "Night of the Iguana." Bogart's natural instinct is to be a hero, but he's become convinced that the world is a bad place that can't be saved and the actions of one man don't matter. The film gradually builds up tension through the storm and the ensuing events as you wait for Bogart to decide if he still has it in him to play the hero.
on February 27, 2016
"Key Largo"(1948) was the fourth and final film that Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall made together since they first ignited the screen four years earlier in "To Have and Have Not"(1944). It was also the final time that Bogart appeared with Edward G. Robinson, his gangster rival at Warner Brothers during their early Thirties crime films. One of those early crime films was "The Petrified Forest"(1936) in which Bogart plays the vicious gangster Duke Mantee who holds innocent people hostage in a roadside diner. "Key Largo" has a similar plot. Innocent people are held hostage in a hotel by a bunch of gangsters led by Johnny Rocco(Robinson). If that wasn't bad enough, both hostages and gangsters have to worry about an approaching hurricane which may destroy everything. There is enough tension and suspense to go around for everyone, including the audience. Warner Home Video through it's Archive Collection has now brought "Key Largo" to Blu-ray for the first time and the results are once again, outstanding. Digitally restored(by MPI) in 2K from a fine-grain master positive taken from the original nitrate camera negative, MPI has done a frame by frame restoration and given the film a high Bitrate(32.98) which makes for a pristine picture from start to finish. There are no vertical lines, dirt, torn or damaged frames and "Key Largo" probably hasn't looked this good since it's original theatrical release. Director John Huston used fellow director Karl Freund("The Mummy") as his cinematographer and Freund's use of shadows and lighting is really on display. Blacks, whites and grays are well balanced and contrast is equally impressive. This is very apparent in the middle of the film as the hurricane approaches the hotel and the lighting changes dramatically(after the electricity is knocked out) becoming darker and more foreboding which only adds to the suspense. This new Blu-ray brings out all the features of the once elegant but now run-down hotel which has seen better days. The acting is top notch with honors going to Robinson and Lionel Barrymore who both try to outdo the other in every scene they have together. Bogart plays his character more passively in contrast to Robinson so much so that everyone thinks he's a coward, including Bacall. He redeems himself heroically in the end. Claire Trevor gives the film's best performance as the alcoholic mistress of Johnny Rocco. Her heartbreaking rendition of the blues song "Moaning Low" which she is forced to sing by Rocco in order to get a drink is both heartbreaking, sad and tragic. Trevor rightly won the Oscar that year. "Key Largo" is 100 minutes(Aspect ratio: 1.37:1) and contains the following subtitles: English SDH, French, German, Spanish, Japanese, Czech and Polish. The Audio is English DTS-MA HD 2.0 and Dolby Digital for French, German, Japanese, Spanish and Polish. Special features only include the theatrical trailer. The Blu-ray disc itself is housed in a solid standard Blu-ray case(not an eco-cutout case). Warner's new Blu-rays of "Key Largo"(as well as "The Big Sleep") should be essential additions to fans of Bogart and Bacall as well as film collectors in general. Despite the lack of special features, "Key Largo" comes very highly recommended.
on April 20, 2003
"Key Largo" is the exciting suspense/drama directed by the legendary John Huston. It features Bogie at his care worn, worldly best and pits him against the best mug since Cagney - Edward G. Robinson. Plot wise: when a retired war hero comes to tell the father of a slain soldier about his son's final days, he discovers that the hotel they are staying in has been over run by gangsters during one of the worst hurricanes to ever hit the Florida coast. This film costars Lauren Bacall and the fantastic Lionel Barrymore.
Warner Home Video's DVD is looking pretty darn good. The gray scale of this black and white movie is well represented and the blacks are definitely black. Shadow delineation and contrast levels are superb with fine detail promenantly evident throughout. Fine details occasionally shimmer and there is some minor edge enhancement but nothing that will terribly distract from your viewing experience. The audio is mono and, although at times strident, is well represented throughout. We get no extras on this disc, a real shame.
on May 2, 2002
"Key Largo" was made in 1948, during the height of the studio system, and when Warner Bros. ruled the roost. Humphrey Bogrart, Lauren Bacall, Edward G. Robinson, Lionel Barrymore, Claire Trevor, Thomas Gomez; they don't make casts like *that* anymore.
Although Bogart and Bacall have top billing, the movie really revolves around Robinson's character, syndicate kingpin Johnny Rocco, who's taken over a sleepy family-run hotel on the Florida coral reef Key Largo (hence the movie's title).
Although he was stood only about five feet tall, no one had a bigger screen *prescence* than Edward G. From "Little Caesar" to "Double Indemnity" to "Key Largo," when Eddie Robinson spoke, the forcefulness of his conviction demanded your eyes and ears be glued to the screen. Older viewers may remember seeing him at the movies, rather than just on the TV. Well, I was only lucky enough to have seen him on the big screen once, at the Biograph on W.57th in Manhattan, as Rocco. It's the most memorable intro of any of his movies: Sitting in the bathtub, smoking a cigar and reading the paper, while a fan on a chair lazily whirls to keep him cool. The camera slowly dollies toward him, and when his mug filled the screen, the packed audience broke out into spontaneous applause. And he didn't even say a word! Now, *that's* screen presence!
Actually, it's sort of unfair to Bogey, who even though he was the hero in this movie is still overshadowed by Robinson's overpowering presence and performance. The key to Bogart's screen persona was his cool demeanor and his deadpan wisecracks, which he pulls off wonderfully, as he always does. But Edward G. Robinson's performance is larger-than-life and Johnny Rocco is a force to be reckoned with, almost as powerful as the hurricane which sweeps over the Keys. Before method acting came to the fore, no actor could better capture basic emotions like fear and anger like Robinson. He's literally trembling with fear at the prospect of his death at the hands of the storm. He's like a cornered rat. "Show it your gun, why don't you?" Bogart quips, "Shoot it, maybe it'll stop."
The other standout performances in "Key Largo" are Lionel Barrymore as Mr. Temple and Clair Trevor, as the nightclub singer who's lost her youth and her looks. Barrymore is the movie's moral center, and he helps Bogart to find the guts he needs to confront Rocco. Trevor's impromptu performance of a blues song notches the tension up, and provides the movie with the strongest clash of wills between Robinson and Bogart. In reality, Trevor was still a looker at the time, and let wardrobe and makeup "mature" her to play the "lush" Gay Dawn. It's the performance of her career, and she deservedly won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for it.
Masterfully directed by John Huston, who made many movies with Bogart ("Maltese Falcon," "Treasure of the Sierra Madre" and "The African Queen" are the other most noteable), "Key Largo" was filmed by the great German director of photography Karl Freund, who was DP on Fritz Lang's "Metropolis" and "M." Freund's dramatic use of light and shadow recalls the great German Expressionistic movies, and the low angles from which he filmed Robinson establish Rocco with menacing forcefulness. Max Steiner's Wagnerian soundtrack is rife with heavy brass and percussion and paints a devastating aural portrait worthy of Rocco and the hurricane which ravages the island.
Whenever I lament the demise of larger-than-life drama in today's movies, "Key Largo" is one of the movies I turn to time and again to renew my faith in the art of moviemaking. Director Billy Wilder once commented on the demise of "movies" in favor of today's special effects extravaganzas on the one hand and stagey, parched, artsy "films" on the other. "Key Largo" reminds the viewer, to borrow a line from Janet Leigh, that "there really was a Hollywood."