Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Key Largo (1948)

The gangsters in this film have no trouble threatening people, roughing them up or shooting them.

But they're the cowards when Mother Nature lashes out with a violent storm. After all, how do you shoot the wind?

Former gangster kingpin Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson) wants to rule the roost again in America. "Nobody was as big as Rocco," he boasts. "I'll be big again." Rocco has slipped into Key Largo, Florida by boat with a whack of counterfeit bills. He's brought his goons along including Curly (Thomas Gomez) and the menacing Toots (Harry Lewis).

The thugs have set up shop in a family-owned hotel owned by James Temple (Lionel Barrymore) with the assistance of his daughter-in-law Nora (Lauren Bacall). Her husband was killed during the Second World War. His commanding officer, Frank McCloud (Humphrey Bogart), travels by bus to visit. Mr. Temple wants to know about his son George's last hours. McCloud is drifting, with no firm roots.

There's trouble before McCloud even arrives at the inn. His bus is stopped by police. They're looking for two escaped prisoners likely headed back to Key Largo. "They always head for home," the bus driver advises.

Here's where director John Huston has a little more fun.

The local force is clueless when it comes to a major criminal - Rocco - in their midst, staying instead focused on two men whose crime was likely not a serious one. At one point, Sheriff Ben Wade takes a look at Rocco and suggests he looks familiar. But he doesn't remember the man he's standing behind is a serious felon.

McCloud walks into trouble. Rocco and his crew have taken over the hotel. The gangster's old girlfriend, Gaye (Claire Trevor), has turned into an alcoholic in the years that he has lived in Cuba. This woman badly needs a drink, constantly.

McCloud says he's not eager to clash with Rocco ("I fight nobody's battles but my own."), but he keeps matching wits with him in an effort to keep the others alive. Nora has caught his eye too. Everybody is forced to stay inside the inn while a violent storm rages. Rocco wants McCloud to pilot a boat back to Cuba. Certain death awaits if he accepts the assignment.

Fine performances carry this film. Key Largo (Keepcase) could have offered Lewis his finest role. Lewis, who just died on June 9, 2013, is a well-dressed hood with a menacing presence. Gomez's Curly isn't as well-built as Toots, but there's an air of menace around him too. And, how about Robinson? He's nice and cool, complete with a fan nearby, when we first meet him. But this killer works up a sweat when the lights start dimming and strong winds blow drinking glasses to the ground. He's intrigued by McCloud and how this veteran can match wits with him, the brains of the counterfeit money deal.

Trevor won an Oscar for her portrayal of Rocco's washed-up lover. The booze has dulled her good looks and killed the beautiful voice Rocco once enjoyed hearing sing. "You wouldn't know it was the same dame," Rocco notes. He doesn't beat her, but his words cut deep.

Huston and Bogart made several films together including the director's debut, The Maltese Falcon, in 1941 and The Treasure of the Sierre Madre.

Key Largo offers viewers a strong cast, great dialogue and a story that keeps you watching.

RATING: 8/10


James The Movie Reviewer said...

While not nearly as great as Huston's other two films with Bogart, I did enjoy Key Largo quite a bit. Bogart and Bacall were always together, even though there was not a lot of screen time for Bacall.


Roman J. Martel said...

Caught this one on TCM nearly a decade ago. I didn't intend on watching the whole thing, but it sucked me right in. Ended up picking it up on DVD a few years later for a great price, and it gets nearly a yearly viewing. I like "Maltese Falcon" a little bit more, but "Key Largo" is defiantly a classic in my book.

And I love how the movie "Mitchell" attempts to duplicate the older film's ending and can't come close.

Reel Popcorn Junkie said...

Good point. Bacall doesn't get to do much here except look longingly at Bogey.

Reel Popcorn Junkie said...

I agree with some other bloggers. Edward G. Robinson is great to watch here.