Film Flick Friday: Key Largo

Friday, July 27, 2012

Florida in the summertime is always hot, but its about to get just a little bit hotter when you take a trip to Key Largo. Taunt with tension, this film noir is primarily remembered as the fourth and final Bogie and Becall picture. However, when being released in 1948, it was billed as a movie with "A Cast As Explosive As Its Story." No false bragging, this film truly stands out as more of an ensemble piece where all get their chance to shine.

Key Largo casts Bogart as the cynical war veteran off to see his dead comrade's family, Becall as the friend's widow, Lionel Barrymore in one of his later roles as the wheel-chair bound hotel owner, Claire Trevor as the alcoholic mistress of a gangster, and last, but certainly not least, Edward G. Robinson (whose breakout role came in Little Ceasar ) as Johnny Rocco, the infamous gangster himself.

The Florida Keys are miserably hot in the summer, as Frank McCloud (Bogart) arrives at Hotel Key Largo, only to find it curiously full considering he's been told it was closed for the season. He's come to talk to the family of one the men who died under his command, but grief must soon take a back seat when there are dark clouds are on the horizon. A storm of fear and fury beats at the hotel doors, as not only a hurricane pounds away outside, but gangsters' guns threaten our heros from within. Despite McCloud's bald claim that "one Rocco more or less ain't worth dying for," it becomes a battle of wills and gunfire to see who will be left alive after the storm has blown through.

Characteristic of its film noir roots, Key Largo takes advantage of its "stormy" setting to create dynamic lighting and shadows effects, frequently throwing the actors' faces into harsh relief or unrevealing shadow. Personally, I found it to be one of the best noirs yet to consistantly use this lighting style to the film's storytelling advantage.

Another of the film's strengths comes from the acting. Despite starring one of Hollywood's most sizzling couples, romance definitely takes a back seat in this film. There's not even one kiss! Instead, Robinson seems to dominate every scene he's in. It is a testament to Bogart's own audience-drawing power that he and Robinson share nearly equal billing, for, despite Bogart's own superb performance, Robinson's out-shines it at every turn. In fact, many have credited "Rocco" with being one of the best gangster portrayals on the silver screen. Rocco's mind games, with each and every character, build up a sense of mounting tension and helplessness, especially in the humiliating and delicious scene in which Claire Trevor's part, Gay, is made to perform a mockery of her own glory days as a singer in exchange for just one more drink. Gay's performance of "Moanin' Low" may not have won her a drink, but it did win Trevor an Academy Award. And certainly, though she definitely deserved it, I felt every other secondary player performed just as strongly as she.

One of the film's weakness could be that its characters are not quite as complicated and grey-shaded as most in film noirs are. But even if it is clear Bogart is the hero and Robinson the bad guy, it makes their showdowns no less tense, and really, just because Bogart is the hero, doesn't mean he always wins. The other complaint some may have is Florida's trees look fake, and the storm does too. Not surprising as it was mostly filmed on a studio lot rather than in the Keys themselves, but I myself was too engaged in the characters' struggles to care much if a raindrop was a raindrop or not.

Interestingly, the final scene of Key Largo comes from the book To Have and Have Not. Since the writers were unable to fit it into the movie To Have and Have Not (The first Bogie and Becall film), they decided to use it here. And just what is that scene? See for yourself. I promise, you'll be on the edge of your seats till the credits roll, so pack your bags and chart a flight, first class, with Key Largo as your final destination for classic film enjoyment.


  1. Kristian, I always love your film reviews. It's not just that I love all of the movies you write about (who doesn't love some Bogie and Bacall?), but they're always extremely well-written and enjoyable to read. I'm the entertainment editor for my college's newspaper, which forces to me to read a lot of, well, bad reviews. It's always a joy to read ones that actually do a film justice. Well done, as usual.

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    1. Elana,
      Thank you so much! I'm never sure if anyone even liked/read these, so it is nice to know you like them.

  2. I love how your passion for this just leaps from the screen! Very interesting read. I would love to study more about film and literature :)

    Oh and my GFC is being odd, but it let me follow you through it with my twitter account... who knew you could that?! Love it.

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  3. Hello! I just came across your blog, and I love that you write about fashion, but also film :) I love movies! I’ve decided to follow you! If you get a minute, I’d love to know what you think of my latest outfit post! While you’re visiting, follow along so we can keep in touch! :)
    xo, elle from Living in Color.

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  4. Very interested review! Thanks for sharing it!

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