Key Largo: The Second Best Huston, Bogart Film Of 1948

Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart in Key Largo. Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Key Largo, a 1948 noir crime drama, was the fourth and final theatrical paring between Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.

I was looking for something to watch on Monday night (January 22) and didn’t want to watch something ridiculously long. Nothing against long films but if I’m pressing play just before 9 PM, I don’t want to be up way too late. Rather than turn to any of the streamers, I decided to check the DVR library. Maybe it was my watching The Caine Mutiny on Sunday that played into the decision, I don’t know. Regardless, it’s my second Bogart film of the year composed by the legendary Max Steiner. Steiner scored both 1948 films directed by Huston and starring Bogart. This one just happens to be their second one of the year.

Bogart reteams with director John Huston for the third time in his career. Huston had previously directed the actor in The Maltese Falcon and that year’s The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. It’s a good performance for Bogie but it’s not even his best performance of the year. The film marks Edward G. Robinson’s first Warner Bros. film in six years. By this time, Bogart was a bigger star than Robinson as they worked on their fifth and final film together. Given their previous relationship, it is not surprising that Bogart treated the Warner veteran with respect on and off set. Additionally, the film received a single Oscar nomination and win with Claire Trevor taking home Best Supporting Actress for her performance as nightclub singer Gaye Dawn. While there are no AFI honors, it had been nominated for consideration in the Top 10 Gangsters list.

Frank McCloud (Humphrey Bogart) checks into Hotel Largo in Key Largo. He’s in town to pay respects to the family of George Temple. The two served together during World War II. McCloud survived but Temple had perished in the Italian campaign. Anyway, George’s widow, Nora (Lauren Bacall), and father, James (Lionel Barry,more), own the hotel. Because of a hurricane approaching, there are only six guests staying at the hotel. Unfortunately, Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson) and his gang of mobsters are also staying there. It’s only inevitable that a fight breaks out between them and it gets as ugly as one can during the Production Code era. All that to say is that there’s a happy ending.

The script, based on Maxwell Anderson’s 1939 play, reimagines Bogart’s character as a WW2 veteran. He’s also not a deserter nor does he die at the end this time around. Unlike the play, the film uses wind machine, stock footages, and miniatures in bringing the storm to like. The original storm was a 1935 category 5 hurricane that hit Matacumbe Key, leaving much of the area devastated. It had been the strongest hurricane to ever make landfall in Florida at the time and this may still be true today.

Speaking of the script and Robinson’s performance, there’s a good amount of both Al Capone and Charles “Lucky” Luciano in the character of Rocco. Similar, Gaye Dawn (Claire Trevor) is character based on Luciano’s mistress. When her character sings, you can tell she’s realizing what the lyrics mean. The fact that there was no rehearsal or lip-synching makes it all the better of a performance. It’s the take we see in the film and is no doubt the scene that won her an Oscar.

The best moment in Max Steiner’s score is when McCloud is discussing his late friend. Interestingly, he finds a way to pay homage to “Taps” in the score and calls it back later on when Frank is going after Rocco. But in terms of music, Steiner’s work isn’t even the standout. It’s the performance that I just wrote about in the previous paragraph. Steiner later incorporates “Mornin’ Low” into the film, too.

Key Largo manages to keep audiences on their toes or at the edge of their seat from start to finish.

DIRECTOR: John Huston
SCREENWRITERS: Richard Brooks and John Huston
CAST: Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson, Lauren Bacall, with Lionel Barrymore, Claire Trevor, and Thomas Gomez, Harry Lewis, John Rodney, Marc Lawrence, Dan Seymour, Monte Blue, William Haade

Warner Bros. released Key Largo in theaters on July 16, 1948. Grade: 4.5/5

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.