With superb casting and performances, a sharp and resonant screenplay, John Huston's taut direction and Karl Freund's deep-focus photography, KEY LARGO transcends the windy allegories of its theatrical origins to become a suspenseful and entertaining minor classic of 1940s Hollywood.
Based on the play by Maxwell Anderson, Bogart stars as Frank McCloud, a disillusioned WW II veteran who travels to a run-down hotel in Key Largo, Florida, to pay his respects to the family of a buddy who was killed in the war. The hotel is operated by the father of the deceased, James Temple
(Barrymore), and the widowed Nora Temple (Bacall). McCloud arrives to find the hotel full of seedy, threatening characters. He can only visit briefly with Nora and Mr. Temple before they must begin preparing for a huge storm which is coming their way.
Soon a group of Seminole Indians arrives in small boats, seeking shelter. Among them are John and Tom Osceola (Silverheels and Redwing), brothers who recently escaped from prison. Sheriff Wade (Blue) and Deputy Sawyer (Rodney) had visited the hotel earlier searching for the fugitives. John tells
Nora that he and his brother are ready to give themselves over to the authorities. Meanwhile the massive storm grows closer and closer. McCloud, Nora, and Mr. Temple head inside the hotel where it quickly becomes apparent that the tough-looking "guests" are all criminals. They have waylaid the
deputy and are now holding him prisoner in one of the guest rooms. No one will be allowed to leave the premises until they finish their "business."
While all these introductions were being made, the gang's leader has been taking a bath. When the aging gangster finally makes his entrance he is immediately recognized by McCloud as Johnny Rocco, an infamous gangster who had run a huge mob empire until he was deported. He has arrived from Cuba by
a ship anchored just off shore. The last major character arrives for the festivities: Gaye Dawn (Trevor), an alcoholic ex-entertainer who is now the girlfriend of the gangster. The storm can finally begin in earnest.
In a film of outstanding performances--Claire Trevor won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress--Edward G. Robinson deserves special praise. As the fallen crime czar longing for a return to an earlier lawless time, Robinson is spellbinding in a portrayal that echoes his own iconic status in movie
history. Though Robinson had at one point grown weary of endlessly repeating the gangster persona he established in LITTLE CAESAR, even parodying the role in BROTHER ORCHID, he resurrected his gangster image here as his final major statement on the genre that brought him stardom.
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