Bogie battles Robinson and his gangsters!
Frank McCloud is a combat veteran returning from world war 2, he is heading to a hotel on Key Largo to speak with the family of a man in his unit who died during the war.
Several men are staying at the hotel, even though it isn’t the season and they’re pretty insistent that Frank scram as soon as possible. They make several references to a boss, who seems to scare all of them.
Frank soon meets the family of his friend, wheelchair bound James Temple and his daughter Nora, the widow of McClouds fallen friend. They seem to be as nervous as the men inside and it’s obvious that there is something bad going on.
Trouble soon makes itself known in the form of the boss of the goons at the hotel, one Johnny Rocco. An infamous gangster deported to Italy and now returning to rebuild his criminal empire.
In the middle of all this, a massive hurricane is rushing down on the isolated island. It will soon cut off all contact with the outside world, trapping everyone in the hotel until it passes.
Adapted from a 1939 play, the only element that is retained seems to be Key Largo itself, a tiny spit of land located in the Florida Keys.
The majority of the film is an intense psychological cat and mouse game with Johnny Rocco and his thugs squaring off against the Temples with McCloud trying to defuse the situation.
Almost the entire film was shot on interior sets and very few of them at that. Combine that with the incoming hurricane and volatile character conflicts, it make for an incredibly tense film. The tension builds throughout the second half of the film and only briefly lets up in moments of comedy and conversation. The whole thing finally brews up into an intense battle on board a sport fishing boat.
Subplots include the county sheriff and deputies pursuing a pair of Seminole Indians who escaped from the local jail, the backstory of why Frank McCloud visited the hotel and the circumstances of Johnny Rocco’s escape and return to the United States.
All of the cast give stand out performances, so it’s hard to single any one of them out. Edward G Robinson and Lionel Barrymore chew scenery with gleeful abandon, Bogie and Bacall display their usual chemistry and Claire Trevor gives a great performance as the washed up, alcoholic girlfriend of Robinson’s Johnny Rocco.
This was the last of the series of 4 films that Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall collaborated on and in my opinion, it’s the most successful, being mostly free of structural and plot issues that plagued the previous collaborations.
You can also see Lauren Bacall’s transformation as a performer here. While she was always a charming star, her presence is much more defined and mature in this film.
Verdict 4 Gavels out of 5
Part psychological thriller, part homage to the great gangster movies of the 1930s. Powerful performances by actors at the peak of their powers, combined with the directing of the great John Huston make for a must see classic.