#40: Key Largo
Starring Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Edward G. Robinson, Lionel Barrymore, and Claire Trevor
Directed by John Huston
The Short, Short Version:
Bogey plays Major Frank McCloud, a soldier-turned-drifter whose conscience leads him to the Keys, specifically Key Largo to the Hotel Largo which is ran by the father (Barrymore) and wife (Bacall) of fallen comrade George Temple. Upon entering the Hotel Largo he’s eyed by several of the guests there whose reasons for staying are above suspicion until he, the owner and daughter-in-law, and a cop are all held hostage by Al Capone-inspired gangster Johnny Rocco (Robinson). Rocco, surrounded by his gang and former singer/moll Gaye Dawn (Trevor), has other plans: getting the dough for his counterfeit money and heading back to Cuba where he was deported to. Add to the mix an impending hurricane, a sheriff, and Seminole brothers on the run, and you have a taught, tense thriller.
Why this made the 40:
The Forty for 40 list has four categories. This came from the Top Ten Influential Directors category for being directed by John Huston. Huston is the noted director of such classics as “The Maltese Falcon,” “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” “The Asphalt Jungle,” “The African Queen,” and “The Man Who Would Be King,” among others. While “Key Largo,” is also a Bogey movie, it has a sensibility that “Maltese Falcon,” does not that makes for it to be an underrated film. What makes this film, more than the others, are the characters. From the thug “Angel” to the moll to the coward soldier McCloud having to confront his internal demons and summoning everything he can to take on underworld emperor Rocco, “Key Largo,” rides the line between noir crime drama and thriller. The interactions between Bogey and Robinson alone are worth watching – Bogart’s downtrodden “wiseguy” versus Robinson’s “larger than life” Napoleonic- Al Capone really makes the film.
Other important notes: the music. It was used for effect as much as the silence and the sound effects. Moments of empathy/sympathy would be underscored by a small musical piece. Silence swelled the dry awkwardness of the divergent characters all being in one room. The sound effects of the hurricane hitting the hotel amplified Rocco’s paranoia and lack of total control.
And, the photography. Based on a play (loosely, I’ve read) the film only alternates in what room(s) the characters gather in. Almost all interactions happen when most of the characters are all assembled in one place and as such they all have to be/seem/feel separate from one-another. The lighting does well-enough to give that three-dimensional feel when you see the various angles shot within the room they’re in. Every now-and-then you can also get that noir feel by the shadows from staircases, faces half-hidden in the shadows, etc. Working within noir sensibilities there are the mirror shots whereby a character is looking at the mirror and we see not only them but everyone behind them; a kind-of action/reaction tit for tat. Innovative stuff. I also recommend the final scene between Bogart and Robinson; it’s one of the best shot.
Aside from these things I think that I really enjoy “Key Largo” because it feels like the movie you watch to enjoy as opposed to the one you watch just to have seen it. Sure, I enjoyed the other Huston movies and in some ways they are superior. Maybe it’s like the band Steely Dan – yeah, they made good music and people like them but not everyone lists them as their “go to” band. While it’s not the “go to” for Bogart, Robinson, or Huston it does deserve mention and appreciation.
Here’s the trailer:
And also this little ditty from the Eighties…