There has been countless number of films based on the premise of innocent people being held hostage by a group of desperate criminals. Typically the genre most frequently trying to use this concept is horror although its best application produced one of the best film noir movies ever made, ‘Key Largo’. Arguably one of the most powerful forces driving its box office during its initial release as stated in time, the appearance of the tabloid worthy couple of 40s, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, the sheer power contained in the script, stylistic direction and intense performances sure that this film will continue as the timeless classic. Warner Bros. has been continuing their ‘Warner Archive Collection’, reinvigorating movies such as this with a high definition remastering and released on Blu-ray. In this instance, ‘Key Largo’ has shared its release date with another Bogart/Bacall powerhouse, ‘The Big Sleep’. Or both from certainly stand on their own merits and demand to be in any serious collection, watching the two together will provide a double feature that is enormously entertaining. From a historical perspective of the time of this films production Bogart had already married his mistress, Lauren Bacall, and this is the fourth and final film he made with her. Written and directed by one of the most powerfully creative been in the art cinema, John Huston, this movie stands as a lasting testament to how this man was able to elicit the best performances possible and even some of the most talented actors in film. With a cast as star-studded as this film, Huston demonstrated his rare ability to keep individual egos in check it still produce performances that would synergistically combine some of the most emotionally powerful scenes ever committed to film.
Frank McCloud (Humphrey Bogart) has recently concluded his military service coming achieve the rank of Major and is looking forward to returning home. First he had to discharge a lamentable but honorable duty, visit the family of a friend and subordinate, George Temple, who gave his life during the campaign in Italy. Frank arrives in the family owned hotel Key Largo Florida where he meets George’s widow, Nora (Lauren Bacall) and his father, James (Lionel Barrymore), the owner of the hotel. His past the tourist season and there is a severe hurricane predicted to hit the area. The hotel has only six guests remaining; the stylish Toots (Harry Lewis), ill-mannered Curly (Thomas Gomez), stoic (William Haade), subservient Angel (Dan Seymour) and the attractive are clearly alcoholic young woman Gaye Dawn (Claire Trevor). The sixth member of the group remains mysteriously in his room never venturing out. Frank is not interested in engaging the men in conversation rather race of the opportunity when he can speak to Nora and James alone. He tells them stories of the bravery that George exhibited are close to became as friends under such conditions. Because of that Frank was able to recant minute details of his friend’s wife and father-in-law. Nora mentions that George’s letters frequently mentioned Frank in adaptable light and she becomes noticeably attracted to him.
As the storm draws closer the local sheriff, Ben Wade (Monte Blue), and his deputy, Clyde Sawyer (John Rodney) stops by to inform the temples that the pair of small time criminals, the Osceola brothers, has escaped custody. They are members of the local Seminole Indian tribe and James promises to use his influence with them to expedite their capture. Soon after the sheriff leaves the Seminoles arrives seeking shelter from the storm. The fugitive brothers are among them. Soon afterwards the men who had been staying at the hotel pull out their guns and hold Frank Nora and James hostage. As the situation intensifies the identity of the mysterious sixth man is revealed, violent crime boss, Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson). The savagery of this character is clearly depicted many with hosted drink from Gaye forcing him to sing if she wants it. After singing a song a cappella Johnny with hosted drink stating the performance was substandard humiliating public comments on her lack of talent and aging looks. In the scene that could only be as effective as it was with such incredible talent occurs when Frank pours himself a drink and gives one to Gaye. She eagerly accepted turning to him to say "thank you fella". Johnny steps in and viciously begins to slap Frank reminding him that he said she does not get a drink. Without reacting to the physical abuse Frank simply turns to the woman and replies, "you’re welcome." One of the trademark aspects of Humphrey Bogart’s immeasurable talent is to portray a man who can exhibit exceptional strength under duress. Mr. Robinson had built much of his career portraying characters that were unrelentingly vicious and cruel. The see the two men in a scene that’s a remarkably demonstrates these aspects of their abilities is certainly one of the highlights of the film but this movie has a chain did cinematic status by having a plethora of such moments.
I never had the opportunity to see the play by Maxwell Anderson performed on stage. I’m certain it would be a fascinating experience. Many plays adapted to screenplays failed to capture the intimacy the stage affords the story. That is certainly not the case here. Co-authoring the screenplay with John Huston is Richard Brooks, Oscar-winning writer was provided Scripture such notable classics as ‘Elmer Gantry’, ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’ and ‘In Cold Blood’. Most of his scripts have one thing in common depicting people and ordinarily stressful situations. When combined with the incomparable John Huston the result is a film but not one scene is wasted, every moment is filled with subtleties brought to life by the nuanced performances of some of the screens greatest actors. The central theme may be the class retrieving a modest heroic man and a megalomaniac criminal but underlying it all this is such a contest of wills pales in comparison to the indomitable force of nature as a hurricane which is bearing down on their location. This adds to the ever-increasing sense of claustrophobia impose not only by the limitations of the hotel by the ever worsening weather.
There’s efficiency to the script that packs an incredible amount incredible amount of character development and exposition in every page of dialogue. In lesser hands then the co-authors the story would have undoubtedly meandered only to collapse in on itself. This is where the triple threat known as John Huston saves the day. He is an experienced actor of unparalleled ability she is able to tap into as he writes his scripts. As a director he knows best how to connect with the actors enabling them to translate the written word into a mesmerizing performance. When you have an actor of such status as Lionel Barrymore the results are fated to be incredible. Mr. Barrymore was largely confined to a wheelchair in his hand severely crippled by arthritis. Several scenes he is challenging his actual physical agony into his performance utilizing his own personal suffering to enhance the portrayal of his character. This is simply put a movie that help to define film noir is one of the most popular genres of its time.