Monday, 30 December 2013

Key Largo (1948) - ★★★★

Director: John Huston
Writers: Richard Brooks, John Huston, Maxwell Anderson (Play)
Stars: Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Edward G. Robinson, Lionel Barrymore, Claire Trevor, Thomas Gomez, Harry Lewis, Marc Lawrence

John Huston is undeniably one of the greatest directors of all time, with Key Largo being one of his very best films. It's an absolute gem of 1940s cinema, boasting a great cast and an excellent dark-noir style. I think its legendary status lies in the performances. You have the classic pairing of Bogart and Bacall, who were a famous real-life couple. Mix in Edward G. Robinson, who's arguably the most famous gangster character actor of all time. Spice it up with two extremely memorable performances by Claire Trevor and Lionel Barrymore, and you have yourself an unforgettable film. Trust me, Key Largo has to go on your "must watch" list.

Johnny Rocco is one of G. Robinson's most memorable roles.

The story takes place at The Key Largo Hotel, located by the beach at (you guessed it) Key Largo, Florida. Frank McCloud (Humphrey Bogart) gets more than he bargained for when he visits the owners of the hotel, James Temple (Lionel Barrymore) and Laura Temple (Lauren Bacall). The hotel is occupied by a group of criminals led by the infamous Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson), who refuses to let them leave until his shipment has arrived. With a hurricane roaring right at their door, the atmosphere is always tense as the drama unfurls in this wickedly entertaining crime-drama.

The music, cinematography, costumes and set-production in Key Largo are fantastic. I expected nothing less from John Huston, who is one of the finest at crafting films to suit the story. I really enjoyed the story too. The thought of being held captive in a hotel by a band of criminals is quite frightening, but it was the unpredictability of the story that kept me intrigued. These ingredients worked well together, but it was the character's that brought it all to life. Particularly the supporting performances, which were astoundingly good!

Bogart and Bacall are two of the coolest cats in Hollywood history. When they are with each other, you can sense the true connection that lies deep down inside of them. They didn't have loads to say or do in the film, for it was more of a cast ensemble than a film with a leading man or lady. All I can say is that they were perfect for the roles. Their characters were strong, their actions believable, and their subtle hints of a looming romance were executed to perfection. This might just be one of their most memorable collaborations.

To me, Lionel Barrymore gave the greatest performance in Key Largo as the crippled owner of the hotel. Man was he one sassy, confident, angry old man! I LOL'd so hard when he verbally bitch-slapped Johnny Rocco! "You're right, you shouldn't have been deported, you should have been exterminated!" That is one of his best lines, but there were a whole array of witty insults from him, delivered perfectly by Barrymore. If it weren't for Walter Huston's unbeatable performance in The Treasure of Sierra Madre (1948), then I would have given the Best Supporting Actor Oscar to Lionel Barrymore.

Claire Trevor gave my personal favourite performance of the ensemble, playing the abused, alcoholic girlfriend of Rocco. She played a flawless drunk, delivering her lines so that they were realistically slurred, and not too melodramatic. Then when she sobers up, she talks with a shakier voice, another flawless portrayal of an alcoholic. Her stand out scene is when she has to sing "Moanin' Low," which I found cringe-fully pathetic, and unbearably tragic. In that one scene, she summed up what the last 8 years of her life has been like... it wasn't easy.

In the end, I think you'll find that it was Edward G. Robinson who truly owned the film. He really shines as a criminal, and commands screen presence, even over the likes of Bogart and Bacall. Robinson is probably the key reason this film is so beloved by cultists and noir-fans alike. There were so many shades to his character. There was a hole in himself that he could never fill. He wanted nothing more than to climb back up the criminal ladder and become a top-boss again. There were tinges of fear in himself, like his dirty-tricks to ensure he doesn't get shot. His claustrophobia during the hurricane told us more about him than anything else. I saw more than just fear of the storm sweeping over him. It seemed like his world was going to crash down. Yup, I think this may just be Edward G. Robinson's finest performance.

Key Largo deserves to be called one of the best crime dramas ever made. It's a truly entertaining, unforgettable movie. I found the pacing of it all to be a little too slow, which made the film feel longer than it had to. It's not one of my personal favourite movies, but I can't deny that it's a gem of its era. Like I said, this needs to be on everyones watch-list.


  1. Excellent review! I really need to add this to my "much see" list. There are so many wonderful old classics I haven't gotten to yet.

  2. Just warched it for the fiiist time last night. I thought the Keys in B&W would be hard to take but I barely noticed. It was a great ride.