Key Largo (film)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Key Largo
Key largo432.jpg
Australian theatrical release poster
Directed by John Huston
Produced by Jerry Wald
Screenplay by Richard Brooks
John Huston
Based on Key Largo (play)
1939 play
by Maxwell Anderson
Starring Humphrey Bogart
Edward G. Robinson
Lauren Bacall
Lionel Barrymore
Claire Trevor
Music by Max Steiner
Cinematography Karl Freund
Edited by Rudi Fehr
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date
  • July 16, 1948 (1948-07-16) (U.S.)
Running time
101 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $1,763,000[1]
Box office $3,250,000 (US rentals)[2] or $4,369,000[1]

Key Largo is a 1948 film noir directed by John Huston and starring Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson and Lauren Bacall. The supporting cast features Lionel Barrymore and Claire Trevor.[3][4] The film was adapted by Richard Brooks and Huston from Maxwell Anderson's 1939 play of the same name, which played on Broadway for 105 performances in 1939 and 1940.[5]

Key Largo was the fourth and final film pairing of married actors Bogart and Bacall, after To Have and Have Not (1944), The Big Sleep (1946), and Dark Passage (1947), although they also appeared together in a television version of The Petrified Forest with Henry Fonda, as a 1955 episode of the anthology series Producer's Showcase. Claire Trevor won the 1948 Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for her performance as a drunken ex-singer, the moll of Robinson's character.


Ex-Major Frank McCloud (Humphrey Bogart) arrives at the Hotel Largo in Key Largo, Florida, visiting the family of George Temple, a friend from the Army who served under him and was killed in the Italian campaign, at the Battle of Monte Cassino. He meets with George's widow Nora Temple (Lauren Bacall) and his father James (Lionel Barrymore), who owns the hotel. Because the winter vacation season has ended and a hurricane is approaching, the hotel has only six guests: the dapper Toots (Harry Lewis), the boorish Curly (Thomas Gomez), stone-faced Ralph (William Haade), servant Angel (Dan Seymour), an attractive but aging woman, the alcoholic Gaye Dawn (Claire Trevor), and a sixth man who remains secluded in his room. They claim to be in the Florida Keys for fishing and have a charter boat waiting.

Rebuffing Curly's attempts to engage him in conversation, Frank (as planned) meets with Nora and James Temple and tells them where George is buried in Italy. He tells them about George's heroism under fire. Nora seems taken with Frank, stating that George frequently mentioned Frank in his letters. They learn that George told Frank personal details about the Temples (father and daughter-in-law). Frank had also committed to memory some small and cherished details that George had spoken of, to relieve the boredom, mixed with stress and terror, that defined their moment-to-moment existence in combat.

While preparing the hotel for the hurricane, the three are interrupted by Sheriff Ben Wade (Monte Blue) and his deputy Sawyer (John Rodney), searching for the Osceola brothers, American Indians who escaped from custody after their arrest on minor charges. James Temple promises the lawmen he will use his influence with local Indians to encourage their surrender. Soon after the police leave, the local Seminoles seek shelter at the hotel, among them the Osceola brothers.

As the storm approaches, Curly, Ralph, Angel and Toots pull guns and take the Temples and Frank hostage. They explain that the sixth member of their party is notorious gangster Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson), who was exiled to Cuba some years before for being an undesirable alien. The gang discovered Sawyer looking about and knock him unconscious. Despite being held at gunpoint, Temple lets go a stream of insults toward Rocco, who taunts Temple and claims he will soon return to prominence. At one point Rocco gives Frank a pistol and offers to fight a duel with him, but Frank declines, stating his belief in self-preservation over heroics and that "one Rocco more or less isn't worth dying for." Sawyer grabs the gun and tries to escape but Rocco shoots him. In the gunplay it is revealed the gun Rocco gave to Frank was empty. Rocco's men take Sawyer's body by boat to deep water and throw it overboard.

Rocco intends to hold the Temples and Frank hostage until his American contacts from Miami arrive to conclude a deal. As the storm rages, the Seminoles, usually sheltered in the hotel in storms, huddle outside at the insistence of Rocco and his company. Inside and protected from the storm, Rocco forces Gaye, his former moll, to sing for them by offering her a drink. After Gaye sings "Moanin' Low" a capella, Rocco berates her poor performance and fading looks and will not give her a drink. Frank goes to the bar, pours a drink and gives the drink to Gaye. While Gaye says "Thanks, fella" to Frank, Rocco slaps Frank in the face several times for disobeying his order not to give Gaye a drink; Frank ignores the slaps, and tells Gaye, "You're welcome." Nora tells Frank she knows his story about her husband's heroism was false and that Frank was the real hero. Mr. Temple invites Frank to live with them at the hotel, a prospect that intrigues Nora.

After the storm subsides, Sheriff Ben Wade returns looking for Deputy Sheriff Sawyer, who had telephoned him from the hotel before the hurricane. Temple is forced by Rocco to lie and say he has not seen Deputy Sawyer, but as Wade is leaving he discovers Sawyer's body floating in the water nearby, where it has been blown by the hurricane. Rocco blames Sawyer's death on the Osceola brothers, whom Wade confronts in the nearby boathouse and kills them both.

After Wade leaves with Sawyer's body, Rocco's contact Ziggy (Marc Lawrence) arrives to conclude the deal. Rocco sells Ziggy a large amount of counterfeit money. Because the captain of the luxury yacht on which they arrived from Cuba has moved to deeper water due to the storm they need another boat. Rocco forces Frank, who is a skilled seaman, to take him and his henchmen back to Cuba on the smaller hotel boat. Nora and Gaye try to convince Frank to make a break for safety once he is outside the hotel, but he agrees to take the men to Cuba. Gaye pretends a last-ditch attempt to convince Rocco to take her with him and uses the embrace to steal Rocco's gun, which she covertly passes to Frank.

Out on the Straits of Florida Curly worries that Gaye will tell the police about Ziggy. Rocco indicates that is exactly what he wants. Soon afterwards Frank tricks Ralph into looking over the stern, races the engine and knocks Ralph into the water. Toots realizes that Ralph has been lost, and exchanges fire with Frank; Frank is wounded but kills Toots. Hearing shots, Curly appears and Frank mortally wounds him too. Rocco demands Angel to go up on deck, lying to Angel that Frank is dead. When Angel refuses to take the chance. Rocco kills Angel, and attempts to trick Frank into surrendering by offering money. However, Frank stays quiet, alert to the trick. Rocco comes up, concealing a gun, and Frank shoots him dead.

Heading back to Key Largo, Frank radios the Miami Coast Guard (using the NMA (nan, mike, able in the 1943 Phonetic Alphabet) call sign for the US Coast Guard, in Miami, Florida and ASAN (able, sugar, able, nan) as the call sign for the "Santana" - the boat he is piloting). asking for help and to get a message to the hotel. Meanwhile, Gaye reassures Wade that Rocco bears the blame for Deputy Sawyer's murder and that he was misdirected into killing the Osceola brothers. Wade mentions that Ziggy's gang has been captured and leaves with Gaye to identify them. The phone rings and James and Nora are delighted to hear that Frank is returning safely. Nora opens the shutters to the sun while out at sea Frank steers the boat towards shore.



The script was adapted from a 1939 play by Maxwell Anderson. In the play, the gangsters are Mexican bandidos, the war in question is the Spanish Civil War, and Frank is a disgraced deserter who dies at the end.

Robinson had top billing over Bogart in their four previous films together: Bullets or Ballots (1936), Kid Galahad (1937), The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse (1938) and Brother Orchid (1940). For this movie, however, Robinson's name appears to the right of Bogart's, but placed a little higher on the posters, and also in the film's opening credits, to indicate Robinson's near-equal status. Robinson's image was also markedly larger and centered on the original poster, with Bogart relegated to the background. In the film's trailer, Bogart is repeatedly mentioned first but Robinson's name is listed above Bogart's in a cast list at the end.

Exterior shots of the hurricane were taken from stock footage used in Night Unto Night, a Ronald Reagan melodrama which Warner Bros. also produced in 1948.

The boat used by Rocco's gang to depart Key Largo, with Bogart's character at the helm, is named the Santana, which was also the name of Bogart's personal 55-foot (17 m) sailing yacht.[6]


A high point of the film comes when Robinson's alcoholic former moll, ex-nightclub singer "Gaye Dawn", played by Claire Trevor, is forced by Rocco to sing a song a cappella before he will allow her to have a drink. Trevor was nervous about the scene, and assumed that she would be lip-syncing to someone else's voice. She kept after director Huston, wanting to rehearse the song, but he put her off, saying "There's plenty of time," until one afternoon he told her that they would shoot the scene right then, without any rehearsal. She was given her starting note from a piano, and, in front of the rest of the cast and the crew, sang the song. It was this raw take that was used in the film.[7] The song was "Moanin' Low", composed by Ralph Rainger with lyrics by Howard Dietz, introduced on Broadway in the 1929 revue The Little Show by Libby Holman becoming a hit and Holman's signature song.

Author Philip Furia said about the song, 'Moanin' Low': "[it's] about a woman who's trapped in a relationship with a very cruel man. And ... you see [Trevor as Gaye] realizes that that's exactly her real-life situation. [Trevor's performance] slowly break[s] down, and her voice falters and she sings off key." Robinson is dismissive but "Bogart pours her a stiff drink, walks it over ... under gunpoint ... and gives it to her and says 'You deserve this'—it's just a great dramatic scene, [and] it's a wonderful use of a song in a non-musical picture. [Trevor] won [the Academy Award] based purely, I think, on that performance."[8]

Box office[edit]

According to Warner Bros records the film earned $3,219,000 domestically and $1,150,000 foreign.[1]

Awards and honors[edit]

Claire Trevor won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Gaye Dawn.[9] In 2003, the American Film Institute nominated Johnny Rocco as a villain for AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains.[10] Then in 2008, the American Film Institute nominated Key Largo for its Top 10 Gangster Films list.[11]

Home media[edit]

A Blu-ray DVD of Key Largo was released by Warner Bros. in 2016.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Warner Bros financial information in The William Shaefer Ledger. See Appendix 1, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, (1995) 15:sup1, 1-31 p 28 DOI: 10.1080/01439689508604551
  2. ^ "Top Grossers of 1948", Variety 5 January 1949 p 46
  3. ^ Variety film review; July 7, 1948, p. 6.
  4. ^ Harrison's Reports film review; July 10, 1948, p. 111.
  5. ^ Key Largo at the Internet Broadway Database
  6. ^ Meyers, Jeffrey. Bogart: A Life in Hollywood. London: Andre Deutsch Ltd., 1997. ISBN 0-233-99144-1. p. 236
  7. ^ McLellan, Dennis. "A Hollywood Reputation: Claire Trevor Bren, known for playing strong if imperfect women, never achieved the stature of contemporaries Bette Davis or Joan Crawford, but she had other priorities. Family--including stepson and Irvine Co. Chairman Donald L. Bren--has always come first." Los Angeles Times (May 28, 1995)
  8. ^ "When Hollywood Had A Song In Its Heart", transcript, Philip Furia interview with Terry Gross; Fresh Air from WHYY-FM, July 20, 2010; discussing Furia's book The Songs of Hollywood (2010), coauthored by Laurie Patterson. Audio of full interview also available (25 min 36 s), including clip of Trevor's singing and film dialogue. Retrieved July 27, 2010.
  9. ^ "The 21st Academy Awards - 1949". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved July 10, 2018. 
  10. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved August 18, 2016. 
  11. ^ "AFI's 10 Top 10 Nominees" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on July 16, 2011. Retrieved August 19, 2016. 
  12. ^ Greenland, David (March 2016). "What's Out There". Classic Images (489): 21. 

External links[edit]