Key Largo is not one of Humphrey Bogart’s more well-known films, and I think that’s a shame. This story packs a big emotional punch featuring exquisite performances, tight dialog, and an evocative setting.
Bogart stars as returning war vet Frank McCloud, weary of violence after serving several years in the European theater. McCloud has ventured to the Hotel Largo in the Florida Keys to visit the family of deceased Army buddy George Temple. There he meets with George’s widow Nora (Lauren Bacall) and her father-in-law James (Lionel Barrymore), who runs the hotel. Frank and the Temple family soon find themselves in a precarious situation when exiled mobster Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson) and his cohorts take over the hotel while waiting out a ferocious hurricane. Despite frequent abuses from Rocco and his gang, McCloud hesitates to act having become embittered by the violence he experienced on the battlefield, but after witnessing Rocco kill several innocent men and mistreat moll Gaye Dawn (Claire Trevor), he is ultimately driven to intercede with dangerous results.
The fierce weather of the Keys neatly frames the turmoil engulfing Rocco and McCloud, and the location is exotic without being distracting. However, it’s the acting that really shines in this picture. Bogart is his usual fantastic self, but he’s hardly forced to carry the cast. With her moving portrayal of a frightened, broken soul singing for a drink from the gangster Rocco, Claire Trevor assured herself the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. Moreover, Robinson’s sneering Rocco is delightfully vile and reminds modern audiences why he continues to be an iconic film gangster 70 years later.
For fans of Bogart and those interested in Florida cinematic history, this is a must-see. For everyone else, there’s plenty of quality moviemaking to make this a worthwhile watch. While a little tame by modern standards, this is still a gangster movie, so audiences should expect plenty of smoking, drinking, gunplay, and intense situations.