KEY LARGO has a fine cast with Hunphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Edward G. Robinson, Claire Trevor, and Lionel Barrymore in the key roles. A number of those “faces” you always recognize bur can’t name fill out other roles and one I did, Jay Silverheels, plays a Seminole Indian.
The film was adapted from a 1939 play of the same name by Maxwell Anderson, but changed heavily by John Huston and Richard Brooks. Originally the story of a deserter in the Spanish-American war, played by Paul Muni on stage, defending a war hero from Spanish gangsters on Key Largo.
Humphrey Bogart is Frank McCloud, ex-Major, who stops by at Hotel Largo to pay respects to the family of one of his men who died in action during World War II. James Temple(Barrymore), a cripple in a wheelchair, owns the hotel. Nora Temple(Bacall) is the daughter-in-law, a widow, who lives in the hotel and helps run it. The old man thinks his son died a hero and McCloud confirms it, although his manner suggest otherwise(later confirmed by the widow from a letter her husband sent shortly before his death).
Five men are in the hotel on a supposed fishing trip, though McCloud recognizes the leader as Johnny Rocco(Robinson), a gangster deported years before and living in exile on Cuba. The gang drops the pretense and takes over the hotel. They’d come over from Cuba to make a delivery, a large satchel all we know for the moment, and are waiting for the buyer to arrive. Gaye Dawn(Claire Trevor), Rocco’s old girl friend has come down to join him, having turned into an alcoholic in the eight years since the pair last saw each other.
A coming hurricane has slowed things up, something Johnny seems to know nothing of and is scared. Which is odd for a man who’s lived on Cuba for eight years.
Several confrontations between McCloud and Rocco happen as the ex-Major pushes the limits. He admits to being scared, but later says, the head tells him one thing, the body another. He eventually goes with the body.
Soon, a carload of gangsters arrive, saying the storm had held them up, having to park for a while. The delivery Rocco and his gang have is a bag full of counterfeit bills, excellent quality, and the second group pay handsomely for them. That’s when Rocco learns the captain of his boat has gone. The man had warned Rocco they needed to leave before the hurricane came, afraid of washing up on the reefs. Rocco had promised to kill him if he left and he agrees. But the gangster leader couldn’t have been to bright if he believed his threats would keep the man, out on his boat, from leaving.
McCloud gets recruited to drive the hotel’s boat back to Cuba, knowing all the time he would probably be killed when they got there.
And that’s where he made his move, when they got halfway to Cuba.
Liked this black-and-white film directed by Huston.
For more overlooked films on Tuesday, check out Todd Mason over at Sweet Freedom.