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Keys to the Movie: Key Largo

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Dusty is an avid classic movie fan who wants to share movie stories and evoke conversation about them.

Movie Poster

Cast

Key Largo

1 hr. 40 mins Action, Crime, Drama 1948 7.8 stars

Director: John Huston

Cast: Humphrey Bogart - Frank McCloud

Edward G. Robinson - Johnny Rocco

Lauren Bacall - Nora Temple

Lionel Barrymore - James Temple

Claire Trevor - Gaye Dawn

Thomas Gomez - Richard ‘Curly’ Hoff

Harry Lewis - Edward ‘Toots’ Bass

John Rodney - Deputy Clyde Sawyer

Mark Lawrence - Ziggy

Dan Seymour - Angel Garcia

Monte Blue - Sheriff Ben Wade

Note: Spoiler alert. This review reveals the outcome of the movie

Largo Hotel

Frank's bus pulls up to Largo Hotel

Frank's bus pulls up to Largo Hotel

Synopsis

As you watch this movie you can almost feel the heat and humidity of the atmosphere in the Florida Keys. Frank McCloud arrives by bus at the Key Largo Hotel. He has come to visit the proprietor, James Temple. James is an older man, wheelchair bound, and he is helped with his duties around the property by his daughter-in-law, Nora. Frank has come to visit them because they were the father and wife of his army friend who died in action during World War II.

But Frank’s arrival was at an unfortunate time. In the hotel he runs into a drunken woman and some stand-offish men and who repeatedly tell him the place is closed. Even the bar was closed though they appeared to be using it. He finally finds James and Nora out on the dock, and introduces himself. They are very happy to see him and they welcome him to stay. James has developed quite a good reputation with the local Seminole Indians and they come to him for advice and help.

The people staying in the hotel seem to move from stand-offish to hostile.

The weather begins to brew and a hurricane warning is broadcast and they are in for a direct hit. The other guests begin to impose themselves on Frank, James and Nora and at one point they pull their guns on Frank. Their leader, Johnny Rocco, shows up and Frank recognizes him as an infamous gangster who had been caught and deported. Somehow he got back into this country and now he was in this hotel with his gang and his drunken moll, Gaye Dawn.

The mood in the hotel goes from bad to worse. James trash talks Rocco, but Frank counters that talk with much more conciliatory language in an effort to stroke Rocco’s ego. It’s clear that Frank is playing the role of a go between, a diplomatic role in a dangerous circumstance. Frank is trying his best to make sure everyone comes out of this alive.

The sheriff and his deputy are snooping around the hotel looking for two escaped convicts, local Seminoles known as the Osceola brothers. The deputy, Sawyer, has been waylaid and has been lying unconscious in another room. We see him begin to revive.

During their intense conversation Frank let’s out that he wants to rid the world of “all the Johnny Roccos.” In response Rocco gives Frank a gun and challenges him to shoot, but Frank does not oblige. Because of this he is seen by the others like James and Nora as being a coward. Sawyer enters the room and grabs the gun which Rocco had given to Frank and shoots it at Rocco, but it was a trap. Rocco had handed an unloaded gun to Frank and when Sawyer shot at him nothing happened. Then Rocco shoots Sawyer dead.

A hurricane brews and is forecast to be big. This is a foe that Rocco can’t intimidate or control. He is nervous and keeps asking questions of James about how fierce it could get. James tells him of all the death and destruction hurricanes have wreaked there in the past. James prays out loud for destruction of his hotel if it would “rid the world of Johnny Rocco.” Frank teases Rocco suggesting that he go out and shoot at the storm maybe he can use his gun to control it. The storm becomes so fierce that the building shakes and glasses fall off the shelves in the hotel bar.

Rocco tells Gaye to sing stating that if she would then he would allow her a drink – she’s been clamoring for a drink throughout the whole movie. Though intimidated by the thought of singing before everyone, she does, but falters in mid song. Because she falters Rocco refuses to allow her to have that drink she so desired. He just wanted to humiliate her. Frank rushes over and gets Gaye a drink. Infuriated by this Rocco slaps him. Rocco tells Frank that he will be taking him and his gang to Cuba after his business is transacted and after the storm. Rocco is meeting another gangster named Ziggy and selling him counterfeit money that he has printed.

The sheriff arrives looking for his deputy, Sawyer. Though everyone knows that Sawyer was killed everyone in the hotel remains silent. They don’t want to incur the wrath of Rocco. Immediately after the sheriff departs however he discovers Sawyer’s body. Rocco tells him he thinks the Osceola brothers did it. They are seen outside the hotel so sheriff chases after them and when they don’t stop he shoots them dead.

Rocco’s buyer, Ziggy, arrives despite the awful weather and purchases Rocco’s counterfeit money. The two criminal gangs are in high spirits. After Ziggy leaves Rocco plans his getaway on the hotel’s boat. As he prepares to leave Gaye pleads with him to take her along, but he has decided that he is through with her and tells her that he’s leaving her behind. She hugs him imploring him again to take her with him, but he pushes her away. But in that act she removes Rocco’s gun from his coat pocket. She later hands the gun to Frank.

Rocco and his gang force Frank to pilot them to Cuba and they depart in a heavy fog. While out to sea Frank is able to kill each member of Rocco’s gang and finally kills Rocco himself.

He turns the boat around and heads back to the hotel where he will help them rebuild; he has agreed to stay.

Rocco Humiliates Nora

Lauren Bacall, Edward G. Robinson and Humphrey Bogart

Lauren Bacall, Edward G. Robinson and Humphrey Bogart

Analysis

Key Largo has the ability to transport you from wherever you are to the extreme heat of the Florida Keys. And in the hurricane scene you really sense the storm all around you. It’s a good movie for producing those sensations in the audience. When Frank McCloud arrives on a bus it’s hot. Though the storm brings relief it comes at the cost of death and destruction and at the cost of fear and anxiety.

Fear is a theme throughout the movie; the aforementioned fear of the storm is but one fear. Another is the fear of the criminals. They’ve taken over James’s hotel and have shown a willingness to kill. James and Nora are hostages in their own home and Frank is being threatened also. It makes for tense moments of anxiety in each one of them.

Fear describes a weapon used between this group of enemies. The criminals, especially Johnny Rocco, controls by intimidation aided by his pistol. But Frank also uses a strategy to tame Rocco. He uses flattery and very effectively. Though, at one point, James and Nora see Frank as a coward, ultimately he is not. He is an opportunist looking to exploit any weakness he finds to his advantage. One such weakness is Rocco’s ego. Frank knows the right things to say in order to mitigate Rocco’s temper and I contend that Frank’s flattering tongue saved lives that night. Frank is waiting to strike when the time was right and throughout the movie the time was not right, until the final scene then the time becomes right. Opportunity knocked and Frank answered the call. If you pay attention to the discussion that James and Nora have with Frank early on a picture emerges of Frank having been a hero during the war.

There was another enemy out there and this one threatened both the good guys and the bad guys. That enemy was the hurricane. This was a foe that Rocco couldn’t intimidate and he is caught off guard by it. Frank exploits this chink in Rocco’s armor by cajoling him telling him that maybe he should go out into the hurricane and wave his gun at it or shoot it. James prays aloud that the hurricane would crash through the building killing all inside if only to “rid the world of Johnny Rocco.”

Rocco has a different weapon which he uses on Gaye and that is the weapon of humiliation. He forces her to sing to everyone there knowing that she no longer can. He does this just to make fun of her and he uses her alcoholism to manipulate her. He promises her a drink if she would sing, then welches on that promise. Frank boldly rises to get her a drink a move which draws Rocco’s ire. But Frank is beginning to make his move and he knows he has something Rocco needs and that is the skill and knowledge to pilot Rocco’s escape boat.

The character of Rocco is evil. The type of evil is selfishness mixed with conceit. He doesn’t care for anybody but himself and that can be clearly seen with the way he deals with the people at the hotel, his moll, the deputy and even the Indians in the area clambering to be let in the hotel during the storm. He also shows callous disregard for a fellow gangster with whom he is conducting business.

The last scene is the satisfaction scene. Here we watch Rocco get what’s coming to him, just desserts delivered by Frank. Frank slows the boat down then askes one of the henchmen to check if the motor is snarled in kelp. As the henchman leans over to check Frank guns the motor toppling that man into the sea. One by one Frank shoots the various henchmen (actually Rocco shoots one himself). Finally it’s down to just Rocco and Frank, mano a mano. Rocco is out of Frank’s sight but is at a clear disadvantage. He tries bargaining with Frank, an obviously pointless exercise because all Frank wants is the destruction of Rocco. So to that end Frank shoots Rocco dead.

It’s important to note that Frank was given a gun, Rocco’s gun, by Gaye who lifted it from Rocco’s coat pocket while pleading with him to be allowed to tag along. The pleading was a ploy to get the gun because she realized that Rocco had effectively burned that bridge with her. In the end Rocco was shot with his own gun. Perhaps that can be described as the cherry on the top of the just dessert.

Edward G. Robinson, who played Rocco, was quite often the bad guy as he was in this movie. Humphrey Bogart was quite often the hero. Key Largo does not disappoint with this pairing of these two Hollywood greats. Lauren Bacall was married to Humphrey Bogart when this film was shot. They were a well-loved pairing in Hollywood – though the picture does not show a romance between them – hints at it but that’s all. Lionel Barrymore was a great from long before this movie. The wheelchair was not a prop. At this point in Lionel Barrymore’s life he needed it.

Rocco Confronts Frank

Rocco (Edward G. Robinson) forces Frank (Humphrey Bogart) to sail the gang down to Cuba.

Rocco (Edward G. Robinson) forces Frank (Humphrey Bogart) to sail the gang down to Cuba.

Movie Trailer

Johnny Rocco Runs It Down

The Hurricane Scene

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