Key Largo (1948)

Gaye Dawn: "It's better to be a live coward than a dead hero."
By John Huston
With Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson and Lauren Bacall

After I watched Dark Passage (1947), I wanted to see the movies which starred both Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart, and Key Largo came up first although it was their last film together.

Frank McCloud is a world war II veteran who goes to the southern Florida island of Key Largo to visit the remaining family of a soldier who died under his command during the war. Arriving there, he's informed that the hotel is closed by some guests. Then, he sees the owner of the hotel, the father of his soldier friend as well as the friend's widowed wife, Nora Temple. Soon a hurricane alert is sent and all the guests are constrained to the hotel. Things start to turn sour as the other "guests" are discovered to be gangsters who want to run a deal and are using the Key Largo for their business because of its proximity to Cuba. All the parties involved will try to stay alive while the hurricane hits and the police comes searching for runaway Indians.

The strength of Key Largo lies in the characters development. They learn about one another and fight for one another behind the hotel's closed doors. The claustrophobic environment is further accentuated by the storm which requires the shutters to be closed.

The quality of the cast is amazing and some of the biggest names of the film-noir era are present. The discussions are quite philosophical as ideals, morals and honor all happen to come into play. The gangster aspect is not the best one, however, it drives the story line fairly well and feeds humorously into the dialogue. For example, when the gangster Johnny Rocco is afraid of the storm, Frank McCloud suggests he point his gun at it, and shoot if it doesn't comply.

While this was overall a very good picture, it didn't pull me in the story as much as some other intrigues have. This one was all about character development. Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart don't interact very much as the action takes place with an ensemble cast for the most part. In a way, I enjoyed that as the movie doesn't necessarily need a romance to be carried out with full power.

I liked: Ensemble cast. Behind closed doors. The hurricane. Great plays on emotions and tensions. The hero and anti-hero aspects.

I disliked: Predictable. Underdeveloped criminals.

I found it to differ slightly from most of the others film-noir movies I've watched recently in its comparably weaker intrigue. However, the strong character development and ensemble scenes can compensate. I'm guessing these are due to the fact that this film was based on a play.


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