Review: Key Largo (1948)

Key Largo


John Huston
Richard Brooks, John Huston (Play: Maxwell Anderson)
100 min.
Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson, Lauren Bacall, Lionel Barrymore, Claire Trevor, Thomas Gomez, Harry Lewis, John Rodney, Marc Lawrence, Dan Seymour, Monte Blue, William Haade
MPAA Rating

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Source Material

One of the many pairings of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, Key Largo is a taut suspense yarn about a large hotel on Key Largo, the largest island of the Florida Keys, where a war-weary soldier seeks a compatriot’s family to set their minds and his own at ease about his death. Bogart plays the soldier with Bacall as his compatriot’s sister and Lionel Barrymore as her wheelchair-bound father. Unfortunately, he has arrived just as a nefarious group of gangsters, exiled from the United States, have come to make a transaction with those who were still within the U.S. All of this is further complicated by the arrival of a nasty storm (a Big Blow as they prefer to call it) and a pair of Native Americans wanted by the police.

The plotting of the film is well integrated, carefully playing out across the span of the film. Although some elements are mildly predictable, the film is surprising and twisting enough to be immensely pleasing. Bacall gives a strong performance, though one which doesn’t seem to have a lot of purpose outside of providing a semi-romantic entanglement for Bogart, the unquestionable lead. Yet Bacall still manages to act circles around Bogart who has always struck me as a somewhat monotonous actor, seldom expressing more than a couple of emotions. This worked suitably well in both The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca, here it just managed to ring a bit hollowly and is the main reason the film doesn’t feel like a complete success.

The other is how stereotypical most of the gangsters are in the film with Edward G. Robinson the lone exception. Robinson is wonderful as the lead gangster, but that may be because of his regular portrayal of such characters throughout this period of cinema. He perfected the role and carries that understanding of such characters into the film. Barrymore is also terrific as the lithe-tongued enfeebled father trying to do right by his Native American neighbors and the memory of his son despite his own infirmaries. The last major role is that of Robinson’s alcoholic ex-moll Gaye Dawn played perfectly by Claire Trevor. All of the power and precision in her performance is captured in the song she sings mid-film as she slowly breaks down after years of abuse and self-destruction.
Review Written
July 19, 2010

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