John Huston’s taut direction, Richard Brooks’ sharp character-driven scenario, Karl Freund’s deep-focus black-and-white imagery, and a superlative cast headed by Bogart, elevate “Key Largo” way above its genre, the crime-gangster drama, while suggesting how a movie based on a play (by Maxwell Anderson) doesn’t have to be theatrical.
Well cast and then at the peak of his career, Bogart stars as Frank McCloud, a disillusioned WW II veteran who travels to Florida’s Key Largo to pay his respects to the family of a friend who was killed in WWII.
The hotel in which he stays is operated by the father of the deceased, James Temple (Lionel Barrymore), and the young widow, Nora Temple (Lauren Bacall, Bogart’s real life).
Upon arrival, the Temples are busy in preparations for a major threatening storm. In fact, some Seminole Indians arrive in small boats, seeking shelter. Among them are the siblings John and Tom Osceola, who had escaped from prison. Sheriff Wade and Deputy Sawyer had visited the hotel earlier searching for the fugitives.
It doesn’t take long for McCloud to realize that the hotel’s guests are criminals, who are holding the deputy prisoner, and would not let the other guests leave before business is done. The gang’s aging leader is recognized by McCloud as Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson), a gangster who had been deported after running a mob empire. He has recently returned from Cuba by a ship, accompanied by Gaye Dawn (Trevor), his alcoholic mistress and a former singer, who is forced to perform for the guests.
Filled with conflicts and tensions, the whole plot builds up toward a climactic confrontation between McCloud and Johnny Rocco.
Claire Trevor won a Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance (see below). But the whole cast is good, Robinson, as the fallen crime czar, Bogart as the anti-hero who becomes a hero, even Lauren Bacall.
Oscar Nominations: 1
Supporting Actress: Claire Trevor
Oscar Awards: 1
Trevor won the Oscar at her second nomination. Her first nomination was in 1937, for “Dead End,” in which she played a prostitute and Bogart was cast as a gangster named Baby Face Martin. Trevor received her third and last nomination in 1954, for the disaster (airplane) melodrama, “The High and the Mighty.”