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Key Largo (1948) was based on Maxwell Anderson's popular Broadway play which featured Paul Muni in the lead role as a fatalistic ex-member of the Loyalist Army who has returned from the Spanish Civil War. For the film version, the time period and the setting were changed, and the lead was played by Humphrey Bogart, not Muni. Director John Huston and screenwriter Richard Brooks also rewrote the main character, Frank McCloud, making him a World War II veteran who had served in the Italian campaign. The two writers emphasized the idealism of the early Roosevelt years and how those ideals began to erode as organized crime spread through urban areas.
Edward G. Robinson is mesmerizing as the one-time crime czar Rocco, even though he had long grown tired of the gangster image he helped mold in films as Little Caesar (1930) and Brother Orchid (1940). There was little doubt that the character Robinson was modeled on in Key Largo was Al Capone, who retired to Florida and died there of complications due to advanced syphillis a year before Huston's film was produced. Screenwriter Brooks later revealed he had also incorporated biographical details about another famous gangster, Charles "Lucky" Luciano, into Rocco's character as well. Robinson certainly captured the brutal quality of these two criminals in his performance, and Huston later paid him the odd compliment, saying, "I think Key Largo is best remembered by most people for the introductory scene, with Eddie in the bathtub, cigar in mouth. He looked like a crustacean with its shell off."
In her autobiography, By Myself, Lauren Bacall recalls Key Largo as "one of the happiest movie experiences. I thought how marvelous a medium the movies were, to enable one to meet, befriend, and work with such people." Her husband, Humphrey Bogart, was also impressed with the distinguished cast and crew and had the highest respect for Robinson off-screen, despite the on-screen tension between their characters. Though Bogart did receive top billing in the film, Robinson was given the star treatment from him on the set. Robinson later commented on his marquee status in his autobiography (All My Yesterdays): "The journey down. No suspense to this. I didn't even argue. Why not second billing? At fifty-three I was lucky to get any billing at all."
Other Key Largo trivia: Claire Trevor won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar® for her performance as Rocco's alcoholic companion, a character based on Lucky Luciano's mistress, Gay Orlova.
The ramshackle hotel where most of the drama unfolds was constructed on the Warner Bros. lot along with the beach area. Exterior shots of the hurricane were actually taken from stock footage used in Night Unto Night, a Ronald Reagan melodrama made the same year at Warner Bros.
Director: John Huston
Producer: Jerry Wald
Screenplay: Richard Brooks, John Huston, based on the play by Maxwell Anderson
Cinematography: Karl Freund
Editor: Rudi Fehr
Art Direction: Leo K. Kuter
Music: Max Steiner
Cast: Humphrey Bogart (Frank McCloud), Edward G. Robinson (Johnny Rocco/ Howard Brown), Lauren Bacall (Nora Temple), Lionel Barrymore (James Temple), Claire Trevor (Gaye Dawn)
BW-101m. Close captioning. Descriptive video.
by Jeff Stafford