Key Largo (1948)
Director: John Huston
Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson, Lauren Bacall, Lionel Barrymore, Claire Trevor, Thomas Gomez & John Rodney
Released by: Warner Archive
Reviewed by Mike Kenny
Set off the coast of Florida, Key Largo finds mob boss Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson, Little Caesar) and his gang holing up in a local hotel with its owner Nora Temple (Lauren Bacall, Dark Passage), her disabled father-in-law (Lionel Barrymore, Grand Hotel) and ex-Major Frank McCloud (Humphrey Bogart, Casablanca) at their mercy. Bracing themselves for a detrimental hurricane while keeping Rocco at bay, McCloud, overwhelmed by his wartime experiences, may be their only hope in surviving the ordeal. Claire Trevor (Murder, My Sweet), Thomas Gomez (Force of Evil) and John Rodney (Pursued) co-star in Director John Huston’s (The Maltese Falcon) esteemed classic.
In their concluding feature together, real-life married couple Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall continue to solidify their onscreen personas as one of Hollywood’s most beloved pairings. Adapted from Maxwell Anderson’s popular play although sharing little in common, Key Largo finds Major Frank McCloud (Bogart) visiting the widow and father of his deceased fellow soldier at their beachside resort Hotel Largo. A virtual ghost town with the exception of several snappily-dressed gentleman and an overly drunk woman, Frank is quickly embraced by his hosts only to grow suspicious of the hotel’s other patrons. With a violent storm approaching, preparations are quickly made when another mysterious guest previously confined to his room reveals himself to be none other than notorious gangster Johnny Rocco (Robinson). Drawing their guns, Rocco and his cronies forcefully take control of the hotel while awaiting the arrival of their associates to conclude a lucrative deal. As weather conditions worsen, the intensity and suspense amongst the trapped trio and their captors increases at every turn. Personalities clash and egos are tested while, Rocco struggles to maintain control of his unpredictable situation. Using Nora and her father-in-law as pawns to force Frank into chauffeuring the gang back to Cuba for their great escape, a climactic showdown ensues that only the former Major can take control of if willing.
Ruggedly good-looking and oozing with charisma, Bogart chalks up another hard-nosed performance, fittingly contrasting to that of his off-screen’s better half. Although predominately playing the frightened female of the picture, Bacall conveys ample emotion throughout with her hypnotically gorgeous eyes saying so much. In addition, Edward G. Robinson admirably plays the cigar-chomping heel that audiences have come to love while, the severely arthritic Lionel Barrymore, afflicted with intolerable pain at the time, uses his real-life condition to the advantage of his wonderful performance. Furthermore, Claire Trevor’s turn as Rocco’s alcoholic rag doll Gaye Dawn is the film’s standout. Constantly slurring her speech and suffering from shaky withdrawals, Trevor’s agonizing pleas for a drink and willingness to embarrass herself by pathetically singing for a sip is magnetically heart-wrenching and deservedly earned her the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. Houston’s gripping direction and razor-tense tone easily accounts for the film’s timeless appreciation and appropriate proclamation as one of the director’s best.
Warner Archive presents Key Largo with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.37:1 aspect ratio. Outside of mild water stained markings in the film’s establishing shots, the black and white photography is astoundingly gorgeous with rich detail conveyed in faces and perspiration on actors easily identified. In addition, contrast is sharp with shadowy moments excellently balanced against sunnier sequences. Finally, black levels are deep and solidly inky making this filmic transfer worthy of its praise. Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is appropriately handled and always audible with intrusive hiss or static unnoticed. Crashing waves, violent winds and gunshots are effectively forceful, leaving little to no room for disappointment. The sole special feature included is the film’s Theatrical Trailer (2:24).
Bogart and Bacall once again light up the screen with their intoxicating chemistry while, Claire Trevor’s Academy Award winning performance is a stunner. Director John Huston’s noirish exploration of the Florida keys engulfed by seedy characters and a fatal storm makes the journey to Key Largo one viewers will never want to see end. In addition, Warner Archive handsomely salutes this cinematic gem with a transfer worthy of its stature although, special features unfortunately fall on the shallow side.