Tuesday, November 23, 2010

DVD Review: Key Largo (1948)

Key Largo (1948)

(Released: 2006 by Warner Home Video)
Another (Not so long, this time!) DVD Review by Joe Torcivia

At the southernmost point of the United States are the Florida Keys, a string of small islands held together by a concrete causeway. Largest of these remote coral islands is Key Largo.”

Key Largo” was directed by John Huston, and starred Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Edward G. Robinson, Lionel Barrymore, and Clare Trevor.

I’d never seen “Key Largo” before this DVD. In fact, I’ve never even heard of it. The only reason I sprang for it was that its TRAILER was included as an Extra Feature on the TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE set (read that review HERE), and it looked too good to pass up. I was not sorry!

Key Largo” is the story of “Frank McCloud” (Bogart), former Major in WWII, who journeys to the far-flung island to visit the father and wife (Barrymore and Bacall) of a fellow serviceman killed in battle under McCloud’s command.

However, when he arrives at “The Largo Hotel”, owned by the wheelchair-bound Barrymore, he finds the place taken over by gangsters – Edward G. Robinson, his four henchmen, and his oft-drunken girlfriend “Gaye Dawn” (Claire Trevor).

Bogie and Bacall may have star billing (…and the film is even a component part of the DVD set “Bogie and Bacall – The Signature Collection”), but make no mistake; this picture BELONGS to Edward G. Robinson!

Though he doesn’t appear until 25:45 of the film’s 1:40:20, Robinson, as “Johnny Rocco”, former prohibition gangster out to make a comeback, is EVERYTHING one could ever expect of him! Why, he even uses the phrase “dirty rat”!

They called me an undesirable alien! …Me! …Johnny Rocco! …Like I was a dirty rat, or somethin’!”

Yes, I know “dirty rat” is associated with James Cagney, but there’s something “just so right” about that phrase coming from a gun-waving Golden Age Hollywood gangster.

Not to be outdone in the “character department”, here’s how Bogie’s Frank McCloud introduces himself to Gaye Dawn, unaware of her association with Rocco: “McCloud, Frank… By John, out of Ellen!” (!) …Gotta try that one someday!

Rocco and his gang are laying low on Key Largo, until they can complete a (ahem!) “business transaction”. Then, they’ll be on their way to Cuba. Unfortunately for them – and the rest of our cast – they all find themselves trapped on the island, riding out a powerful hurricane in the old hotel! Tensions rise, leading to eventual action! No more spoilers! Let’s just say this one was an unexpected treasure of classic film!

The legendary chemistry between Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall is not quite up to its usual heat. Not with the great Edward G. Robinson around to cramp their style!

As is our custom in these reviews, we’ll break it into CONS and PROS.


Extra Features: A decided “CON” is the lack of Extra Features! I don’t expect a film such as “Key Largo” to be laden with the type of goodies reserved for the true classics, but WHV’s effort here doesn’t even measure up to that of another “lesser” Bogart film: DARK PASSAGE (See review HERE)

Not only is there no commentary track, but there isn’t even a nominal “Making Of” piece. A few screens of illustrated text, titled “Behind the Scenes”, offers the only background information on this fine film. Surely, they could have done better!


The Film: Why this isn’t more of a classic, I’ll never know! It’s got everything you’d look for in a film of this sort. Star power, a top director, compelling characters, tension, action (both in cramped quarters and at sea), romance – and a damned good SFX hurricane for the standards of 1948.

Print quality is great for a film of its age, especially viewed in “upconverted” form on a HD TV.

The Cast:

Humphrey Bogart as “Frank McCloud”.
Lauren Bacall as “Nora Temple”.
Edward G. Robinson as “Johnny Rocco”.
Lionel Barrymore as “James Temple”.
Claire Trevor as “Gaye Dawn”. (Academy Award Winner 1948: Best Supporting Actress for “Key Largo”).

Oh, and as if animation fans needed any more proof that Edward G. Robinson was the basis for the voice of Chief Wiggum on THE SIMPSONS – and that Lionel Barrymore was the same for UNDERDOG’s Simon Bar-Sinister – this film will supply all you need!

Extra Features:
Only one truly worth noting as a “PRO”…

Theatrical Trailer for “Key Largo
How many of these wonderful “products of their time” has “The Voice of Warner Bros.” Robert C. Bruce narrated? I wonder if any one knows! Here’s Mr. Bruce:

KEY LARGO! Key Largo – Where adventure inflames men to violent action… and romance smolders in women, until it conquers or kills! Key Largo – A lonely island off the coast of Florida! Sultry, heat-ridden, cloaked in the strange menace of the sea!

"But stranger still, is the destiny that brings these people to this remote outpost! To be held at bay with a price on their lives… by a man with a PRICE ON HIS HEAD!”

How do you not love stuff like this!

Key Largo” is a far better film than its reputation (or, perhaps, lack of same) would indicate. Its mix of gangsters and the awesome force of nature make it unique. Its stars make it vastly more memorable than that!

The severe lack of Extra Features diminishes the package as a whole… but there’s no diminishing Bogie, Bacall, and Edward G. Robinson. Not to mention the directorial efforts of John Huston. It is recommended for Humphrey Bogart fans, Edward G. Robinson fans, adventure advocates, gangster groupies, natural disaster lovers, and plain-old enthusiasts of the immediate post-war period.


Reel Popcorn Junkie said...

Edward G. Robinson is a treat to watch here. His disses of his former lover cut deep. It's fun to see this criminal kingpin sweat in fear when the storm hits.

Joe Torcivia said...

Agreed and then some, RPJ!

After detouring into a few “comedy gangster roles” post “Little Caesar”, it was nice seeing Rico / Rocco (There had to be an intentional connection in those names!) return in full force!