Key Largo (1948)

Director: John Huston

Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Edward G. Robinson

Ah, Key Largo brings back many a memory, mostly of the hazy lot in college when my friend Mike and I would have drunken Humphrey Bogart night. Many a cinematic masterpiece we beheld, Treasure of Sierra Madre, the Maltese Falcon, Casablanca, and yes, Key Largo, one of the great iconic film noirs of the 40’s. Bogart was the perfect hero for us Berkeley bookworms, a man of his wits, living on the fringes of society, the layabout that came through in a pinch.

Key Largo is the story of just such a character, a crime drama with Bogart in the lead role as Frank McCloud, WWII vet returned to visit his best friend’s widow (Bacall) at a dilapidated resort in Key Largo. Only a local gangster Rocco, played by Robinson, and his crew has taken the resort hostage and orders McCloud to help them escape. A string of murders convinces McCloud to spring into action. Will he defeat Rocco and save the woman he loves?

Just a few years from their meeting on To Have and Have Not, the relationship between Bacall and Bogart is palatable and real, like a good Tracey and Hepburn romantic film. The younger generation will relate to this film as many of the characters leap from the imagination as hyperbolized Looney Tune characters, specifically Robinson’s gangster.

“Nobody messes with Rocco, see!?!?!”

Just one year later, Bogart would fall prey to the infamous Panda Case (from wikipedia):

In 1950, Bogart and his friend Bill Seeman arrived at the El Morocco Club in New York City after midnight. Bogart and Seeman sent someone to buy two 22-pound stuffed pandas because, in a drunken state, they thought the pandas would be good company. They propped up the bears in separate chairs, and began to drink.

Two young women at the club saw the stuffed animals, and one of the women picked up one of the pandas. She quickly ended up on the floor. The other woman tried to do the same and wound up in the same position. Club spokesperson Leonard MacBain later stated, “No blows were exchanged, it was just one of those things.” The next morning Bogart was awakened by a city official who served him an assault summons. Knowing a media frenzy was imminent, he met the media still unshaved and in his pajamas. He told the press that he remembered grabbing the panda and “this screaming, squawking young lady. Nobody got hurt, I didn’t sock anybody; if girls were falling on the floor, I guess it was because they couldn’t stand up.” At the same time Time reported that the alleged victim had three marks from the alleged assault and “she explained that they were swelling and contusions.”

That following Friday, Bogart went to court to face the charges. After the woman admitted to touching the panda, “Magistrate John R. Starkey ruled that Bogart had been defending his property, said he suspected the actor had been mousetrapped in the cause of club publicity, and dismissed the case.”

Oh, the inpropriety!

Just, don’t go to Key Largo expecting to find the orginal building from the filming, because most of it was shot on a sound stage. I fell prey to a local dive bar’s tourist scam when I was scuba diving off the keys there, and I still have the t-shirt to prove my folly.

Other Notable Films by this Director: The Maltese Falcon (1941), The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), The African Queen (1951), The Man Who Would Be King (1975).


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