Key Largo (1948) is a fine film indeed because of it's acute attention to detail. It's character and plot development are straight on. We learn so much from so little. Let's take a look at some details that really stand out:
- Dual storms - There is a hurricane outside and an equally dangerous storm brewing inside the hotel. This duality increases the tension and makes for great suspense.
- Ridiculous Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson) - He's in the midst of unforgiving tropical heat, spends his days in a tub of cold water with a fan oscillating next to him. Yet he'll still don a full-on robe complete with pocket square, scarf and lit up cigar even though it's the most ridiculous ensemble to wear in such heat. He also refuses to bring in his boat during the hurricane and eventually loses it. To top it all off he brings his drunk girlfriend Gaye (Claire Trevor) who foils his plans every which way she can. For such a smart conniving gangster, Rocco becomes a complete idiot in Key Largo and that says something about his future.
- Conflicted Frank McCloud (Bogie) - He survived WWII through his cowardice. He doesn't know whether he's coming or going or whether he should be brave and take action or whether he should just let things happen as they will. You can see the conflict in his eyes. The desire to be a better person but the debilitating fear that grips him.
- Native Americans - Perhaps this is a John Huston touch. The camera focuses at one point on a group of Native Americans and Nora Temple (Lauren Bacall) spends a considerable amount of screen time introducing us to a 100+ year old woman. The camera adores her wrinkled constitution focusing on it so closely that her face takes up the whole screen. It humanizes the story in many ways.
- Lionel Barrymore in a wheelchair - How can this not tug on your heartstrings? If you are familiar with Barrymore's earlier work, you'll understand that it's difficult to watch him in this state towards the end of his career. It's not just the character in the wheelchair it's the actor too.
- Lush versus Widow - Juxtaposition of two opposing female characters adds a lot to the story. It makes us understand each of the two characters and their interactions with both Rocco and McCloud help us understand those male characters too.
- Uncomfortable - Those goons at the beginning of the picture made me terribly uncomfortable. They made the other characters uncomfortable too. The way they spoke, their restlessness and their short fuses made me scared of what was to come. It was tension before the real tension even started.
You can see this film in many ways. As a Bogie film. As a Bogie-Bacall film. As a Bogie-Robinson film. Or even as a Bogie-Trevor film. But what anchors the film is Bogie himself. He's what all the plot points depend on even when he seems to be lurking in the background. In the end, this is really a Bogie film.