KEY LARGO (1948)
Frank McCloud travels to a run-down hotel on Key Largo to honor the memory of a friend who died bravely in his unit during WW II. His friend’s widow, Nora Temple, and wheelchair bound father, James Temple manage the hotel and receive him warmly, but the three of them soon find themselves virtual prisoners when the hotel is taken over by a mob of gangsters led by Johnny Rocco who hole up there to await the passing of a hurricane. Mr. Temple strongly reviles Rocco but due to his infirmities can only confront him verbally. Having become disillusioned by the violence of war, Frank is reluctant to act, but Rocco’s demeaning treatment of his alcoholic moll, Gaye Dawn, and his complicity in the deaths of some innocent Seminole Indians and a deputy sheriff start to motivate McCloud to overcome his Hamlet-like inaction. In a classic case of a director being emotionally manipulative, John Huston informed Claire Trevor that they were to film her song that very day. Trevor was not a trained singer, and had not even rehearsed the song yet. She also felt very intimidated by the A-list actors seated directly in front of her. The result was a hesitant, nervous, uncomfortable rendition, exactly the feeling Huston was hoping to get.Santana was the name of Humphrey Bogart’s yacht, which he purchased from June Allyson and Dick Powell. He loved the Santana so much he named his production company after it. The character of Gaye Dawn (Claire Trevor) was based on real-life moll Gay Orlova (gangster Lucky Luciano’s girlfriend), believed at that time to have been executed by a German firing squad. Orlova survived, however, and was known to be living in Paris as late as 1954, trying to join Luciano in Italy. 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. Fourth and final film pairing of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. A fifth film was planned several years later, but Bogart died before it could be made. In the film, James Temple describes the 1935 hurricane that devastated Matacumbe Key. This was one of worst hurricanes in U.S. history and many of the victims of the storm were World War I veterans who were building the Florida Keys portion of U.S. Highway 1, also known as the Overseas Highway. A portion of the highway is seen in the film’s opening. The storm also produced the lowest-ever recorded barometric pressure over land in the North American continent. The film was produced in 1948, the same year in which there actually were two major hurricanes, late in the season, less than a month apart, that went directly through the Florida Keys. (See Hurricanes #7 and #8 of 1948) The character of Johnny Rocco was modeled on ‘Al Capone ‘, who retired to Florida and died there of complications due to advanced syphilis a year before this film was produced. Screenwriter Richard Brooks later revealed he had also incorporated biographical details about another famous gangster, Lucky Luciano, into Rocco’s character as well. Lionel Barrymore was severely disabled by arthritis (clearly visible in his hands) and was confined to a wheelchair, making the scene in which his Mr. Temple character gets up and falls taking a swing at Toots more than a dramatic moment.