John Huston’s taut 1948 film Key Largo, which was adapted from Maxwell Anderson’s 1939 stage play, was the fourth and final time that Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall appeared on film together. The film centers around big-time gangster Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson) who is headed to Key Largo to finalize a deal over counterfeit money with a crooked Miami mobster. Johnny brings with him a motley crew of underlings and his alcoholic moll, Gaye Dawn (Claire Trevor). Johnny and his gang comandeer a seedy Key Largo hotel headed up by wheelchair-bound James Temple (Lionel Barrymore) and his strong-willed daughter in law, Nora (Lauren Bacall). Nora, who’s husband George was killed in the war, is being visited by the cynical Frank McCloud (Humphrey Bogart). The hardened Frank McCloud served as George’s wartime commanding officer and best buddy. Frank’s mission to Key Largo is to pay his respects to James and Nora and tell them how George died. As a deadly hurricane brews in the distance, tensions mount as Frank prepares to collide with Johnny and his mobster friends. The film plays out as a tightly-drawn crime thriller that yields tragic results. Key Largo is a scintilating character study contrasting Frank’s alienated war veteran searching for a new identity and Johnny’s aging gangster searching for his once-powerful role in the crime-filled underworld. In most cases, a film adaptated from the stage tends to be too constrained. In the case of Key Largo, the straight-from-the-stage source material serves as a strength rather than a weakness. The film’s setting, a hotel under seige by gangsters holding a summit meeting in the midst of a hurricane, contributes to the feeling of panic and claustrophobia. The end result is a portrait of a man, once disillusioned by war, who is forced out of inaction in the name of justice.
Despite it’s high-calibre list of acting icons and crackling dialogue, Key Largo only received one Academy Award nomination. The film’s sole nomination and win went to Claire Trevor, winner, (155), for her supporting work as Gaye Dawn, the teary, alcoholic singer and gal pal of Johnny Rocco. Trevor is unforgettably magnetic and larger than life as the mobster’s drink-sodden moll. This film marked Trevor’s 2nd Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actress and it gave her her only win. Her first nomination came in 1937 for Dead End. Her third and final nomination would come in 1955 for The High and the Mighty.