Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Key Largo (1948)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Key Largo (1948)

In director John Huston's entertaining, downbeat and moody, film noirish, crime-gangster melodrama from Warner Bros - it was adapted from Maxwell Anderson's 1939 Broadway stage play by director John Huston and Richard Brooks; the subtexts of this under-appreciated and semi-obscure film included idealism, heroism, cowardice, disillusionment, and pragmatic and intelligent fortitude against degradation and corruption.

The tension-filled, dialogue-heavy plot and character study (with many wordless reaction close-up shots), was beautifully filmed with Karl Freund's B/W cinematography and supplemented with Max Steiner's bombastic musical score. It was notable as Lauren Bacall's fourth and final film with husband Bogart (following To Have and Have Not (1944), The Big Sleep (1946), and Dark Passage (1947)).

Almost the entire plot took place within a claustrophobic Southern Florida hotel during the post-war period; the run-down establishment had been overtaken by sleazy and menacing mobsters - in the midst of an off-season impending storm, when volatile elements were converged together (runaway fugitive Indians, a beaten-up deputy and suspicious sheriff, and gangsters delayed during a counterfeit money deal with other criminals from Miami).

  • the setting for the film, described in the film's opening scrolling-text, was the small town of Key Largo in the Florida Keys at the southernmost point in the US: ("a string of small islands held together by a concrete causeway. Largest of these remote coral islands is Key Largo")
  • a Florida Keys Motor Lines bus bound for Key West was stopped by the Palm Grove Sheriff Ben Wade (Monte Blue) and his younger partner Deputy Clyde Sawyer (John Rodney); they were searching for "a couple of Indians broke out of jail. Young bucks in fancy shirts"
  • one of the bus' passengers was Frank McCloud (Humphrey Bogart), a disillusioned, returning war-weary and war-scarred ex-WWII veteran - a drifter; once the bus arrived at one of its stops, a semi-rundown two-story Largo Hotel in Key Largo, Frank disembarked and asked to speak to the owner-proprietor Mr. James Temple (Lionel Barrymore); as he strolled into the bar area, he kept being told that the hotel and bar were closed during the summer; one of the individuals he met in the bar who helped him to order a beer was besotted lush Miss Gaye Dawn (Oscar-winning Claire Trevor); she was staying in the hotel with a group of " special arrangement"
Frank McCloud's Cool Reception in the Largo Hotel in Key Largo, FL

Unfriendly Strangers in the Hotel's Bar Area (l to r): 'Curly', Frank, Gaye, 'Angel'

Edward 'Toots' Bass (Harry Lewis)

Frank with Drunken Miss Gaye Dawn (Claire Trevor)
  • when McCloud stated that he didn't plan to stay, but only wanted to speak to Mr. Temple, he was directed to the boathouse to speak to the hotel manager-owner Mr. Temple - there, he was warmly greeted by the wheelchair-bound Temple and his sleek, newly-widowed daughter-in-law Nora Temple (Lauren Bacall); she was introduced as "George's wife" - Nora's late husband George (and James' son) who had died under McCloud's WWII command during the battle of San Pietro in Italy; Mr. Temple insisted that McCloud spend the night with them to talk further - and offered him to reside in George's old room
  • when Nora walked back to the hotel, the Sheriff and his Deputy came over to her father to ask about the Indians' jailbreak, but left without searching any further after Temple vowed the Indians were not there; it was learned that the unruly guests in the hotel had arrived only a few days earlier; their mostly-unseen leader named "Brown" was residing in Room 11, and had offered a large sum of money to stay for a week in the closed hotel during the off-season; they were just about ready to leave that night or the next day; they had identified themselves as a group from Milwaukee on a planned fishing trip; however, alerts were received about an impending hurricane-storm that was due to strike the Keys, that might hinder and delay their departure
  • in the Temple's living quarters on the main floor of the hotel, McCloud offered more details to a sorrowful Nora and James about George's time as a heroic soldier in Italy before his untimely death; he eloquently recollected George's last heroic days
  • preparations were hurriedly made to secure the hotel's windows and shutters, and the boats on the pier; at the dock, McCloud noticed the motorboat arrival of the two fugitive Indians: Tom Osceola (Jay Silverheels) and John Osceola (Rodd Redwing), who offered to turn themselves in to the police; Nora told them to go to the hotel where her father-in-law would call the Palm Grove authorities
Four Male Gang Members

Edward 'Toots' Bass (Harry Lewis)

Ralph Feeney (William Haade)

Richard 'Curly' Hoff (Thomas Gomez)

Angel Garcia (Dan Seymour)
  • by this time, in the hotel's bar area, the four very shady male members of the 'fishing party' had all gathered:
    • Richard 'Curly' Hoff (Thomas Gomez) - a coarse-talking, pushy 'wise-guy', heavy-set drinker who kept trying to ingratiate himself with McCloud via drinks
    • Ralph Feeney (William Haade) - tall and stone-faced
    • Edward 'Toots' Bass (Harry Lewis) - a joke-loving, well-dressed, snappy male with spats, wide suspenders, a white tie and fedora hat
    • Angel Garcia (Dan Seymour)
  • a contrasting entrance scene finally revealed the 5th male at the 25 minute mark - the unseen leader of the 'fishing' group, earlier mysteriously called 'Mr. Brown' (Edward G. Robinson); he was first seen in a dramatic entrance scene in which he was partially obscured as he reclined in a bathtub; the snarling hairy-chested racketeer was sweating profusely in his Florida Keys hotel room's old-fashioned bathtub while reading a newspaper, smoking a cigar, consuming an iced drink, and being air-conditioned by the revolving blades of an electric fan nearby
  • meanwhile, Sheriff Wade had phoned the hotel, looking for his Deputy Clyde Sawyer; Sawyer was seen unconscious on a nearby bed with a bleeding forehead; he had returned to the hotel to conduct his own search for the two escaped Seminole Indians (contrary to the Sheriff's orders) and had been captured and beaten up in Mr. Brown's bedroom
  • it was now clear that "Mr. Howard Brown" was the leader of the group, and that the Temples (and McCloud) were being held hostage at gun-point; the mobster gang had established temporary headquarters at the small Florida Keys hotel during the humid off-season just before a violent, tropical hurricane was due to strike; the gang leader was on-the-run with fellow mobsters and his alcoholic lush ex-moll and ex-nightclub singer Gaye Dawn; they were pretending that they were a fishing party from Wisconsin; at the hotel, the gangsters terrorized and held everyone hostage; "Mr. Brown" promised the hostages that they would be there only a few hours more
  • "Mr. Brown" was interrupted by the wounded Deputy Sawyer, who had revived; he emerged and threatened Brown - using his real name Rocco; McCloud suddenly realized that "Mr. Brown" was the notorious Chicago gangster Johnny Rocco: ("Johnny Rocco, of course...Johnny Rocco the gangster, Mr. Temple. The one and only Rocco")
  • the sneering Rocco identified himself to the group of hotel hostages as an "undesirable alien" who after 30 years in the US had been deported and thrown out of the country; Rocco had illegally entered the US via steamboat after being deported to Cuba years earlier: ("After living in the USA for more than 30 years, they called me an undesirable alien. Me, Johnny Rocco! Like l was a dirty Red or somethin'!"); Temple suggested that Rocco should have been exterminated - not deported
  • to butter him up, Frank wisely defended Rocco's big ego by calling him an "emperor" - similar to Nero or Boss Tweed: ("Johnny Rocco was more than a king. He was an emperor. His rule extended over beer, slot machines, the numbers racket and a dozen other forbidden enterprises. He was a master of the fix. Whom he couldn't corrupt, he terrified. Whom he couldn't terrify, he murdered...Welcome back, Rocco. It was all a mistake. America's sorry for what it did to you"); however, Temple called Rocco dirty names: "You filth! You city filth!"
  • Rocco enjoyed Frank's praises, and continued to recollect the good-old-days when he ruled in the criminal underworld: ("Yeah, yeah, that's me. Sure, I was all of those things. And more! When Rocco talked, everybody shut up and listened. What Rocco said went. Nobody was big as Rocco. Be like that again, only more so. I'll be back up there one of these days, and then you're gonna really see something")
  • when asked by Rocco why he fought in the war, the principled Frank answered with a quote from President Franklin Roosevelt's 1942 State of the Union address: ("But we are not making all this sacrifice of human effort and human lives to return to the kind of a world we had after the last world war. (Thunder) We are fighting to cleanse the world of ancient evils, ancient ills"); however, Frank said he had now turned his back on those lofty ideals and had become thoroughly disillusioned and almost defeated
  • Rocco challenged Temple's taunts at him with an authoritarian vindictiveness: "Who's gonna stop me, old man?"; Temple struggled to get out of his wheelchair in a rage and shrieked at Rocco: "You ain't comin' back ...filth, you filth"; he fell to the ground after taking a swing, and then was defended by the feisty Nora who beat on Rocco's chest and scratched his face; Rocco forced a kiss from Nora (while holding her hands behind her back), calling her a "little wildcat"

Enraged, Wheelchair-Bound James Temple Condemnation of Rocco: ("You ain't comin' filth!")

Nora Beating on Rocco's Chest and Scratching The Left Side of His Face

Rocco's Forcing a Kiss From Nora
  • Rocco took a phone call from a Miami contact named "Ziggy" (Marc Lawrence); Rocco urged "Ziggy" - who had apparently been delayed, to beat the hurricane out and rendezvous at the Key Largo hotel in a few hours: "It's gotta be tonight"; Rocco was prepared to flee back to Cuba, but had been delayed as he awaited a counterfeit money deal with Miami mobsters; Rocco assured his henchmen that his Miami connections were immediately leaving for Key Largo
  • Rocco was approached by his yacht's Cuban Skipper (Alberto Morin) who insisted on moving their boat to deeper waters: ("This coral reef not safe. Got to make for deep water right away"); Rocco threatened his Skipper with a gun: "You move that boat, I'll blow your brains out"
  • Rocco continued to demonstrate braggadocio, while he was being shaved with a straight-razor by Angel as he talked to the group, including the injured Sheriff's Deputy "copper" Sawyer about his powerful connections: ("So I won't get away with it, huh? How many times I heard that from dumb coppers I couldn't count....You'd give your left eye to nail me, wouldn't ya, huh? Ha, ha. You can see the headlines, can't ya? 'Local Deputy Captured Johnny Rocco'. Your picture'd be in all the papers. You might even get to tell in the newsreel how you pulled if off. Yeah. Well listen, hick, I was too much for any big city police force to handle. They tried but they couldn't. It took the United States Government to pin a rap on me. Yeah, and they won't make it stick. Why, you hick, I'll be back pulling strings to get guys elected mayor and governor before you ever get a ten buck raise. Yeah. How many of those guys in office owe everything to me? I made them. Yeah, I made 'em, just like a tailor makes a suit of clothes. I take a nobody, see? Teach him what to say, get his name in the papers. I pay for his campaign expenses. Dish out a lotta groceries and coal, get my boys to bring the voters out, and then count the votes over and over again till they added up right, and he was elected. Yeah. And what happens? Did he remember when the going got tough, when the heat was on? No, he didn't wanna. All he wanted was to save his own dirty neck....Yeah. 'Public Enemy' - he calls me! Me, who gave him his 'Public' all wrapped up with a fancy bow on it!"); however, Rocco complained how the 'bought' groups of politicians and cops had betrayed him
  • Rocco approached Nora again and whispered obscenities into her ear; she turned to resist and confront him but he grabbed both of her wrists; Nora spit directly into Rocco's face - causing him to become incensed; with a gun, Rocco threatened the group of hostages: ("Nothin' to stop me from wipin' you all out!"), but his henchman advised: ("What good'll that do, boss? Forget it. Her kind's a dime a dozen."); Toots suggested: "I say smack her and let it go at that," while McCloud chimed in: ("That would be right for you, Toots, not for him...The Roccos don't, or they wouldn't be Roccos. No 'Toots', smacking her isn't enough for such an insult. He'd have to kill her. Then he'd have to kill the rest of us because we witnessed it. Not just Mr. Temple and me, but all the witnesses. It's kill us all or nothing. He needs you and Curly and Angel. So it'll be nothing"); Rocco realized he couldn't eliminate all the witnesses, including his own gang members, and "wise-guy" McCloud was able to defuse the situation for the moment
  • later, Rocco challenged and mocked McCloud's heroics and disillusionment about the world's degradation by offering him a chance to kill him in a face-to-face duel; however, McCloud backed down and tossed away the gun provided for him (not knowing it was purposely unloaded); McCloud muttered that his choice was pragmatic self-preservation over heroics: "One Rocco more or less isn't worth dying for"
  • however, Deputy Sawyer lept up and grabbed at the gun to re-challenge Rocco to another duel; as he tried to escape through the doorway, Rocco gleefully blasted him with two shots, as the Deputy's gun clicked empty; Sawyer fell dead onto the lower lobby floor; Nora noted: "The gun wasn't loaded. He didn't have a chance"; there was a brief discussion about whether McCloud was a coward or not: (i.e., Gaye: "It's better to be a live coward than a dead hero... I fight nobody's battles but my own"); McCloud explained his motivation to not fight: ("What do I care about Johnny Rocco, whether he lives or dies? I only care about me! Me and mine!'); Nora thought that Frank was a coward: "You are a coward"

Deputy Sawyer Grabbing the Gun That McCloud Had Discarded

Sawyer Shot Dead by Rocco As The Deputy's Gun Clicked Empty
  • out on the rough sea, 'Curly' and Angel dumped Deputy Sawyer's body from a rowboat, while Ralph mopped up the downstairs lobby floor where the Deputy had fallen
  • Rocco became increasingly impatient that Ziggy in Miami hadn't left yet for the Keys, and he threatened him on the phone: "Either you show tonight or the deal is off. Well, I know a dozen guys who'd just break their necks to get their mitts on this shipment." Rocco gave the Miami gang a deadline of only two more hours - until 10:00 pm, to arrive or the deal was off

Rocco's Offer of A Drink to Gaye After a Song

Gaye Dawn's Rendition of "Moanin' Low"

Rocco's Evaluation of Gaye's Singing: "You were rotten"
  • in a memorable scene in the bar area during a power outage, Rocco proposed that his desperate and inebriated ex-moll Gaye Dawn, a washed-up nightclub singer - sing in order to get a drink; she gave an acapella rendition of the torch song "Moanin' Low" (originally from Broadway's 1929 The Little Show by Libby Holman, and popularized by Billie Holiday in 1937) to hopefully earn a Scotch whiskey drink from Rocco: ("Now you sing us your song, you can have a drink... the song, then the drink"); afterwards, he denied her the promised drink and complained that her off-key performance was awful: "You were rotten"; risking Rocco's wrath and taking pity on Gaye, McCloud went to the bar and poured a Scotch for her - she greedily and appreciatively drank it down and gratefully thanked him: ("Thanks, fella"); Rocco responded by slapping McCloud three times across the face - but there was no reaction from him except two words spoken as a reply to Gaye: "You're welcome"
  • Nora apologized privately to McCloud for her accusations of cowardice earlier, and realized that he was a 'true hero' even though he denied it and was discouraged about the world; Nora recognized that McCloud's earlier account of her husband's heroism during a three-day assault was false and that the roles were switched - McCloud was the real hero
  • Rocco and his gang members became even more frazzled and anxious as the storm intensified - suddenly, a large palm tree crashed through the downstairs window and rain poured in. Outside, waves crested over the Keys and surged toward the hotel, as Indians sought shelter on the porch - they were seen huddled there during flashes of lightning
  • after the storm passed, Rocco learned that the Skipper (Alberto Morin) of Rocco's boat had apparently taken off with their luxurious yacht to avoid damage (even after Rocco's serious death threat) - leaving them stranded in Key Largo; Rocco had another idea - to take the Temples' boat (the Santana) to Cuba - and McCloud (who had some seaman skills) would be forcibly recruited to run it ("You're taking us to Cuba")
  • the Sheriff arrived searching for Deputy Sawyer, and found his washed-ashore body face-down in some shallow storm water with two lethal gun shots in his corpse; Rocco deflected the blame for the gruesome discovery and implicated the two Osceola brothers as the deputy's killers; the Sheriff raced to the pier with his flashlight, and confronted the pair of brothers; without due process or fair treatment, they were both shot dead (off-screen) as they fled

The Sheriff's Discovery of Deputy Sawyer's Washed-Up Corpse

The Sheriff Gunning Down the Two Osceola Brothers on the Pier

Arrival of Ziggy (Marc Lawrence) to Purchase Counterfeit Money from Rocco
  • at about the same time, the gangsters from Miami (led by Ziggy) drove up and after negotiations, Ziggy paid Rocco real cash for a leather case filled with wrapped wads of fraudulent counterfeit bills; meanwhile, both Gaye and Nora worried that if McCloud joined the gang on the boat to Cuba, it would be his death sentence; McCloud felt he was compelled to combat the gang's corruption and not "walk away" from the fight; McCloud was given the choice - a beating from 'Toots' or agreement to join them, and he responded simply: "You win"
  • as the group was preparing to depart, Gaye realized she would be left behind and abandoned; as she desperately hung onto Rocco and embraced him during their farewell, she cleverly pickpocketed the gun from his coat pocket, and then slipped the gun to McCloud who hid it under his hat in his hands
  • during a series of deadly confrontations on the small fishing boat (SANTANA) bound for Cuba, McCloud began a methodical and patient plan to outwit the gang on the boat; one by one, he vanquished the gang members, beginning with Ralph (who was thrown overboard with a sharp turn of the boat); then, McCloud fired at the sea-sick 'Toots' on-deck and lethally-wounded him, but was hit in the side before 'Toots' fell dead; 'Curly' was shot and also lethally-wounded as he emerged from below deck at the top of the stairs - he died below deck; Rocco became exasperated with the cowardly Angel below deck and shot and killed his sole remaining cohort point-blank
The Deadly Confrontations With the Gang Members

The Gang and McCloud Onboard the SANTANA Bound For Cuba

'Toots' Shot Dead on the Deck, Although He Was Able to Wound McCloud

'Curly" Lethally-Shot As He Emerged Onto the Deck

McCloud Peering Down Into Wheelhouse Cabin

Cowardly 'Angel' Shot Dead Point-Blank by Rocco

Sole-Surviving Rocco Bargaining with McCloud From Below the Deck
  • in a tense cat-and-mouse game, Rocco's familiar trick or ploy was to bargain, step-by-step, with McCloud, now that he was the only survivor, but McCloud wasn't fooled by offers of cash; the wounded McCloud decisively shot Rocco three times from above as he entered the wheelhouse - falsely claiming that he was unarmed after throwing Angel's gun up the stairs while still in possession of Curly's weapon
  • McCloud circled the boat around to return to Florida (toward Boot Key Harbor), as he alerted the authorities with a May-Day call to his need for medical attention
  • in the film's epilogue set in the hotel, the Sheriff announced that Ziggy and his gang had been apprehended by the state police as they were crossing the border into Georgia; Gaye (who had squealed on Ziggy) would also be required to join the Sheriff to identify them after turning state's evidence; she also blamed Rocco for the Sheriff's killing of the two Osceola brothers; Nora was relieved when McCloud radioed into the hotel through the phone line that he had survived and was returning to them; Nora shared the good news with her father-in-law
Two Concluding Images
  • the film concluded with Nora opening one of the shuttered windows to let the sunshine stream in, while the heroic McCloud was steering the boat back to his new home, as the fog lifted and the sunshine broke through - a metaphoric signaling of hope and optimism for their futures

Opening Scene: Bus Searched for Fugitive Indians - Frank McCloud (Humphrey Bogart) in Seat Behind Driver

Largo Hotel in Key Largo

James Temple (Lionel Barrymore) and Daughter Nora Temple (Lauren Bacall)

Sheriff Ben Wade (Monte Blue) and Partner Deputy Clyde Sawyer (John Rodney) - Looking for Two Fugitive Indians

(l to r): John Osceola (Rodd Redwing) and Tom Osceola (Jay Silverheels)

Entrance of Chicago Gangster Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson) in a Hotel Bathtub

Unconscious Deputy Sawyer Sprawled on a Bed With an Injured Forehead

"We'll be out of here in a couple of hours"

Rocco's Complaints About Being Deported to Cuba

Frank's Wise Defense of Rocco's Ego: "Johnny Rocco was more than a king..."

Rocco's Boasting About His New Rise to Power: ("I'll be back up there one of these days...")

Rocco Theatening His Cuban Skipper (Alberto Morin) to Not Move His Yacht to Deeper Waters to Save it

Rocco's Demonstration of Braggadocio While Being Shaved

Rocco Whispering Obscenities into Nora's Ear

Nora Spitting In Rocco's Face

Rocco Threatening Hostages With a Gun

Rocco Challenging McCloud to an Unfair Gun Duel - McCloud Refused and Tossed the Gun Aside

After Sawyer's Death, a Brief Discussion About Whether McCloud Was a Coward or Not

Deputy Sawyer's Body Dumped Into the Ocean

Gaye Dawn Desperate For a Drink

The Hostages In the Bar Area With Rocco and 'Toots'

McCloud Slapped Three Times By Rocco For Giving Gaye A Drink

Nora Apologizing to McCloud For Earlier Calling Him a Coward

Rocco and His Thugs Unnerved by the Storm

Rocco Pressuring Frank McCloud: ("You're taking us to Cuba")

The Counterfeit Money Deal with Ziggy's Miami Gang of Thugs

Gay Realizing That Rocco Was Leaving Her Behind

Gaye's Transfer of Rocco's Pickpocketed Gun to Frank

Rocco's Death: Shot Three Times From Above by McCloud Aboard the Santana

Nora Receiving Good News From McCloud That He Was Alive


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