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Here's Johnny: Key Largo (1948)

Review Copyright Roger Zotti, 2002


Edward G. Robinson has a grand time, in Key Largo, portraying crazed gangster Johnny Rocco. He has many fine moments. For instance, there's the first time we see him. He's soaking in a tub, chomping on a cigar, a fan cooling the air. It's comical. Rest assured, it's the last time his character will provide any laughs for us.

Then there are the times he teases wheelchair-bound John Temple (Lionel Barrymore) and his daughter Nora (Lauren Bacall).

He also taunts Major Frank McCloud (Humphrey Bogart). After he gives McCloud a pistol, he challenges him to "Go ahead. Shoot." McCloud doesn't and Rocco says, with sinister glee, "Looks like you don't want it enough."

He cruelly humiliates his ex-mistress, former nightclub singer Gaye Dawn (Claire Trevor). "One thing I can't stand is a dame who's drunk," he thunders. "I mean, they turn my stood. No good to themselves or anybody else."

Her response: "You gave me my first drink, Johnny."

His reply: "Everybody has their first drink, don't they? But everybody ain't a lush."

Maliciously, he continues destroying what little self-confidence she has left. "I got a proposition for you," he says. "Now if you sing us your song, you can have a drink." After she finishes a pitiable rendition of "Moanin' Low," Rocco won't give her a drink because her singing, he says, was "rotten,"

Robinson's finest acting occurs during the storm scene. He expresses what's happening inside his character with some broad physical acting. As the storm rages, Rocco's fear-filled eyes dart in different directions and he begins coming apart. He paces the floor. He sweats. He rages. He knows his gun is of no use against the storm.

Key Largo is Robinson's movie. He steals every scene he's in. Foster Hirsch says, in The Dark Side of the Screen: Film Noir, "It's a broad performance...The role emphasizes all that's unromantic and menacing about him, all the characteristics that disqualify him right from the start as leading man material."


Based on Maxwell Anderson's play, the film is about Bogart's McCloud traveling to a rundown hotel in Key Largo, Florida, run by Temple and his daughter Nora. Her late husband served with McCloud in WWII. When McCloud arrives, he realizes that the place has been taken over by Rocco, a deported gangster, and his gang.

John Huston directed. Claire Trevor won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as Gaye Dawn. Huston and Richard Brooks wrote the screenplay.

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