Aaaahhh ... Bogey. AFI's No. 1 film star of the 20th century. Hollywood's original noir anti-hero, epitome of the handsome, cynical and oh-so lonesome wolf; looking unbeatably cool in his fedora, a cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth. Endowed with a legendary aura several times larger than his real life stature, and still admired by scores of women wishing they had been born 50+ years earlier, preferably somewhere in California and to parents connected with the movie business, so as to have at least a marginal chance of meeting him.
"Key Largo" (1948), directed by John Huston, is the last of four movies starring Bogart and real-life spouse Lauren Bacall (after their legendary collaborations in, first and foremost, "To Have and Have Not" and "The Big Sleep," as well as in "Dark Passage"), by this time firmly established as one of Hollywood's new leading ladies in her own right. At the same time, it also constitutes a reversal of roles between Bogart and Edward G. Robinson, opposite whom Bogart had appeared in 1930s movies like "Bullets or Ballots," "Kid Galahad," and "Brother Orchid:" Whereas in the earlier films, the complexer parts had been Robinson's (while Bogart's characters had had little or no redeeming qualities whatsoever), here it is Bogey's world-weary and reluctant WWII veteran Frank McCloud who finds himself -- half acting on his own accord, half propelled by Bacall's sharp-tongued hotel keeper Nora Temple -- ultimately facing up to Robinson's ruthless gangster Johnny Rocco in the sultry, Hemingwayesque setting of the Florida Keys, under the onslaught of a hurricane; with great supporting performances by Lionel Barrymore as Bacall's father-in-law and Claire Trevor as Rocco's disillusioned, alcoholic lover.
When looking at this movie's and, even more so, its leading actors' almost mythical fame, it is difficult to imagine that, produced at the height of the studio system era, "Key Largo" was originally just one of the roughly 50 movies released over the course of a single year. But mass production didn't equal low quality; on the contrary, the great care given to all production values, from script-writing to camera work, editing, score and the stars' presentation in the movie itself and in its trailer, was at least partly responsible for its lasting success.
All in all, "Key Largo" may not be quite on same the level as those movies which, by the time of its release, had already bestowed on Bogart, in particular, his everlasting legendary status (such as "Casablanca," which would, a few decades later, end up second only to "Citizen Kane" at the helm of the AFI's Top 100 20th century movies list, with Bogey's Rick Blane, at the same time, ranking as one of the 20th century's Top 5 film heroes; "The Maltese Falcon," at No. 23 not far behind on the AFI's Top 100 20th century movies list; and "The Big Sleep," which solidified not only the chemistry between Bogart and Bacall -- who had married even before its 1946 release -- but also Lauren Bacall's own Hollywood standing as well as her sassy, mysterious aura, while also making for yet another entry of Bogey's in the AFI's Top 50 20th century film heroes list as the incarnation of Raymond Chandler's cynical gumshoe Philip Marlowe). Yet, all of this ultimately says more about those other movies (and Bogart's and Bacall's careers as a whole) than it does about "Key Largo" itself. Taken on its own, this is without question still one of the finest hours Old Hollywood ever saw -- and one of the most stellar examples of classic noir film making.