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Director John Huston followed up the gritty The Treasure of Sierra Madre with another look at human nature in Key Largo.
“Key Largo was a big picture for me,” Huston said. “It's a very adroit picture.”
It was also a fun picture and the last time Bogie and Bacall would be in a film together. Bacall said, “What a good time of life that was – the best people at their best.”
1. ...Sierra Made affected the movie.
The Treasure of Sierra Madre had been a success for director John Huston and Humphrey Bogart. However, the film had also been over the original budget due to shooting in Mexico. To keep costs down for Key Largo, the studio would only allow the opening to be shot in Florida. The rest had to be filmed on the lot.
2. It was different from the play.
Key Largo debuted on the stage in 1939 with Paul Muni in the lead role. However, in the original, the main character was a deserter, not a brave veteran like Bogart eventually played. They also changed the war. Rather than World War II, the play had the Spanish Civil War. When writing the adaption, John Huston, Richard Brooks, and their wives traveled to Key Largo where the owner of the only hotel opened his doors of the Caribbean Club for them during the off-season. Brooks recalled, “We were the only ones at Mr. Hanley's hotel. Mr. Hanley brought in a lady to make the beds and cook for us.”
3. It was a reunion.
Bogart had worked with Edward G. Robinson and Claire Trevor in The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse, a story co-written by Huston. In 1938, Robinson was the name above the title. Now, in 1948, Bogart joined his co-star in top billing. “When I was the reigning star Bogie would be slain first, and I’d live another reel before I got it. As the years passed and Bogie became the reigning star and I was demoted to character roles, I’d get the bullet first,” Robinson said.
4. Robinson’s intro was very intentional.
The first time viewers see Edward G. Robinson as tough guy “Rocco” he’s… taking a bath? Huston said, “I wanted the look of a crustacean with its shell off.” Astute Robinson fans will also notice that he played another gangster named “Rico” in his breakthrough film Little Caesar. Bacall said, “Eddie Robinson was a marvelous actor and a lovely, funny man,” Bacall said. “Key Largo was one of my happiest movie experiences.”
5. Trevor got tricked.
For her performance in Key Largo, Trevor won her first and only Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in 1949. An especially memorable moment is when she sings “Moanin’ Low” – something she didn’t think she’d have to do. She said, “First of all, I had no idea I was going to sing it myself, because I can’t sing.” Trevor expected the song to be dubbed with her mouthing the words and asked Huston to rehearse. He deflected her concerns until the day of filming came, and she was put on the spot. She said, “No time for anything except pure embarrassment and torture, and that’s what came through, I thought I was finished.”