Filmsite Movie Review
Key Largo (1948)
Pages: (1) (2) (3)
The Story (continued)

The Dramatic Entrance of 'Mr. Brown' - and the Revelation of His Alter-ego - Chicago Gangster Johnny Rocco:

When the telephone rang in the bar, 'Curly' answered it and lied to the caller (the "law") that the Temples were not there, and claimed he was a guest at the hotel. He promised to return the call if Deputy Sawyer showed up. When Nora insisted on taking the phone from 'Curly,' she was pushed away. When McCloud moved forward to come to her defense, both 'Curly' and 'Toots' pulled out their guns: (Curly: "Easy does it, soldier").

A contrasting entrance scene finally revealed the unseen leader of the 'fishing' group, earlier called 'Mr. Brown' (Edward G. Robinson). During an unflattering view of the hairy-chested, sweating individual, he was reclined back in an old-fashioned bathtub with his face at first obscured behind a newspaper and a rotating, wire-frame electric fan perched nearby on a chair. He was smoking a stubble of a cigar and having a drink. He stood up and stepped out of the bathtub to don a robe when he heard loud voices arguing with each other.

Curly entered and reported to him about what had just happened at the bar - the Sheriff's phone call and the gunplay:

"The phone rang, and the girl started for it and I stopped her. The soldier wants to get rough, so we show him our rods. I'm glad that old man's in a wheelchair. He'd be lots of trouble."

Unconscious on a nearby bed with a bleeding forehead, Deputy Clyde Sawyer was stretched out. 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. Apparently, the telephone call was from Sheriff Wade looking for him. From nearby in the upstairs sitting area, Mr. Brown heard Mr. Temple fearlessly taunting the gang members with guns: ("I'm not afraid of that gun. Go ahead, shoot. You haven't got the nerve") and yelling for him.

With the crackling of thunder and lightning, the leader made his first appearance directly outside his hotel bedroom where Mr. Temple was verbally accosting 'Toots':

Mr. Temple: "Are you thieves or what? Do you want money? Is this a robbery?...That big gun in your hand makes you look grown-up, you think! I'll bet you spend hours posing in front of a mirror holding it. Trying to look tough!...You scum!"

Clearly in charge, Mr. Brown stepped forward to calm the situation and ask for peace for only a few more hours - and to specifically request that Temple be sensible:

"I don't want any trouble. With you. With anybody. Now how's about it, gonna act sensible?...What you don't know won't hurt you. We'll be out of here in a couple of hours. Try to put up with us that long, huh?"

It was clear that the Temples (and McCloud) were being held hostage at gun-point when Mr. Temple asked: "Am I to understand we're your prisoners?" and Brown confirmed: "You're gonna be my guests for a little while." As Mr. Brown boasted about the old days in Chicago when he enjoyed champagne and pompano, moans were heard from his nearby bedroom. To everyone's surprise, the wounded Deputy Sawyer emerged and threatened Brown - using his real name: "You won't get away with it, Rocco." 'Toots' tripped the deputy and sent him sprawling to the floor. When Temple asked: "Why'd you hurt that boy?", 'Toots' replied: "He's a cop, that's why."

McCloud's and Temple's Confrontation with Johnny Rocco:

When Mr. Temple demanded to know what the group was there for, McCloud suddenly recognized the real identity of Mr. Brown - he was the notorious Chicago gangster Johnny Rocco: ("Johnny Rocco, of course...Johnny Rocco the gangster, Mr. Temple. The one and only Rocco"). To the group of hotel hostages, the sneering Rocco identified himself as an "undesirable alien" who had been deported and thrown out of the country:

"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'!"

Mr. Temple went further, suggesting that Rocco should have been exterminated - not deported. McCloud wisely defended and played up Rocco's vain ego, by flatteringly calling him the "emperor" of many criminal enterprises, including racketeering, gambling, and booze running, although Temple called him "filth - city filth":

McCloud: "I must apologize for Mr. Temple. He doesn't know what he's talking about or who to. Sir, 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."
Temple: "You filth! You city filth!"
McCloud: "Oh, Mr. Temple, you're hopelessly old- fashioned. Your ideas date back years. You're still living in the time when America thought it could get along without the Johnny Roccos. Welcome back, Rocco. It was all a mistake. America's sorry for what it did to you."

Soon after, Rocco 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."

Mr. Temple continued to verbally assault Rocco: ("If the time ever comes when your kind can walk a city street in daylight with nothing to fear from the people"), although McCloud kept attempting to shield the old man from Rocco's potentially-deadly wrath without taking direct action.

Rocco was curious about McCloud's war record, and interrogated him about his receipt of war medals for bravery, but McCloud was reticent about claiming he was brave. The very principled, but embittered McCloud explained why he had originally served and fought in the war - "to cleanse the world of ancient evils, ancient ills" - but now had turned his back on those lofty ideals and become thoroughly disillusioned and almost defeated:

McCloud: "I believed some words."
Rocco: "Words? What words?"
McCloud: "Well, they went like this: '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. Huh. (Thunder) We’re fighting to cleanse the world of ancient evils, ancient ills.'"

[Note: McCloud's speech alluded to a paraphrasing of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's State of the Union Speech delivered on January 6, 1942 only a month after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, when the Axis Powers threatened the entire world.]

Rocco: "What's that all about?"
Temple: "I remember those words."
McCloud: "That makes two of us."
Temple: (To Rocco) "We rid ourselves of your kind once and for all. You ain’t comin' back."
Rocco: "Who's gonna stop me, old man?"
Temple: "If I wasn't a cripple..."
Rocco: "You wouldn't be talking this way, right, Pop?"

Although Mr. Temple stated that the villainous and corrupt gangster figure of Rocco had been eliminated forever and would never rise again, Rocco challenged Temple 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: "Filth, you filth," as the other mobsters teased him. He collapsed to the ground after taking a wild swing at Rocco, and then was defended by Nora who beat on Rocco's chest and scratched the left side of his face. [Note: Slightly later in the film, the scratches were on the right side of his face.] Rocco twisted her arms and pinned them behind her back to force a kiss from her. Fully impressed by her feisty spirit, he called her: "Little wildcat." When he asked: "Smell blood, huh? Got your appetite up, huh?" she glared back at him.

Rocco's Planned Rendezvous With Miami Gangsters:

The tension in the room changed when they were interrupted by Ralph's statement that a phone call had come in from Miami. Rocco descended the stairs to the bar's phone and noticed an assemblage of Indians on the hotel's porch waiting to be let inside to escape the storm - he curtly ordered: "Keep them out." As Rocco took a call from a Miami contact named "Ziggy," Ralph responded to a pounding at the door from their yacht's Cuban Skipper (Alberto Morin). 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."

Simultaneously, Rocco's Skipper insisted that they must leave on their yacht immediately or move to deeper waters, because of the dangerous approaching storm: "Storm warning. Big blow on the way....This coral reef not safe. Got to make for deep water right away...Too dangerous. Boat break up on reef." But Rocco would hear nothing of the Skipper's objections, and threatened him with a gun - forcing the Skipper to acquiese: "I tell you when to move that boat...Now, look. I paid you. Now you do what I say...See this? (He wielded a gun) You move that boat, I'll blow your brains out....We'll be out of here in a couple of hours."

Upstairs in the open sitting area, Deputy Sawyer informed everyone why he had been apprehended by 'Curly' and 'Toots' when he had returned to search for the Indian fugitives. He had been knocked unconscious by the suspicious hotel guests when he was calling the Sheriff. And then he told how he was knocked out a second time when detained in Rocco's hotel room:

"I come back here looking for those Osceola boys. I knew they was somewhere around here. Down in the lobby, I ran up against these two. Well, they didn't look right to me, so I asked them a few questions. By the way they answered me, I knew there was something fishy, so I put in a call to Ben Wade, but before I could get to him, the lights went out on me. I woke up in there. Rocco was standin' over me. I recognized him right away from the pictures. I made a break for the door, and the lights went out again."

Rocco appeared and assured his henchmen that his Miami connections were immediately leaving for Key Largo.

Rocco's Braggadocio - and Abusive Behavior Toward Nora:

While being shaved with a straight-razor by Angel, Rocco endlessly bragged to the group (including taunts against defiant "copper" Sawyer) about his powerful connections amongst both politicians and cops, but how the 'bought' groups had betrayed him:

"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!"

Afterwards, as he wiped his face, Rocco realized that one part of his face was scratched, and he recalled Nora's aggressive attack earlier: ("Some little wildcat") when he spotted her in his mirror's reflection. He told how he once knew another feisty 'wildcat' who "scratched, kicked, bit, regular hellion - she even stuck a knife in me once - Irish kid...a real fireball" - named Maggie Mooney. For professional reasons, she was forced to change her name to Gaye Dawn - his ex-mistress/girlfriend. He walked up to Nora and whispered something softly into her left ear - presumably obscene, explicit and lewd. She was understandably revolted and retreated, but he continued to pursue and pester her. She turned to resist and confront him but he grabbed both of her wrists, as her father-in-law rose from his wheelchair but was forced back down by 'Toots.'

Nora spit directly into Rocco's face - causing him to become incensed. When McCloud came over to Nora and protectively led her away, Rocco's henchman 'Toots' encouraged Rocco to retaliate: "Go ahead, boss, smack her. Get it out of your system." Even Mr. Temple taunted Rocco: "Look at him. The great Johnny Rocco with Nora's spittle hangin' from his face!" During some tense moments, Rocco threatened his hostages with a gun, including Mr. Temple who had added: "Come over here. I'd like to spit on ya!":

Rocco: "Nothin' to stop me from wipin' you all out!"

Rocco's henchman 'Curly' advised the raging Rocco to cool off: "What good'll that do, boss? Forget it. Her kind's a dime a dozen." 'Toots' suggested retaliation: "I say smack her and let it go at that," when McCloud chimed in that it wouldn't be wise for Rocco to eliminate all the witnesses, including his gang members:

"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."

Backing down and retreating to his bedroom, Rocco realized that McCloud's appeal had read the situation correctly: "Wise guy." 'Curly' complimented McCloud for defusing the volatile situation: "I take off my hat to you, soldier. It's a good thing you said what you did when you said it, or he'd have started shooting. Close shave for you folks. Closer than the one he got from Angel."

Gaye's Alcoholism and Rocco's Dueling Challenge Against McCloud - The Death of Deputy Sawyer:

Gaye shouted for her hotel room door to be unlocked, and then entered the upstairs lobby area, single-mindedly interested in a drink: "I need a drink." She noticed that Nora had been crying, and suggested a drink to cheer her up: "How about a little drink, huh?...It'll chase the blues away." When Nora declined, the clearly-alcoholic Gaye continued asking, although Angel reminded her that alcohol had been disallowed by the boss, Rocco. When denied, and after seeing a gun being shined by 'Toots,' Gaye said she felt faint and again mentioned her need for a drink to calm herself down. She demanded her rights and flung a bill at Angel: "Well, this is a free country. If I want a drink, I can have one. I can buy my own. There!" She began swearing at Rocco, but then turned polite when he joined the group - formally dressed from his room and complaining about the heat. Gaye noticed scratches on the right side of Rocco's face, quickly knowing that Nora had retaliated against Rocco's flirtations.

Rocco was still stewing about McCloud's 'wise-guy' perceptiveness and verbally sparred with him. He asked why McCloud didn't have a million dollars if he was such a wise-guy. McCloud cleverly answered: "Well, you see, I was educated only in impractical things. With you, it's just the opposite."

The howling wind blew open a second-story window, and Rocco speculated out-loud about the intensifying storm by asking Mr. Temple: "Can cars get through during a hurricane?" Temple answered: "Maybe, maybe not." Gaye was so afraid of the storm that she again asked for a Scotch and water, although Rocco rebuffed her. He continued to try to figure out whether McCloud was stringing him along or not. McCloud was able to get Rocco to reveal that his chief goal in life was to materialistically acquire "more":

Rocco: "Now, what you were sayin', that's the truth. Only you don't believe it. I can see right through you. What you really think is, 'I'm better than Rocco.' 'He's filth,' like the old man said. Right?...'He's got a gun,' you're thinkin'. 'I haven't.' You figure it's the gun. Well, listen, soldier, thousands of guys got guns, but there's only one Johnny Rocco!..."
McCloud: "He knows what he wants, don't you, Rocco?"
Rocco: "Sure...Well, I want, uh -"
McCloud: "He wants more - don't you, Rocco?"
Rocco: "Yeah! That's it! More. That's right, I want more!"
Temple: "Will you ever get enough?"
McCloud: "Will you, Rocco?"
Rocco: "Well, I never have. No, I guess I won't. (To McCloud) You, do you know what you want?"
McCloud: "Yes, and I had hopes once, but I gave them up."
Rocco: "Hopes for what?"
McCloud: "A world in which there's no place for Johnny Rocco."

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 - he handed him a gun while he borrowed a gun from 'Curly' for himself: "OK, soldier, you can make your hopes come true, but you gotta die for it." Rocco aimed his weapon directly at McCloud's mid-section while taunting him to shoot - if he was willing to die at the same time: "All right, you got a gun now. You gonna use it or not?" From the side, Deputy Sawyer urged: "Shoot!", and Mr. Temple also egged him on: "Kill him, Major!" Rocco couldn't resist taunting McCloud and humiliating him - insinuating that McCloud had survived the war by being cowardly:

Rocco: (mocking Mr. Temple) "Yeah, kill him, Major! Ha, ha! Go ahead! Show 'em how you're not afraid to die....Looks like you don't want it enough. What you want!"

Backing down during the stand-off, McCloud tossed his gun down and muttered that he was choosing pragmatic self-preservation over heroics: "One Rocco more or less isn't worth dying for." Unafraid, Temple volunteered to take the gun and finish Rocco off: "Give me that gun!" but was dissuaded by Rocco: "No, no. I'm afraid you'd use it. One old man, more or less, isn't worth dying for." Rocco then asked, with mocking sympathy, why Nora appeared to be dismayed - he then contemptuously judged McCloud as cowardly:

"What's the matter, sister? You look like you lost somebody near and dear. A live war hero. Ha, ha! Now I know how you did it. Hey, uh, Curly, Gaye, anybody! Want a hero? Here's one for sale, cheap!"

Suddenly, Deputy Sawyer lept up and grabbed at the gun to re-challenge Rocco to another duel: "All right, Rocco. All right! Let's you and me play that game now! (moving toward the door as he spoke to Rocco) You can stop me from going out that door, but you gotta die first. If he ('Toots') shoots me, you still get it. (To 'Toots' and Angel) Get out of my way. Get away from that door!" As he tried to escape through the doorway, Rocco blasted him with two shots, as the Deputy's gun clicked empty. Sawyer fell dead onto the lower lobby floor. [Body Count: # 1] Obviously, the duel had been a set up to originally kill McCloud: (Nora: "The gun wasn't loaded. He didn't have a chance" and Mr. Temple: "Murderer"). Rocco admitted: "That's right, sister. The gun wasn't loaded. But our hero didn't know it."

There were different opinions about the incident, and about whether McCloud had been cowardly or not. In particular, Mr. Temple attempted to persuade McCloud that he hadn't actually thought of him as a coward for not playing Rocco's deadly game [Note: McCloud responded with "I fight nobody's battles but my own" - words echoing Bogart's similar noncommittal, anti-heroic stance in Casablanca (1942) - "I stick my neck out for nobody."]:

  • Mr. Temple to McCloud: "You knew the gun was empty, didn't you, son? You could tell by the weight."
    McCloud: "No, sir. I didn't know."
  • 'Toots': "He just didn't have the nerve, Pop. Let's face it."
  • Gaye: "You were smart, fella. What happened to him would've happened to you. It's better to be a live coward than a dead hero."
  • Mr. Temple: "You weren't afraid, son. We all know that."
    McCloud: "Oh, yes, I was afraid. But that's not why I didn't pull the trigger. What do I care about Johnny Rocco, whether he lives or dies? I only care about me! Me and mine! Rocco wants to come back to America, let him! Let him be President! I fight nobody's battles but my own."
    Mr. Temple: "I can't see it your way, Frank. Sawyer didn't either."
    McCloud: "He was a fool! Me, die to rid the world of a Johnny Rocco?! Ha, ha. No, thanks!"
    Nora: "If I believed your way, I'd want to be dead, too. It's true. You are a coward. What you're saying now is only to save your coward's face!"
    Mr. Temple: "Now, Nora. Maybe Frank's right. Maybe he's right."

Out on the rough sea, 'Curly' and Angel dumped Deputy Sawyer's body out of a rowboat, while Ralph mopped up the downstairs lobby floor where the Deputy had fallen.


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