Filmsite Movie Review
Key Largo (1948)
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Plot Synopsis (continued)

Awaiting the Rendezvous-Deal with the Miami Gangsters - Gaye's Drunken Singing Performance:

Rocco answered the bar-phone in the lobby area and appeared upset that Ziggy in Miami hadn't left yet for the Keys:

"Why ain't you started yet? So what? Huh? What's the matter, you guys? Didn't I take chances? Now listen, I make the run from Cuba. Yeah, I risk my neck, my boat and the shipment, and you won't come out in the rain? Well, you listen to me. 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. Shortly later, 'Curly' and Angel returned in soaking clothes, and were ordered to bring the "shipment" down - a leather case.

Suddenly, the lights flickered and lowered, and the power went out, as well as the phone connection. 'Toots' ordered everyone at gunpoint to retreat to the downstairs. The desperate alcoholic Gaye proceeded to the bar where she poured herself a drink, although she was again disallowed by Rocco: ("Hey, didn't I say no drinking?"). When she begged to keep her one drink, he disposed of it, and told the assembled group in the bar area how he detested her drunkenness:

"One thing I can't stand, it's a dame that's drunk. What I mean, they turn my stomach. No good to themselves or anybody else. She got the shakes, see? So she has a drink to get rid of 'em. That one tastes so good, so she has another one. First thing you know, she's stinko again."

She blamed Rocco for making her a lush by giving her the first drink. He retaliated by shamefully treating her with degrading, misogynistic insults:

"Oh, so it's all my fault now? Everybody has their first drink, don't they? But everybody ain't a lush!...Eight years since I seen her. You wouldn't know it was the same dame."

She mentioned how Rocco hadn't changed over the years and was still mean-spirited ("You're as mean as can be." Rocco was reminded of the lyrics of a song that she used to sing before she went downhill - "I gave her her first chance, took her out of the chorus, made her a singer. Mention that while you're at it. Why ain't you a singing star instead of a lush?...Yeah, she could've had a future.... Voice. Looks. Plenty of class." Gaye recollected fondly: "I was the rage."

He proposed that she sing a rendition of the torch song Moanin' Low, in front of him and his henchmen (and the Temples and McCloud), in exchange for a Scotch whiskey drink - afterwards: "Why don't you give us your old song, hmm?...I won't make you do anything. Tell you what - I got a proposition for ya. Now you sing us your song, you can have a drink... the song, then the drink....Now, look, do you want a drink or don't ya?" [Note: "Moanin' Low" was originally from Broadway's 1929 The Little Show by Libby Holman, and the song was later popularized by Billie Holiday in 1937.]

In the disturbing scene, Gaye was goaded into agreeing to Rocco's bargain to sing (acapella without accompaniment), but first remembered how she used to sing on stage in the spotlight: "My gowns were gorgeous. Always low-cut. Very décolleté. I wore hardly any makeup. Just some lipstick, that's all. No lights, just a baby spot. And I wouldn't have any entrance. They'd play the intro in the dark and a spot would come on and there I'd be."

She warbled a ragged, somewhat off-key and desperate version of the song, humiliating herself even more. But after she had delivered the song and begged for her deserved drink ("Give me that drink now, Johnny"), Rocco reneged on his promise. He justified his refusal by complaining that her 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."

The Intensifying Hurricane:

A terrified, fearful and unpredictable Rocco nervously asked Mr. Temple: "How bad can it get?" Temple described the worst hurricane that he could remember, the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 with Category 5 fierce winds and a storm surge that killed 800 people: "Wind whipped up a big wave and sent it bustin' right over Matecumbe Key. Eight hundred people were washed out to sea."

[Note: In actual fact, the official death toll was 408 people, according to the National Weather Service. It held the record for the most intense Atlantic hurricane until Hurricane Gilbert in 1988, surpassed later by the even more deadly Hurricane Wilma in 2005.]

A shaken and sweaty-faced Rocco fretfully paced back and forth, looking around him as if an enemy was about to attack.

Meanwhile, Nora apologized privately to McCloud for her accusations of cowardice earlier, in light of his treatment of Gaye, but he denied that he was a hero. She claimed that through his actions and her late husband's letters from the battlefield, she could see his true heroism 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:

Nora: "I'm sorry about the things I said upstairs. I know they aren't true. Will you forgive me, Frank?...He might have killed you, but that made no difference. You had to help her. Your head said one way, but your whole life said another. The other things -- maybe they're true. Maybe it is a rotten world, but a cause isn't lost as long as someone is willing to go on fighting."
McCloud: "I'm not that someone."
Nora: "But you are. You may not want to be, but you can't help yourself. Your whole life's against you."
McCloud: "What do you know about my life?"
Nora: "A whole lot. From the way you look and talk, and from things George wrote me. Most of his last letter was all about you and him on the phone. Only he had it the other way. You were the one on the hill."

As the storm worsened with increasingly howling winds, while 'Toots' and 'Curly' played a nickel-a-point game of gin rummy at the bar, glasses and bottles shook, fell from their shelves and shattered on the floor, and the whole building trembled and creaked. To fill the void of his fear and the intense quiet, Rocco prompted 'Curly' to "say something...anything just so it's talk" - and his henchman blabbered on about how Prohibition might be making a comeback.

Rocco eventually calmed his own worries by accusing Mr. Temple of being a liar about an earlier historic hurricane: "Eight hundred guys getting washed out to sea. You're a liar! Nobody would live here after a thing like that happened!" Even 'Curly' stated that he remembered reading about it in the papers. Temple provided further detailed corroboration to aggravate Rocco's anxiety:

Temple: "A relief train was dispatched from Miami. The barometer was down to about 26 inches when that train pulled into Homestead. Engineer backed his string of empty coaches into the danger zone and the hurricane hit. Knocked those coaches right off the track. Two hundred miles an hour, that wind blew. A tidal wave 12 feet high went right across the Key. Whole towns were wiped out. Miles and miles of track were ripped up and washed away. Nothin' was left. More than 500 bodies were recovered after the storm. And for months afterwards, corpses were found in the mangrove swamps."
McCloud: "You don't like it, do you, Rocco - the storm? Show it your gun, why don't you? If it doesn't stop, shoot it."
Temple: (praying) "...Make the big wave. Send it crashing down on us. Destroy us all, if need be. But punish him."

To silence Temple, Rocco pulled his gun, but when McCloud intervened, the gun was put up against McCloud's abdomen and the trigger was pulled, but it clicked empty. 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. Other palm trees bent from the force of the wind.

After the Storm Passed - The Missing Yacht, the Arrival of the Sheriff, the Discovery of the Deputy's Corpse, the Murder of the Osceolas:

After an unspecified but short amount of time had passed (it was unusual for the storm to end so quickly), the storm abated and conditions calmed. McCloud noted to Nora that the passing storm would leave a few torn shutters and some trash on the beach. She asked if she'd ever see him again, and he responded affirmatively ("I hope so"). Temple offered an invitation: "Why don't you stay right on here with us, Frank? You're most welcome." He also urged Nora to encourage him to stay and added: "I'd be proud to have you regard us as your family...Think it over. Don't give your answer right away."

'Toots' yelled to his boss Rocco that the Skipper 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 to Cuba - and McCloud (who had some seaman skills) would be forcibly recruited to run it: "There's another boat out there. It ain't much, but it'll get us to Cuba." Shortly later, McCloud refused to comply: "Why should I?" After being threatened ("You mean you'd rather die than take us?"), McCloud defied Rocco: ("You won't kill me because I'm your only chance of getting away from here"), but was told he could be beaten into submission by 'Toots':

"There's other ways of getting at you. Right, Toots?....After a few minutes of Toots here, you'll begin to ask yourself questions like: 'What if I come out of this a cripple?' And 'Do I care whether they make their getaway or don't?'"

Rocco was reluctant to brutally torture McCloud, but would do so if pressed: "But I warn you, Toots hasn't had much practice. Kind of rusty. Might slip. And that would be too bad. Because you made real sense upstairs when you said one Rocco more or less ain't worth dying for."

At the hotel's porch door, Tom Osceola complained to Mr. Temple about the Indians not being allowed into the hotel for shelter during the hurricane:

"You not good man! You not let nobody in! That's no good!...You leave women and baby out in storm? That no good! You no more friend, my brother and me. We no do like you say anymore! No go Ben Wade! You no good friend to Indian!"

Mr. Temple accused Rocco of lying to him about how the Indians had been sent away, and how their lives had been endangered, but Rocco was uncaring: "So what...and who cares?"

A loud banging at the hotel's door was not Ziggy from Miami, but from Sheriff Wade - who was looking for his missing Deputy Sawyer. Before he was let in, Rocco cautioned everyone: "One wrong word out of anybody and he gets it just the same as Sawyer did." After Nora let him in, she lied about the deputy's whereabouts. The Sheriff was confused - mentioning that the Deputy had called at 7:00 pm - and he became highly suspicious that no one had an explanation. 'Curly' finally answered, hypothesizing that the Deputy stopped in, called the Sheriff, and then left and had probably been caught and stalled somewhere because of the storm. The Sheriff's second question about the whereabouts of the Osceola brothers also brought blunt reticence, silence and denials.

As the Sheriff was leaving, he mentioned to Rocco ("Mr. Brown") that it was "late in the season for a storm. They usually hit the early part of the summer."

[Note: The Sheriff's statement was factually false - the hurricane season for the East Coast usually peaks in late summer, not early summer.]

In his car as he turned on his headlights, the Sheriff peered forward and noticed a washed-ashore body face-down in some storm water. Upon closer inspection, he saw it was Sawyer with two lethal gun shot wounds, and he yelled at Rocco: "It's Sawyer, he's murdered." Rocco deflected the gruesome discovery and implicated the Osceola brothers as the deputy's killers - who were there during the storm and had just departed.

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. [Body Count: # 2 - # 3] Shortly later, the Sheriff returned to the hotel and angrily accused Mr. Temple of lying about the presence of the Osceolas. He announced that he planned to charge Temple as an "accessory to murder" - to the three deaths:

"He's dead. Your Indians murdered Sawyer! You lied to me, Temple. You said you hadn't seen the Osceolas. You lied, didn't you? I knew Sawyer had been here. That's why he called me, because he'd found the Osceolas. They thought they could hide it by sinking his body, but they couldn't. The storm tore his body loose and threw it up right at your door! And that's where the crime belongs - at your door. You probably knew they killed Sawyer. I wouldn't put it past you. And I'm gonna lay charges, naming you as accessory."

Mr. Temple was dismayed when told the Sheriff had killed the brothers. The Sheriff began to write up a report, first asking for the names and addresses of "Mr. Howard Brown" and his hotel group (who all claimed they were from "Hotel Central, Milwaukee"), and then McCloud - who was beginning to seethe with hatred.

The Arrival of Miami Gangsters - The Counterfeit Money Deal:

A trench-coated Traveler (Pat Flaherty) (one of Ziggy's gang members) came in the front door, pretending to be a tourist. He inquired about the distance to his destination: "How far to Key West?" - he stated how his journey to the hotel through the storm had been harrowing. The Sheriff left and promised to return by morning, but before driving off, put Sawyer's corpse in his car. Ziggy (Marc Lawrence) was seated in his car with three other trench-coated thugs (credited as Luther Crockett, Jerry Jerome and John Phillips), who entered the hotel lobby. Before their deal-making, 'Toots' had escorted everyone else into a side room. Ziggy and Rocco joked together about old times before getting down to business - 'Curly' brought over the leather case filled with wrapped wads of counterfeit bills. Ziggy carefully examined the fraudulent money with the help of Lou:

"Paper has a good feel. Lathe work's okay. Portrait's good. No breaks in the lines....Back color's okay. High- class merchandise."

Ziggy declared he was satisfied and paid off Rocco with a smaller amount of real cash.

Meanwhile in the side room, Gaye begged McCloud to refuse to take the gang to Cuba - it would be a death sentence: "Don't go with them. They'd wait till you get them in sight of Cuba, then they'd kill ya. You'd never walk off that boat." Nora seconded her advice: "She's right, Frank. Tell them you'll go, or they'll hurt you. Then when you get outside in the dark, make a break, run. Try to get away." McCloud pondered and then replied to Nora: "You were right. When your head says one thing, and your whole life says another, your head always loses." He had decided that fleeing was the logical thing to do, but not the morally-right choice. He told Mr. Temple that he felt compelled to combat the gang's corruption and not "walk away" from the fight:

"I've got to. Not that one Rocco more or less makes any difference in this world. What I said upstairs still goes. I haven't changed my tune. It's just that - I've got to."

After the transaction was successfully concluded, Ziggy prepared to leave with his gang of thugs. As 'Curly' had mentioned earlier, he was hoping for the reinstitution of Prohibition so that the bootlegging business could be resurrected: "I bet inside of two years we have Prohibition back again." Rocco interjected: "Yeah. Only this time, it's gonna be different....The mobs will be together...No more blasting each other."

Preparation to Leave the Hotel on the Temples' Boat to Cuba:

Rocco ordered his gang to make preparations to leave the hotel, and bring down all of their luggage and belongings (including McCloud's gear). McCloud was given the choice - a beating from 'Toots' or agreement to join them. He responded simply: "You win." Rocco paid off Mr. Temple for the group's stay, and then whispered an invitation to Nora: ("Want to come along, sister?"). Ignoring him, she stared longingly at McCloud. Rocco loaded a pistol and then slipped it into his left coat pocket.

Gaye realized that her bags had not been included and that she was going to be left behind. She asked Rocco to get her things, but he refused to have her accompany them. He gave her cash to live on: ("On this, you can stay drunk for a month"), as she desperately pleaded with him and clung to him. He didn't realize that while she was embracing and hanging onto him - promising to stop drinking and threatening to commit suicide ("I'll be good luck to you, like I was before. I won't let you go without me. You've got to take me with you"), that she had pickpocketed the gun from his coat pocket. When she was pushed away, she slipped the gun to McCloud, who hid it under his hat in his hands.

As the group was on its way to the dock to board the Temples' boat for their getaway, Nora and Gaye observed and wondered whether McCloud would make a break for it: (Gaye: "Why doesn't he run? Run, fella, run!"), but he never did. The bow and stern lines were detached under McCloud's command, and after the engine stalled a few times, the boat set its course for Cuba. [Note: The boat's name came into view: "-SANTANA- Key Largo Florida." It was the name of Bogart's personally-owned 55-foot sailing yacht that had also appeared in the earlier Bogart-Bacall film To Have and Have Not (1942).]

Turning back into the hotel, Gaye feared the worst for McCloud: "That was his only chance. He didn't take it. He should have run." Inside, Mr. Temple unsuccessfully tried to use the hotel phone to call for help, but the line was dead.

The Getaway On the Boat to Cuba - McCloud's Deadly Confrontation with the Gang:

As the boat churned through the waves and fog towards Cuba at around 4:00 am, McCloud in the wheelhouse was urged by 'Curly' to keep on course. At the boat's stern next to Ralph, a very sea-sick 'Toots' was hanging over the side, feeling nauseated. 'Curly' went below the deck to where Rocco and Angel were reclining on upper and lower bunk beds. There, a radio reported an emergency alert and search: "Missing fishing boat SANTANA is being taken to Cuba." 'Curly' asked Rocco about his motive to leave Gaye behind, to spitefully squeal on them and report Ziggy: "Do you think it was such a good idea not to bring her? She's pretty sore." Rocco's answer revealed that it was deliberately part of his plan all along, to incriminate the rival gang. 'Curly' laughed about it and commended his boss' cleverness: "There's only one Johnny!"

McCloud began a methodical and patient plan to outwit the gang on the boat. He cocked his gun and put it into his waist-belt, and then stalled the engine by killing the throttle and placing the boat in neutral. After asking Ralph to lean over the stern and check for seaweed-kelp that might be fouling up the motor's propeller, he suddenly revved the boat's throttle and turned hard to the left, to jerk the boat and maneuver it to send Ralph overboard. [Body Count: # 4] In the water, as Ralph called for help, 'Toots' realized what had happened. He reached for the gun in his coat pocket, and although hit by McCloud's lethal fire, he was able to fire back one shot - wounding McCloud in the side, before he collapsed dead. [Body Count: # 5]

The three gang members below the deck heard the gunshots - Rocco and Angel rolled out of their bunks as 'Curly' rushed to the upper deck. As McCloud was retrieving 'Toots' gun at the stern of the boat, he turned and fired on 'Curly' when he emerged at the top of the stairs. He fell down the stairs and dropped dead in the lower cabin in front of Rocco [Body Count: # 6]. To get a better angle and vantage point, McCloud climbed up onto the roof of the wheelhouse and opened the skylight door to look down through the opening into the wheelhouse.

When Rocco reached inside his coat pocket for his gun, he realized it had been taken when his ex-girlfriend pleaded with him during their farewell ("Gaye!"). He grabbed 'Curly's gun and called out vainly up the stairwell for 'Toots' and Ralph - but there was no answer. He then called out for McCloud: "Soldier!" - but there was also no response. Turning cowardly, Rocco urged Angel to ascend the stairs first, but he fearfully refused: "I'll get killed." Rocco attempted one more time to force Angel by lying about McCloud's death: "There's nothing to be afraid of. Toots killed him. He's dead." Angel responded that if that was true, then Rocco should go first: "Then you go, Johnny." Feeling disrespected, Rocco shot his sole remaining cohort Angel point-blank and killed him. [Body Count: # 7]

In a tense cat-and-mouse game, Rocco's trick or ploy was to bargain, step-by-step, with McCloud, now that he was the only survivor. He called up the stairs to appeal to him, offering a 50-50 split of the money as an equal partner:

"Angel and Curly are dead. There's just me and you. From now on, we'll be partners. Everything will be 50-50. What do you say? Can you hear me? What do you say? .Is it a deal?" (No response)

Frustrated that there was no answer, he then offered McCloud the entire take of money, and threw the case of payoff money through the upper wheelhouse door:

"I know what you're thinking. You'll get rid of me and have all the money for yourself, is that it? Is it? Answer me! I'll tell you what. Suppose I say the money is yours? Yeah. Here, look! (He tossed the bag of money up the stairs) It's yours. All yours, soldier! Plenty more when we get to Cuba. OK, soldier? You hear me? I'll make you rich!" (No response)

Infuriated by McCloud's silence, Rocco went on a crazy tirade, and threatened to never surrender:

"Soldier! Soldier! You're not big enough to do this to Rocco. I'll kill you! You'll never bring me in. Never!"

Then, thinking that McCloud was not trusting in him because he was armed, he decided to disarm himself by throwing Angel's gun up the stairs, before surrendering himself - however, by now, McCloud was wise to Rocco's trick of offering an inoperable gun for use:

"Look, soldier, I know what it is. You figure I got a gun so you can't trust me. Right? OK. (He tossed the gun) Look! See? I'm leveling with you. OK, soldier? I'm coming out. OK, soldier? I got no gun, and I'm comin' out."

However, the crafty Rocco had concealed his own gun and was determined to shoot and kill McCloud. As he emerged through the wheelhouse's doorway from the stairs, McCloud saw Rocco wielding a gun - and shot and wounded him from above. McCloud shot Rocco two more times before he finally collapsed dead onto the deck atop the bag of money. [Body Count: # 8]

McCloud climbed back down from the wheelhouse roof and took control of the boat - he circled around to return to Florida in a Northerly direction toward Boot Key Harbor (seen on a compass). He secured the steering wheel in a stationary position with rope before going to the lower deck to radio ashore to the Miami Coast Guard and send a MAYDAY distress call using the call-sign NAM: ("The Santana. My name is Frank McCloud. I'm about 12 miles off Boot Key Harbor, on my way in...I need medical attention").

The Film's Optimistic Epilogue:

Back in the Largo Hotel, as 'Curly' had predicted, Gaye had squealed on Ziggy, and Sheriff Wade reported to Mr. Temple, Nora, and Gaye that the state police had caught them as they were crossing the border into Georgia.

[Note: It would have been physically impossible for Ziggy's gang to drive from the Keys to the Georgia-Florida border, a distance of 485 miles, in such a short time, especially immediately after a hurricane.]

Gaye would be required to join the Sheriff to identify them after turning state's evidence. The Sheriff also apologized to Mr. Temple for the unfortunate killings of the two Osceola brothers, but Gaye blamed Johnny Rocco instead:

Sheriff Wade: "Mr. Temple, I'm mighty grateful to ya for savin' my life and all but, those two boys, the Osceolas. I'd rather been killed than have innocent blood on my hands."
Mr. Temple: "Aw, I'm the one to blame. If they hadn't trusted me, they wouldn't have turned up here and they'd still be alive. It seems we can't do anything but harm to those people, even when we go to help 'em."
Gaye: "No, Mr. Temple, it wasn't you. It wasn't the law or anybody. It was only Johnny Rocco. Nobody in the whole world is safe as long as he's alive."
Sheriff Wade: (To Gaye) "We better go, miss."

Nora and Mr. Temple feared that McCloud was dead, but were overjoyed when he connected through to the Largo Hotel from the boat, to communicate with them that he had survived.

[Note: It was unlikely that the dead phone lines in the hotel's remote location would have been repaired in just a few short hours.]

Nora was relieved that he was returning to them, and shared the good news with her father-in-law:

(phone ringing) "Hotel Largo. Frank! Oh, thank God. (She hung up)
(to her father) He's all right, Dad! He's coming back to us."

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.

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