For the Love of Film (Noir): On the Road to Key Largo

This post contributes to the rich film-noir blogathon currently hosted by Ferdy on Films and the Self-Styled Siren. 

Funds donated by clicking on the image below will go to the Film Noir Foundation. Donors are eligible for prizes, but the real prize is getting to help restore the 1950 film The Sound of Fury—and getting to read all the great posts the blogathon is attracting!

When as a child I first visited Paris with my godmother I was astonished to find that many French people were aware of the relatively obscure place in which she lived, Key Largo, Florida.
The reason for this familiarity was not a knowledge of U.S. geography but a knowledge of American film history. 

As early fans of classic directors like John Huston and as countrymen of the critics who invented the term “film noir,” the French knew and loved Huston’s 1948 noir gangster movie set on, partly shot on, and named after my godmother’s home Key.

Key Largo always merits a visit. It grips today’s viewers yet remains a true product of its time.
A melodrama of postwar malaise, the film takes place in and around the Largo Hotel, a resort owned by James Temple (Lionel Barrymore) and his widowed daughter-in-law Nora (Lauren Bacall).
Humphrey Bogart plays Frank McCloud, a footloose former soldier who steps off a bus on Route 1 and becomes involved against his will in the hotelkeepers’ conflict with underworld kingpin Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson) and his henchmen.
In the course of an hour and 41 minutes, the disillusioned McCloud learns to commit himself to the cause of right—and to the cause of Nora Temple. He also braves a hurricane that changes everyone’s plans.
The movie is a goldmine for social historians. It can be viewed as a metaphor for Americans on the brink of the Cold War, learning like McCloud to become involved in a new fight. 

The hero’s decision at the film’s finish to end his rootless existence and settle down with the Temples also mirrors our culture’s postwar emphasis on the importance of home as haven.

Key Largo is more than just a story for its time, however. It is a lush, well paced picture with glorious black-and-white photography by Karl Freund.
It is also a primer in American film acting, featuring a range of diverse yet complementary styles.
On one end of its spectrum are the minimalist Bogart and Bacall, whose faces and voices come across as almost expressionless. 

Only a couple of gestures and a few mutual looks indicate that Frank and Nora have fallen in love in the course of the film, but those gestures and looks are so well choreographed that they speak volumes.

In contrast, Robinson delivers a powerful, cigar-chomping personification of evil, filling the screen with his body and voice.
Claire Trevor joins him in the ham portion of the thespian spectrum with a magnificently campy performance as his character’s alcoholic, over-the-hill moll. The role earned her an Academy Award. 

When she takes center stage to reprise her old nightclub routine in a creaky voice, Trevor’s character provides the film’s most moving moment.

Every time I think about Key Largo the film I long to visit Key Largo the place. I dream of flying down to Miami, then traveling—like Bogey’s character—on a Greyhound bus along Route 1.
I don’t exactly have the time or the funds to take this trip, however, so I settle for recreating my favorite tropical spot at home.
Since I’ll never look like Bacall or Claire Trevor my costume is a simple lei. Nevertheless, I do work hard to make food that features the Keys’ signature food, key-lime juice. And of course I watch Key Largo.
If you’d like to have your own Key Largo party, don’t make do with the juice of ordinary limes; it hasn’t got the subtle, rich flavor of the key lime.
Many supermarkets carry Nellie & Joe’s key-lime juice. You may also order juice by mail from Floribbean; this company also sells such goodies as key-lime salsa, jelly, and savory oil.
Or call my favorite key-lime store, the Key Lime Tree.
This emporium, located (where else?) on Key Largo not far from my godmother’s home, offers a plethora of key-lime products, from beverages to fudge to fabulous soap, plus OF COURSE key-lime juice. 

Last time I checked in, its owners would even ship out a small key-lime tree to help you add some scenery to your Key Largo bash.

Settle yourself under the tree’s thorny branches; sip a key-lime beverage; and prepare to spend an evening with Bogart, Bacall, and company.
I have already featured several key-lime recipes on this blog. These include key-lime chicken; tropical fruit salsa; key lime-white chocolate chip cookies; and everybody’s favorite, key-lime pie.
I thought readers might like a cocktail to accompany a viewing of Key Largo, however. What could be more appropriate for this stormy film than a hurricane?
This tropical drink packs quite a wallop. Claire Trevor’s Gaye Dawn (a PERFECT Florida Keys name!), who drinks her way through the movie, would appreciate it, although she doesn’t at all appreciate the natural disaster from which it derives its name. 

If you cannot find passion-fruit syrup in your local grocery or liquor store, it may be found online at Amazon and other sites. Some bartenders take a shortcut and substitute 1/2 cup of Hawaiian Punch. This doesn’t strike me as appropriate for a celebration of film noir, however.

Key Largo Hurricane
1 ounce light rum
1 ounce dark rum
1 tablespoon passion-fruit syrup
1 tablespoon key-lime juice (more or less to taste)

Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Strain into a cocktail glass. Serves 1.

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18 Responses to “For the Love of Film (Noir): On the Road to Key Largo”

  1. Now you’re talking my language, Tinky! I have fresh key lime juice and fresh passion fruit juice now so I know what I’m having for happy hour tonight. And Key Largo is one of my favorite films and I want to be Lauren Bacall when I grow up.

  2. tinkyweisblat says:

    Let me know how your drinks turn out if you do try them, Abigail. I don’t actually drink so I used a recipe a bartender gave me years ago. I think I’d go heavier on the juice, but he said this was authentic!

    As for Miss Bacall, wouldn’t we all like to be her? I’d settle for just the voice!

  3. […] Weisblat returns with a post on Key Largo over at In Our Grandmothers’ Kitchens. I always kind of thought Claire Trevor walked off with […]

  4. Lauren says:

    Oh, my. Sounds like a dangerous cocktail! Key Largo is a household favorite.

  5. Donna says:

    How marvelous! Tinky, you’ve nailed it on another of my favorite films.

  6. Shelley says:

    Speaking of Key Largo, there’s a great new bio out of Bogart: Tough Without a Gun.

  7. tinkyweisblat says:

    Lauren, it is a little dangerous so be sure to eat Key Lime Pie with it. Donna. thank you. Shelley, I heard the author being interviewed on the Diane Rehm Show and tried to send in a comment that they should take note of the blogathon, but I have a feeling I was too late. He’s always an interesting subject.

  8. Marya says:

    such a perfectly tense film.

  9. Pam Matthews says:

    This is a wonderful post on a great movie. Dick and I went down to the Keys when we first got together. Of course, we watched Key Largo to prepare for our trip. Arriving on Largo, we found a hidden motel down a narrow lane overhung with tropical trees – Largo Lodge. We asked the owner where the movie had been filmed, and she directed us to a bar on the highway. Only motorcycles were parked out front, and we were obviously entering a biker bar; everyone stared at us as we came in. We ordered beers and asked the bartender about the movie. He said it was mainly filmed in Hollywood, but that the beach and a dock (no longer there) had been used. We went out on the beach, sipped our beers, and thought of Bogart and Bacall. Sigh. Sitting here in Maine now, I think I’ll order some key lime juice and make some memory-laden treat.

  10. tinkyweisblat says:

    Nicely put, Marya. Pam, I haven’t actually been to that bar; I’ll try it on my next visit, whenever that is. Meanwhile, I think you deserve a trip to the Keys after the winter you’ve had in Maine!

  11. Bill Wren says:

    I love the idea of a Key Largo bash. Living in Canada, it might make a nice break from the snow. 🙂

    For what it’s worth, I wrote up my own thoughts on Key Largo a month ago:

  12. tinkyweisblat says:

    Thanks, Bill. I hope you lose some of that snow SOON. And I like your review, pointing out (among other things) the way adapting this from a stage play affected it as a star vehicle.

  13. Joe Thompson says:

    Tinky: Thanks for posting on a wonderful movie. “What do you want?” “More.” “Will you ever get enough?” “I don’t think so.” Is one of my favorite exchanges in any movie.

    The Hurricane sounds like a potent potable. I enjoyed your memories of the real Key Largo.

  14. tinkyweisblat says:

    Great point about that exhange, Joe. In film as in so many other things sometimes being succinct is to be VERY eloquent.

  15. Mary Hess says:

    Tinky, this was great, and it has been too long since I visited your blog. Took returning to the Blogathon and posting to make it happen, but I will stick around this time. I always loved Claire Trevor in KL; and, I, too, wanted to go to Key Largo after seeing it, and still do. By the way, you can get some fantastic coffee at Baby’s Coffee (Key West, does a great internet business). No connection, just a happy customer.

  16. tinkyweisblat says:

    I will definitely try the coffee, Mary. I’m not coffee drinker, but I’m for sure a coffee server. The blogathon has been wonderful, hasn’t it? I’m WAY behind in my reading, but I’ll get there……

  17. Adelaide says:

    Hi Tinky,

    I enjoyed your post on the film, “Key Largo,” having seen it several times. I’m a big Bogart fan and a film noir fan. Just saw again the other night, “The Girl in the Window” with Edward G. Robinson. Tell me, what do you think of that one as film noir? I think the ending ruins the film noir aspect, and prefer to think it ends before the last scene.

    Some day when I’m feeling reckless, I’ll try the hurricane drink.


  18. tinkyweisblat says:

    Adelaide–Alas, I’ve never caught “The Woman in the Window,” although clearly I’ll have to: several of the writers in the blogathon covered it, including this one (who ABSOLUTELY agrees with you about the ending!):

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