A convicted mobster plots to return to his former glory by bringing back Prohibition, and the profitable criminal enterprises it spawned – but he will have to get past a WWII veteran to do it. [ Key Largo credits: Dir: John Huston/ Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson, Lauren Bacall / 100 min/ Drama, Romance/ Legalize Drugs]
“I bet you two or three years, we get Prohibition back. This time we make it stick.” So says one of Johnny Rocko’s mobsters, as he contemplates the prospect of returning to the prosperity of their old bootlegging operation. Famed mob boss Johnny Rocko, secretly returned from exile in Cuba, plans to buy off politicians just as he did in the past, and return everything to the way it was, so he can return to making a fortune on illegal liquor, gambling, etc.
But as it happens, while Rocko is waiting to meet a fellow mobster in an isolated hotel in the Florida Keys, WWII veteran Frank McCloud arrives at the same hotel and gets clued in to what Rocko is planning. Fresh from the battlefields of Europe, the last thing McCloud wants is another fight, but neither can he allow America’s hard-fought victory to be rewarded with nothing more than a return to the corruption of the past. With the authorities clueless, and cut off from assistance by a hurricane that has made roads impassable, McCloud must stand alone against Rocko and his gang.
If Key Largo sounds like high drama, it is. The entire series of events takes place in a hotel, a crucible as it were, in which ultimate good is pitted against ultimate evil, trapped together by a hurricane that howls violently outside and tears at the hotel, as though God himself were pitching in. And within this crucible is one of the finest casts ever assembled: Edward G. Robinson, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Lionel Barrymore, and Claire Trevor (who won for this Best Actress in a Supporting Role), all guided under the legendary hand of director John Huston. Not a scene or moment is wasted in this tightly crafted classic film.
There is something deliciously ironic, from a libertarian perspective, to see mobsters openly plotting to resurrect Prohibition. In that sense, Key Largo communicates the argument against drug criminalization in a way that no carefully reasoned argument could, and in a gripping and entertaining hour and a half that fully justifies this film’s continued popularity 70 years after its original release.