Humphrey Bogart in Key Largo
Humphrey Bogart as Frank McCloud, taciturn war veteran and former newspaperman
Key Largo, Florida, Summer 1948
Film: Key Largo
Release Date: July 16, 1948
Director: John Huston
Wardrobe Credit: Leah Rhodes
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Released today in 1948, John Huston’s moody noir Key Largo marked the fourth and final of Bogie and Bacall’s on-screen collaborations, closing out their celluloid romance the way it began in To Have and Have Not (1944) with a talent-packed cast (including Dan Seymour as a heavy heavy) in a tropical locale shrouded in shadows, storms, and gunplay. The claustrophobia of our characters’ forced isolation against the looming summer storm outside and the raging tension inside made it particularly impactful viewing during months in lockdown.
By this point, Humphrey Bogart had been firmly established as one of the biggest stars in the world, having risen over the decade thanks to iconic roles in movies like The Maltese Falcon, Casablanca, and most recently The Treasure of Sierra Madre, to name just a few. No longer Warner Brothers’ resident “sniveling bastard” who gets plugged by the end, Bogie had now developed his own personal brand of cinematic heroism, the honest but laconic man-of-the-world who’s seen enough to be cynical when we—and our femme fatale du jour—meet him, until he ultimately finds his ideals in time to triumph over evil by the end. (Okay, Fred C. Dobbs may not apply in this case.)
Key Largo‘s hero of the hour is Frank McCloud—that’s Frank, by John, out of Ellen—a former Army major traveling the country on his way to live the seafaring life aboard a fishing boat as “life on land’s become too complicated for my taste.” His last stop is Key Largo, specifically the Largo Hotel, to visit the family of one of the fallen soldiers from his command. The man’s gregarious father, James Temple (Lionel Barrymore), runs a resort hotel that he co-operates with his son’s widow, Nora (Lauren Bacall), who appears instantly smitten with the newcomer. Frank has seen enough of the world to know that the five hard-nosed thugs and their abusive boss are hardly in the hot and humid Keys for the deep-sea fishing as they claim.
Just a dozen years had passed since Bogie had exploded onto the big screen with his star-making role in The Petrified Forest (1936) as a Dillinger-esque criminal holding a cafe full of people hostage in the Arizona desert. Now, he’s on the other end of the gangster’s gun, standing tall among his fellow hostages to challenge their torturer, the domineering bully Johnny Rocco played by Edward G. Robinson in his fifth and final on-screen pairing with Bogie.
Rocco: You, do you know what you want?
Frank: Yes, I had hopes once, but I gave them up.
Rocco: Hopes for what?
Frank: A world in which there’s no place for Johnny Rocco.
Like many gang chiefs in Warner Brothers’ early fare, our hero’s foil “the one and only Rocco” was pulled from contemporary headlines, borrowing mannerisms, affectations, and even favorite alias from the recently deceased Al Capone and biographical details from the recently exiled Lucky Luciano.
Even Lucky’s main squeeze Gay Orlova would inspire Rocco’s torch-singing moll Gaye Dawn, a performance that would land Claire Trevor a well-deserved Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. One of the film’s key scenes (no pun intended) and the sequence that has been cited as directly responsible for Trevor’s Oscar centered around Gaye’s boozy, reluctant, and off-key a capella rendition of Libby Holman’s signature hit “Moanin’ Low”, falling apart as she recognizes how much her life parallels that of the abused lover singing the song.
Key Largo was based on Maxwell Anderson’s play that ran from November 1939 through February 1940 at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, starring Paul Muni in the central role of Spanish Civil War deserter King McCloud. Huston worked with Richard Brooks to adapt for the screen, making McCloud a World War II veteran who finds his redemption in courageous action rather than death.
It was Howard Hawks who contributed Key Largo’s ending of a gunfight at sea, dusting off an unused finale idea from To Have and Have Not. To demonstrate just how much Bogart inhabited his parts, the vessel was named Santana, sharing its name with the actor’s personal fishing boat.
What’d He Wear?
Warner Brothers costume stalwart Leah Rhodes was credited with the wardrobe in Key Largo, a film whose costume design meets the unique challenge of any work set across a single day where a character’s unchanging costume—and how it’s worn and unworn over the course of that day—are very telling. Admittedly, Frank McCloud may be the least interesting dresser of the crowd gathered at the Largo Hotel, though by ignoring contemporary fashion trends he adopts a more timeless and versatile look appropriate for our quiet hero.
As in most of his movies, the clothes are almost certainly Bogart’s own, though it was likely a collaboration between Rhodes, Huston, and Bogart himself that determined how he would wear them, primarily stripped down to his shirt sleeves and suit trousers.
In their nearly matching white button-up shirts, worn open at the neck, with neutral, pleated bottoms and dark belts, Frank and Nora are unified from the start in a heroic uniform of sorts. Our two humbly dressed heroes are subconsciously pitted together in the fight against these gangsters wearing their flashy duds like Johnny Rocco’s silk dressing gown or the trigger-happy Toots’ quintessentially gangland white tie against a dark shirt… of course, any 1948 audience member worth their salt should have known that Bogie and Bacall would be on the same team, but it is a helpful visual clue for the less-informed viewer watching 70 years later.
Frank McCloud arrives in Key Largo wearing an unseasonably warm two-piece suit made of heavy woolen twill, though he wisely keeps the jacket slung over his arm. Color photography from the set reveals that the suiting consisted of a substantial diagonal rib alternating in tan and dark taupe for an overall light brown.
Understandably after a long day of traveling by bus, Frank’s first order of business upon checking into his room is to change into a fresh shirt, nearly identical to the white shirt he had arrived wearing. These cotton shirts have white two-hole sew-through plastic buttons up the front placket, of which he leaves the top two undone even when wearing his loosened tie. The collar has long points and welted edges. Bogart keeps the button cuffs unfastened and loosely rolled up his forearms. There are two pleats behind each shoulder.
Frank arrives wearing a two-color “diagonal”-direction block-striped tie that is arguably the most dated part of his wardrobe, not necessary for the relatively timeless pattern but rather the length… or lack thereof. In accordance with the era’s prevailing fashions, the tie is worn short, not just to accommodate the higher-rise trousers as it still falls a few inches short of the trouser waistband and Bogart’s natural waist. Considering that the tie was already loosened, it would have looked almost comedically short when properly tightened to the neck. Frank McCloud’s heroic image was best served when the tie was abandoned.
Frank’s trousers have a fashionably long rise, though they hardly compete with Lionel Barrymore’s gut-eating linen slacks. The double reverse-pleated trousers are cut with a voluminous fit through the legs down to the turn-ups (cuffs) on the bottoms. There are no back pockets, just gently slanted side pockets. Through the trouser belt loops, he wears a dark brown leather belt with a squared gold-toned single-prong buckle.
For all the parallels between Frank and Nora’s wardrobes, they diverge when we get down to their footwear. Nora wears classic rope-soled espadrilles with additional lacing around her ankles, while Frank still wears the lace-up oxford shoes and black socks that would have been appropriate with his suit. The contrast of his shoe leather against the socks suggest that Frank’s six-eyelet cap-toe oxfords have brown leather uppers.
Frank holds a dark fedora in his hand, never wearing it but using it to briefly conceal the pistol that Gaye smuggles to him before the climactic scenes aboard the Santana. It’s during these scenes that he finally completes the suit by putting on the heavy twill suit jacket, likely more comfortable for a night at sea than it would have been during the sunny afternoon.
The sporty single-breasted suit jacket has wide, padded shoulders with roped sleeveheads. Worn turned up in the back, the notch lapels have swelled edges and roll to a three-button front. The ventless jacket has patch pockets on the hips and left breast, where Frank wears a white linen or cotton pocket square, and the sleeves are finished with four buttons on each cuff.
Key Largo marks one of the rare instances where Bogart does not wear the gold ring he inherited from his father with the two rubies flanking a diamond. He does wear a steel round-cased chronograph with a gold dial on a dark brown leather strap. The dial appears to have two gold sub-registers at the 3:00 and 9:00 positions.
I can’t positively identify the watch based on what we see on screen, but I’ve heard that Bogart was a Longines wearer in real life and the details of this screen-worn watch appear consistent with several Longines chronographs from the era.
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.
Frank McCloud twice gets his hands on Johnny Rocco’s celebrated rod, er- pistol. The first time, Rocco challenges Frank to a moralistic duel of sorts, racking the slide and handing over his own Colt Model 1903 Pocket Hammerless and challenging him to shoot him with him, fulfilling his long-time hope for a world without Johnny Rocco, the only drawback being that he would have to die for the privilege. “One Rocco more or less isn’t worth dying for,” McCloud grumbles before tossing the gat away… only for Deputy Sawyer (John Rodney) to tragically learn that it wasn’t even loaded.
Temple tries to give Frank a heroic out by suggesting that he must have been able to tell by the pistol’s weight that it wasn’t loaded, but Frank defends his sense of self-preservation: “Me, die to rid the world of a Johnny Rocco? No thanks!”
Later, Gaye fakes an attack of lovestruck desperation to smuggle Rocco’s gat out of his pocket and slip it to Frank, who uses it to get the drop on Rocco’s gang once aboard the Santana, using it to pick off each henchman—and arming himself with Toots’ own nickel-plated Colt Model 1903 for backup—until taking on the big boss himself.
Colt had introduced its popular and reliable Model 1903 Pocket Hammerless model nearly half a century earlier, definitively proving the relevance of mid-sized semi-automatic pistols in a segment that had been dominated by revolvers just a decade earlier. The .32 ACP model with its eight-round magazine was introduced in 1903, followed by the .380 ACP version five years later, though the larger round meant only seven could be loaded into each magazine.
Over the decades to follow, it would prove to be popular as a concealed weapon for civilians as well as criminals like John Dillinger, Al Capone, and Willie Sutton, who could easily carry and draw it from a trouser pocket; the “hammerless” designation was a misnomer as the hammer was simply covered by the back of the slide. Nearly 600,000 were made during the pistol’s original production run, which ended in 1945.
What to Imbibe
Frank tries to cool off upon his arrival at the Largo Hotel by ordering a beer from the bar, though he’s swiftly denied by Angel Garcia (Dan Seymour), who seems to be the gang’s de facto bartender. Luckily for Frank, the whiskey-swilling Gaye seems to have some sway among the guys and advocates for Frank to get his beer despite the bullish thugs’ reluctance.
Frank later repays the favor by defying Rocco’s wishes and pouring Gaye a much-needed dram of Kentucky bourbon after she humiliates herself singing “Moanin’ Low” for the group. The bottle in question appears to be fixed with the fictional “Kentucky Hill” prop label that can be found across many Warner Brothers films from Casablanca to Blazing Saddles.
How to Get the Look
Humphrey Bogart’s simple and tasteful approach to dressing in Key Largo keeps his dressed-down white open-neck shirt and pleated twill trousers just as relevant and effortlessly stylish the better part of a century later.
- White cotton shirt with long point collar, front placket, and button cuffs
- Light brown woolen twill double reverse-pleated high-rise suit trousers with belt loops, side pockets, and turn-ups/cuffs
- Dark brown leather belt with square gold-toned single-prong buckle
- Dark brown leather 6-eyelet cap-toe oxford shoes
- Black socks
- Steel round-cased chronograph watch with round gold dial (with two gold sub-dials) on dark brown leather strap
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
When your head says one thing and your whole life says another, your head always loses.
Great article, thank you. I have the movie on dvd, will re-watch soon!