“Hold your course. You’re headed straight for Key Largo. Key Largo!”
These words introduced what became a Hollywood Classic in the official movie trailer of the aptly titled Key Largo. Starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, it’s remembered as one of the couple’s all-time greatest films. Bogart’s character, Frank McCloud, comes to Key Largo to visit his fallen war buddy’s family and discovers a gangster running things. As a hurricane heads for the island, McCLoud confronts the gang of thugs.
The gangster, played by Edward G. Robinson, runs his criminal operation from a hotel, which was inspired by Key Largo’s Caribbean Club. The Caribbean Club, which is still in operation today (albeit, not under gangsters), can be seen in the opening shots of the movie. The majority of the movie was filmed at Warner Bros. Studios in Hollywood, but that didn’t keep the Caribbean Club and Key Largo from becoming tourist destinations after the movie’s successful release. Still today, the Caribbean Club boasts of its connection to the film as “The Birthplace of Warner Bros. Great Movie Key Largo.” The all-star cast was described as “the screen’s most electrifying personalities” and there was certainly lots of nail-biting friction and thrilling action.
Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall were known for their on-screen chemistry, and they didn’t disappoint in what would turn out to be their last movie together.
The official movie trailer describes Key Largo as the place “where adventure inflames men to violent action and romance smoulders in women until it conquers or kills!” Though the Florida Keys are known in reality for their laidback vibes and family-friendly atmosphere, Hollywood has seemed to latch onto that dramatized description, using the Keys as a setting for many other action thrillers.
The 1994 film, True Lies, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis, was shot partially in the Keys.
Some scenes were filmed in Marathon, Key Largo, and Key West. In one of the most memorable scenes, Harry pulls Helen out of a limo from a helicopter on the Seven Mile Bridge. In 2002, the bridge made another appearance in 2 Fast 2 Furious. The Keys were featured in another movie, Red Dragon, that same year which was filmed at a local doctor’s home next to the popular Islander Resort in Islamorada. Other movies that were filmed in whole or in part in the Florida Keys include The Rose Tattoo, Running Scared, License to Kill, Up Close and Personal, Tomorrow Never Dies, Meet the Fockers, Office Space, and The Pacifier. Though Key Largo is perhaps the most-recognized movie connected to the Florida Keys, Humphrey Bogart isn’t the only classic name tied to the location.
In one of John Wayne’s lesser-known movies, Reap the Wild Wind, he played Captain Jack whose ship wrecked on the Key West shore. It was released 6 years earlier than Key Largo and partially filmed in Key West.
Bogart’s name prevailed, however, and his legacy in the Keys inspired the Humphrey Bogart Estate to host five consecutive Humphrey Bogart Film Festivals in Key Largo from 2013 to 2017. Thefestival grew so much in popularity that it became too big for the island. The Bogart Estate planned to move the festival elsewhere, but it has not yet been revived.
Traces of the glitz and glam of Hollywood will always reside in the sand and sun of the Keys. From gangsters and ship captains to international spies and street racers, Hollywood has left its mark from the Overseas Highway to Key West.
–Jerrica Mah is a writer, Army wife, and freelance book editor, who loves to travel with her family.
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