Hollywood Flashback: In 1948, a Hurricane Hit Bogart and Bacall in 'Key Largo'

Warner Bros./Photofest
Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart, who had gotten married three years earlier, weathered the storm in 'Key Largo.'

The John Huston-directed film noir saw the two stars locked together inside of a Florida Keys hotel room while a storm bore down on the island.

In Hollywood's portrayal of natural disasters, hurricanes have trailed earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, epidemics and even tidal waves. But one storm movie ranks as a classic — Key Largo.

The Hollywood Reporter called the John Huston film noir "a tense and vigorous drama that is inevitably headed for a leading position on Warners' list of top grossers this year." (It took in $8.1 million domestic — $82 million today — and ranked 12th among all films in 1948.) Largo's plot centered on a World War II veteran (Humphrey Bogart, then 48) visiting a Florida Keys hotel run by an Army buddy's widow (Lauren Bacall, then 23).

While an anonymous hurricane (giving storms names like Harvey and Irma didn't begin until 1950) bears down on the island, the vet reluctantly realizes he'll have to battle a gangster (Edward G. Robinson) who has arrived to ride out the storm.

"It's the classic doorless-room movie," says Eric Lax, co-author of Bogart. "The protagonists are involuntarily locked together, and something has to explode. The emotional storm inside the room reflects the physical storm outside."

For the first six weeks of Key Largo's run at New York's Strand Theatre, the Count Basie Orchestra with Billie Holiday performed before each screening in an arrangement then known as a "flesh-pic combo." They did five 45-minute sets daily, and Holiday was paid $3,878 a week ($39,000 today). 

This story first appeared in the Sept. 13 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.