Movie fans who remember Key Largo primarily because it was the final screen pairing of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall should revisit the 1948 film noir to appreciate the dominant performance of Edward G. Robinson as a deported gangster. Anyone watching Robinson’s work in this picture and others released in that decade such as Scarlet Street, Night Has a Thousand Eyes, and The Woman in the Window cannot be blamed for wondering why this extraordinary actor was never even nominated for an Academy Award.
My inquiring mind asks a different question: What is it Johnny Rocco (Robinson) whispers in the ear of Nora Temple (Bacall)? It is usually accepted that the arrogant mobster was propositioning the war widow, perhaps even offering to take her with him when he left the island if she would become his moll. But actors who fire prop guns, use stand-ins and doubles for stunts, and feign drunkenness after swallowing colored water have no need to stick to a script for unheard dialogue. What did Eddie actually utter under his breath to Baby? Could it have been any of these unusual suspects?
“Don’t let Bogey get near that fan by the window or the toupee he has now he will have not.”
“Am I chewing up more cigars or scenery?”
“The Florida Chamber of Commerce offered me 20 grand to throw the picture.”
“Who is the joker in wardrobe who stenciled ‘Is this the end of Rocco?’ across the backside of my robe in my first scene?”
“The next time Jay Silverheels calls me Kemo Slobby, I’m gonna put out a contract on him with the Butch Cavendish gang.”
“When I slapped Bogey three times, I told him the last one was from Mayo.”
“I know you were moaning low here at Warner’s before Claire was, but the fix is in for her this year.”
“One thing I can’t stand is that old, wrinkled Indian dame gets a longer close-up than I do.”
“Thousands of guys like Steiner write movie music, but there’s only one Bertie Higgins.”
“The gaffer lights from the left and Freund shoots from up high so slouch to the west when you get ready to spit.”
“Think twice the next time Huston asks you and Bogey to go on location in a steam bath like this. You’d be half a nut to go with him and Bogey, why, he’d be allnut.”