KEY LARGO -- In 1947, movie director John Huston and scriptwriter Richard Brooks traveled to the Upper Keys town of Rock Harbor, where they persuaded the Caribbean Club’s owner to open the motel that always was shuttered during the slow, hot summers.
There, under the shade of coconut palms and between trips to the club’s not-so-secret gambling room, the duo reworked a play by Maxwell Anderson. The result: Key Largo, which would star Humphrey Bogart.
Bogie’s star appeal instantly put the fledgling Upper Keys community on the map — so much so that Rock Harbor leaders in 1952 officially changed the town’s post office name to Key Largo. Now, more than a half century since Bogart’s death in 1957, he’s still a big draw for the island town — even though the big screen legend never set foot in Key Largo and the movie was shot almost entirely at Warner Bros. Studios in Hollywood.
Bogie buffs from at least eight countries and 32 states are gathering in Key Largo for the inaugural Humphrey Bogart Film Festival, which runs Thursday through Sunday.
“It’s just a perfect place to hold the festival,” said festival host Stephen Bogart, the eldest child of Bogart and Lauren Bacall. “Key Largo is obviously one of my mother and father’s greatest movies.”
It’s fitting as well because Key Largo is home to the African Queen. Aboard the 30-foot riverboat, Bogart and Katherine Hepburn acted many scenes while on location in Africa for the 1951 movie of the same name. The boat has been around the world, but it is now permanently docked at the marina next to the Holiday Inn at mile marker 100 of the Overseas Highway.
Last year, Lance and Suzanne Holmquist spent $70,000 to restore the boat for its 100th birthday. The rope fender rail and operating steam boiler make it easy to envision gin-swigging Capt. Charlie Allnut (Bogart) pulling the African Queen through leech-infested waters of the Ulanga River with the encouragement of prim but gutsy missionary Rose Sayer (Hepburn).
Stephen Bogart attended the boat’s centennial celebration, getting a cruise through Key Largo’s canals.
There, Bogart talked with Suzanne Holmquist and others about holding a film festival. “We decided, ‘Let’s pick a date and let’s do it,’ ” Bogart said.
While Bogie made 75 feature films during his nearly 30-year movie career, only 10 will be shown at the inaugural event: 1942 best picture winner Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, In a Lonely Place, High Sierra, Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Dark Passage, The Big Sleep, The Petrified Forest, African Queen and Key Largo.
This festival also will screen 10 other movies dating to the 1940s that fit this year’s theme: film noir.
The non-Bogart films: Double Indemnity, Memento, Cape Fear, Brick, Drive, L.A. Confidential, Blood Simple, Chinatown, Body Heat and Sunset Boulevard.
With only one movie theatre in the Upper Keys, festival organizers got creative and will show films at eight venues — including John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park.
Rare Bogart memorabilia also will be on view for free at the Holiday Inn. Among the items: the wedding ring Bogart gave Bacall, a century-old sailing stopwatch, original Time magazine paintings of Bogart, antique movie posters and original cartoon frames of Bogart and Bacall.