A Brief Guide To Key West's Movie Career

2.24.2013

By Andrew Belonsky

Ten movies and one television show that capture Key West's acting range.

Key West's actually quite the versatile actor. It can be adventurous, dangerous and exotic, as seen in the romance Reap the Wild Wind, the second movie to be filmed there. Key West can also be dark and gritty, as in the 1948 noir flick Key Largo, starring then-married couple Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. And that same landscape can even lend itself to comedy, as in Operation Petticoat.

In some cases the city's landmarks are prominently featured, helping drive the story, like when License to Kill-era James Bond and M had their secret rendezvous at Hemingway House, the Whitehead Street structure author Ernest called home from 1931 until 1939. (Other times Key West's pushed to the side, and even covered up: it played the role of Mississippi in the film adaptation of Key West pioneer Tennessee Williams' The Rose Tattoo.)

Perhaps Key West's best attribute, even more refreshing than the tropical locale, is its willingness to embrace its reputation as a b-list, inferior Miami spin-off, both for dramatic effect, as in the 1992 Goldie Hawn flick CrissCross, and comedic -- it shined in the latter for its turn in the 1986 Gregory Hines and Billy Crystal romp Running Scared and Russkies, one of the films in which Joaquin Phoenix is credited as "Leaf," a name picked to match elemental siblings Rain and River.

The same downtrodden, somewhat pathetic aura found in CrissCross can also be seen, however unintentionally, in the hideous and fantastic Monster Fish, a 1984 Jaws rip-off best known by its other name, Devil Fish.

The biggest boom in Key West-set films came in the 1990s, when in addition to CrissCross, a series of high-profile productions set up shop on the islands. True Lies, Speed 2, Drop Zone, and Up Close and Personal, to name a few. The John Goodman picture Matinee was also filmed and set in Key West, though not in the 1990s. It takes place during the Cuban Missile Crisis. In more recent years, the films Red Dragon, Meet the Fockers, Act of Valor and I am Number Four with Timothy Olyphant and Alex Pettyfer have set up shop in the Keys.

While television occasionally dips its toes into Key West's waters — an episode of The L Word and for MTV's entire seventeenth season of The Real World — any and all television shows filmed or set in Key Wes all fail to measure up to the only show to make this list, the quirky and sadly short-lived 1993 Fox comedy-drama Key West, starring Jennifer Tilly.

Here, in chronological order, 10 movies — and one television show — straight out of the Keys.

1. Reap the Wild Wind, 1942:

2. Key Largo, 1948:

3. Operation Petticoat, 1959:

4. All Fall Down, 1962:

5. Russkies, 1975:

6. Devil Fish, 1984:

7. Running Scared, 1986:

8. License to Kill, 1989:

9. CrissCross, 1992:

10. Matinee, 1993:

11. Key West, 1993:

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