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Films that captured the essence of the Sunshine State recently featured 50 Movies for 50 States, naming films that capture the flavor of their settings. • Florida's pick was Key Largo, a 1948 film noir with Humphrey Bogart holding hotel guests hostage during a hurricane. • Nice try. • Key Largo is a fine film but not the best choice to represent Florida's rich culture and history (except the hurricane part). Any state so wacky that it gets its own tag on deserves better. Like these choices, from a homeboy:

Sunshine State (2002)

The story: Creeping development of a coastal town brings out the best and worst in a cross-section of Floridians.

Feels like Florida because: John Sayles writes characters speaking authentically about what matters, in this case, Florida.

Locales: Weeki Wachee State Park, Amelia Island, Fernandina Beach, Jacksonville.

Sunshine statement: A prosperous developer (Alan King) surveys his lush golf course that replaced a mangrove swamp: "It's nature on a leash."

Scarface (1983)

The story: Cuban petty crook Tony Montana (Al Pacino) reaches Miami during the Mariel boat lift and becomes a cocaine kingpin.

Feels like Florida because: Oliver Stone depicts the decade's decadence in garish neon and pastels.

Locales: Lots of South Beach, plus the Fontainebleau resort. Stroll down Ocean Drive where Montana kills the guy who chainsawed his partner.

Sunshine statement: "You wanna waste my time? Okay. I call my lawyer. He's the best lawyer in Miami. He's such a good lawyer, that by tomorrow morning, you gonna be working in Alaska. So dress warm."

Where the Boys Are (1960)

The story: College coeds spend spring break in Fort Lauderdale, finding love and heartbreak.

Feels like Florida because: Swimsuits are skimpier and vices more plentiful but spring break is still as annual as orange blossoms.

Locales: Fort Lauderdale before developers. The Wreck Bar where a drunk (Jim Hutton) dives to grope a mermaid still has underwater shows.

Sunshine statement: "Gentlemen, the city of Fort Lauderdale is once again under fire from the north. . . . I'd like to give you a little rundown on what to expect. Expect anything. Anything and everything because that's what you're gonna get."

The Cocoanuts (1929)

The story: The Marx Brothers run a bankrupt Florida hotel, with Groucho selling bogus real estate during the land boom.

Feels like Florida because: Those who laughed at history were doomed to repeat it.

Locales: The Cocoanuts was filmed entirely at Paramount's studio in Queens, N.Y.

Sunshine statement: "You can have any kind of a home you want. You can even get stucco. Oh, how you can get stucco."

Body Heat (1981)

The story: A seedy lawyer (William Hurt) plays deadly games with a married woman (Kathleen Turner) and an arsonist (Mickey Rourke).

Feels like Florida because: The screen practically sweats, set during a heat wave so vivid that viewers need deodorant.

Locales: Hollywood (the one in Florida), Delray Beach, Palm Beach and Lake Worth.

Sunshine statement: "It's the Seawater Inn (burning). My family used to eat dinner there 25 years ago. Now somebody's torched it to clear the lot. It's a shame. My history is burning up out there."

Follow That Dream (1962)

The story: An itinerant family homesteads on a Florida highway, angering racketeers using the same loopholes. Elvis Presley sings and swings his way out of it.

Feels like Florida because: It adores a time when Florida was everyone's idea of paradise, and officials kept up with the crush.

Locales: Travel through Inglis on Follow That Dream Boulevard to find the causeway where Elvis filmed. Other sites include Inverness, Crystal River, Ocala and Yankeetown.

Sunshine statement: Elvis spent downtime in his air-conditioned Cadillac when temperatures hit triple digits. He changed sweaty shirts 22 times for one scene.

Beneath the 12-Mile Reef (1953)

The story: Greek sponge divers (Gilbert Roland, Robert Wagner) battle Anglo "conch heads" for the best harvesting beds.

Feels like Florida because: It's a time capsule of Tarpon Springs' uniquely Greek culture, featuring a staged Epiphany Day dive.

Locales: Tarpon Springs before tourism, with Key West subbing in some scenes.

Sunshine statement: "And then there's the reef. Bright coral, like a garden full of flowers. The deeper you go, the more beautiful it is. The light gets dim, like in a church, almost. I guess you don't want to come up."

Steve Persall can be reached at or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at

Films that captured the essence of the Sunshine State 07/15/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 15, 2009 1:33pm]
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