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*High Sierra* is almost excruciatingly important in the development of
cinema, laying to bed the "gangster picture" of the 1930's while
simultaneously giving birth to American film noir. Oh, and it made Humphrey
Bogart a major star while it was at it. Therefore, I'm not entirely sure
that your film collection, if you have one, can survive without
Based on a pulpy novel, it chronicles the story of Roy Earle, sprung from a life sentence in prison so that he can knock over a casino along the California-Nevada border. It's easy to miss, but notice the first minute of this picture closely: it's of course the Governor -- bought off by a mobster -- who gets Roy released from his life sentence, indicating that the corruption has finely infested the top of the social order. This is the usual tough-minded, whistle-blowing gangster-picture stuff that Warner Bros. specialized in. But there's also something else at work here, perhaps something new: one gets the sense that what happens to Roy in this movie has been engineered from On High, in advance . . . in other words, he's in the Jaws of Fate. And thus we're in the unforgiving world of Film Noir.
More than the opening scene, it's Bogart who almost single-handedly invents film noir with his groundbreaking work in *High Sierra*. Not cocky like Cagney and Muni, not psychopathic like the early Edward G. Robinson, not as smooth as Raft, Bogart is a ruthless professional with a wide stripe of sentimentality. His Roy never shirks from killing, but he doesn't get off on it. He's more a rebel than a gangster, a poetic soul denied respectability, a man longing for the innocence of his youth. Unfortunately, he thinks he finds in the personage of a transplanted Okie farm-girl (Joan Leslie) a reasonable facsimile of that innocence. Competing for his affections is Ida Lupino, a sour "dime-a-dance girl" who's been up, down, and around the block a time or three. She's the baggage that comes with the two new-generation hoods whom Bogart is assigned to babysit for the casino heist. Not until later in the picture does Bogart recognize Lupino's better suitability to his own temperament and experience. (They share in common, among other things, suicidal impulses, a desire to escape a corrupted world.)
Roy Earle was a new type of character -- the truly romantic criminal. Bogart would play variations on Earle throughout his career, though he rarely exceeded his triumph here. And while I've given the actor much of the credit, some more credit must be extended to the screenwriter, John Huston. *High Sierra* was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Oh, and did I mention that the movie -- aside from its importance in American film history, yadda yadda -- is quite simply a good time? Witty dialogue, great on-location direction by Raoul Walsh, a cute dog, and a climactic car chase that wouldn't be equaled until 1968's *Bullitt*, are just some of this movie's other virtues.
"High Sierra" was the film that changed the course of Bogart's career
and lifted him up to stardom
As Earle, Bogart was expanding on the criminal characterization he had already mastered in a dozen earlier films, giving it greater depth by adding contrasting elements of warmth and compassion to compensate the dominant violence
Bogart helps a clubfooted girl, Velma (Joan Leslie), who repays him only with disregard and indifference
Bogart's interpretation already showed signs of the special qualities that were to become an important part of his mystique in a few more films
Here, for the first time, was the human being outside society's laws who had his own private sense of loyalty, integrity, and honor Bogart's performance turns "High Sierra" into an elegiac film
As a film, "High Sierra" has other notable qualities, particularly Ida Lupino's strong and moving performance as Marie, the girl who brings out Roy Earle's more human emotions
The movie was remade as a Western, "Colorado Territory," with Joel McCrea and Virginia Mayo, and as a crime film in "I Died a Thousand Times," with Jack Palance and Shelley Winters in the Bogart and Lupino roles Neither came up to the stylish treatment given "High Sierra" by director Raoul Walsh from an exceptionally good script by John Huston and W. R. Burnett
W.R. Burnett's novel High Sierra is maybe his best book; it's certainly a
classic of its type, and very readable and moving even today. The movie
version of the book isn't quite as good, but it does something few
adaptations do: it captures the spirit of the original.
The story is about a John Dillinger-like criminal, Roy Earle, just released from prison, and his planning of his last 'heist', as he moves from the Midwest to California. It's as much a character study as anything else, and here the book is better, as Burnett seems to get inside the heart and soul of Roy Earle in ways that screenwriter John Huston and director Raoul Walsh can't. This isn't their fault. Burnett gives us Earle's inner life in interior monologues, and movies simply can't do this. Nevertheless, we get a feeling for Earle, a lonely, extremely sentimental and romantic man, essentially a frontier type, or with more brains an artist, who cannot fit into modern life. The reason is simple: he doesn't understand it. He is driven by two things, strong emotions and extreme professionalism. The problem is that his profession is crime. Between these two extremes he is unsocialized, or rather doesn't understand the subtlety of contemporary life. To put it in current parlance, he's not hip, which is to say he has no detachment, no capacity for pulling back and reflecting, unless, that is, he is in love, and even then he gets it wrong by misunderstanding an attractive, crippled girl's reliance on him for love, and taking her country girl disposition for naivite (i.e. like him), which isn't true. This tragic aspect of Roy Earle is beautifully and perceptively described by Burnett, and while it's present in the film, it makes Roy seem obtuse, while the truth is his emotions run deep, and are sincere. He wants to give up crime and marry a small-town girl so that he can go back and get it right again. In the lead role Humphrey Bogart gives a major performance. Superficially he's wrong for Roy Earle: too urban, flip, smart and clever. But he trades in his natural big city persona for a moony, brooding romanticism, and it works. He doesn't seem the least bit sophisticated, and in his quieter moments he comes off like a man who can kill the way other men write checks
He has a true girl-friend in Ida Lupino, but he doesn't realize that she's more his type: life-weary, straightforward, deep and caring. He prefers the one he can't get, and this gets him in trouble, as his commitment to her puts him in a dreamy, dissociative state that is dangerous for a man in his line of work. The story builds on little things, and the bucolic mountain and small-town setting of the film is terra incognita for Roy, and we sense this even if he doesn't. He is, for all his professionalism, way out of his league, and is looking back to his idealized, romanticized early life, and longing for an ideal girl that he can 'fix', rather than doing the right thing and going off with Lupino and stating anew, which is his only chance for happiness.
Roy is a man who lives in two parallel worlds, the real, vicious one he must cope with, and the fantasy one he longs for and sees in the crippled girl he so tenderly loves. There is no in-between for him, as his head is in the clouds much of the time. It is therefore fitting that the movie ends up literally in the clouds, or so it seems, atop a mountain, as Roy shoots it out with reality one last time.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Everything that was good about the Warner Brothers' machine comes
together here. A gangster movie, "High Sierra" doesn't fit the template
of earlier ones like "Public Enemy", "Little Caesar" or "The Petrified
Forest." Roy Earle is a remarkably complicated character. In love with
a shallow girl, he eventually comes to accept the affections of Ida
Lupino and, finally, the mongrel Pard, who proves his undoing. Bogart
could be pretty good as a comedic actor but you wouldn't know it from
his performance here, which is the working out of a tragedy.
The script is by John Huston and it shows. He was a good writer. That little lesson Earl teaches the youngsters about how a Thompson submachine gun goes off (he taps his fingers three times on the table) is memorable. There are other good lines. Bogart and the young girl have a folksy little exchange about how, if you watch the stars long enough, you can almost feel the earth turning beneath you. The Doc, Henry Hull, describes Earle as "rushing towards death." Okay, Dillinger said it first, but it was Huston who put it in the script.
Mediocre score but good photography. Skidding cars leave clouds of dust during the final chase. (The road to Whitney Portals is now paved.) And without intending to, the movie makes one nostalgic for the simpler world of 1941. Not simply unpaved roads, but a different world all around. When was the last time we saw a "small town" that was not a bedroom community, part of urban sprawl?
A good movie. Catch it if you can.
Aw, the film that launched stardom for Humphrey Bogart and changed him
from the perpetual villain to the "good guy."
The movie doesn't feature a lot of action but it keeps your interest. You have two women in here: the hard-boiled Ida Lupino and the soft-and-sweet Joan Leslie. Both are entertaining to watch and both demonstrate a few surprises in the personalities of the characters they are playing. Bogart does the same: goes back and forth between tough guy and softy.
Another key member of this unusual crime story/film noir is "Pard:" a little dog! Human supporting roles are supplied by some familiar and solid actors such as Arthur Kennedy, Alan Curtis, Henry Hull, Henry Travers, Barton MacLane and Cornel Wilde. Most of the people in here, including "Pard," are that endearing but there are so many different angles to this story, it's always interesting to see.
The first thing to bear in mind is that there are actually TWO
movies."High sierra" and its western remake "Colorado territory"
(1949),both Walsh 's works.The latter is probably superior to the
former,since the final is more impressive,but you should not
underestimate it though;Humphrey Bogart is much better than Joel McCrea
and Ida Lupino is at least as good as Virginia Mayo:actually,except for
Lauren Bacall,Ingrid Bergman and Katherine Hepburn,rarely a Bogart's
female partner had such an intensity,such a presence :sometimes she
even steals the show,particularly in the last scenes.
There are two female parts in Walsh's movie -as in the remake,in which the second one is played by none other than Dorothy Malone- Lupino's bad gal with a strong heart,whose stature keeps on growing during the whole movie:a gangster's moll at the beginning of the story,she becomes a tragic character whose pursuit of happiness is moving at the end.On the other hand the crippled girl,who seems a sweet ,romantic (check the scene of the stars),and touching heroine,becomes an hateful silly goose when she's had the operation.And she 's changed physically as well:she grew into a sophisticated girl,we hardly know her in her last scene.
The car chases are masterfully filmed ,the grandiose landscapes lovingly filmed as if they were seen through Bogart's eye ,this man who had been in jail for a long time and who longed for freedom...this freedom he would earn anyway.Ida Lupino's last words will move you to tears.
Bogey is picked to lead a jewel heist at a resort. When he meets the rag
team he has to work with, he senses trouble brewing. This is the film that
brought attention to Bogart's leading man skills and Huston's peerless
writing. Many remember the classic ending with Bogart hiding out in the
mountains for one final stand against the law (and fate). Ida Lupino is
of my favorite actresses from the 40's and does fine work here (and looks
stunning). Many fine moments with Bogey...including a memorable speech
within his cabin hideout. This is one of the best portraits of a desperate
outlaw in film history. A blueprint for all the antihero films that would
follow over the years...great fun! Seek it out and enjoy!
Even aside from its impact on Humphrey Bogart's career and on the noir
genre, "High Sierra" is an entertaining and interesting movie that is
worth seeing in its own right. Bogart's portrayal of Roy Earle, along
with Ida Lupino, a talented supporting cast, and some well-chosen
settings, are all fit together nicely to tell an interesting story.
Though it's hard now to experience Bogart's gangster roles as they would have appeared to their original audiences, it's still easy to see why this and similar roles attracted so much attention at the time. The character is interesting to begin with, and Bogart makes him even more so. The tension between Earle's ruthlessness and his sense of fairness, and between his desires and his practicality, makes for some interesting possibilities.
Bogart makes good use of these opportunities with his distinctive style. The other characters and the plot developments furnish plenty of material that develop Earle's character and give Bogart lots to work with. Even the sequences that might seem unlikely or out of place are used to add depth to the character and the story.
The climactic sequence in the mountains ties everything together nicely, in a very appropriate setting. "High Sierra" is the kind of movie that classic movie fans can enjoy both for the chance to see its influence on later movies and for its own interesting and well-crafted story.
Humphrey Bogart's screen name in High Sierra is Roy 'Mad Dog' Earle.
But it's clear from the outset that if Bogart is anything he's not
crazy. Bogart may have been a wild guy in his youth, but he's now a
middle-aged man who is fully aware that he can't do anything else, but
continue in a life crime. He's got the resume and the reputation for
that and nothing else. What else can he do, but accept an offer to crew
chief a heist at an expensive resort hotel in Nevada.
He can't pick the men he'd like, they're probably all dead or in the joint. He gets some young punks assigned to him by Barton MacLane who is acting as a middleman for boss Donald MacBride out on the west coast. Bogey gets Alan Curtis, Arthur Kennedy, and an informant at the hotel, Cornel Wilde. Curtis and Kennedy are getting their hormones in overdrive over Ida Lupino.
On the way west Bogey meets up with a near do well family headed by Henry Travers and he starts crushing out on teenager Joan Leslie. They represent to him a simpler time before he took up crime as a living.
The first half of the film sets up the characters, the second part is the robbery and it's aftermath. In that second half High Sierra moves at a really good clip. Not too many went out for popcorn when it was shown in theaters back in the day.
High Sierra was one of three films that George Raft turned down and were given to Humphrey Bogart that established him as a leading man. The other two were The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca. Raft must have had some agent back in the day.
Of course Bogart is playing a gangster, but this one is a three dimensional character and a fine piece of work. It represented a big advance from some of the villains he played at Warner Brothers during the late Thirties.
High Sierra was directed by Raoul Walsh and another Hollywood icon director, John Huston, co-wrote the screenplay. There's a lot of similarity with this and Huston's later classic, The Asphalt Jungle.
High Sierra was remade twice, as a western with the miscast Joel McCrea in Bogart's role and in the Fifties as I Died a Thousand Times with Jack Palance. I daresay it could be made again quite easily for this generation, it's story is timeless.
It is a great Bogart vehicle. But what makes Bogart look good is the fine
screenplay. Not having read Burnett's book is a disadvantage for me to judge
the contribution of Burnett and John Huston to the screenplay. Being
familiar with Huston's screenplays, I tend to think it was Huston who
probably made all the difference to the screenplay.
Huston loved to play on the good side of men that became sometimes comical and sometimes their folly. In "High Sierra" the goodness in the "mad dog" is played up: the bad guy looks good. Huston did that with aplomb in "The Man who would be King". At the same time he reverses the role of the poor girl with the clubfoot into an ungrateful woman. Only animals remain the same...
The lines are made for Bogart's style. The direction of Walsh is not bad but not striking either. I will remember the film for the strong screenplay alone, without which the film would have floundered.
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