Humphrey Bogart and Ida Lupino star in this tragic study of an American gangster whose hard-boiled persona finds itself at war with his compassionate side - a side that ultimately will be his downfall.
"I wouldn't give you two cents for a dame without a temper."
cookieman108 | Inside the jar... | 04/01/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"High Sierra (1941) is considered by most to be Humphrey Bogart's first real, breakout role, playing a part that wasn't initially offered to him. Bogart, the fifth member of Warner Brothers famous 'Murderers Row', came into the role of Roy 'Mad Dog' Earle only after fellow 'Row' members Paul Muni and George Raft didn't accept the part, one disagreeing on the script and subsequent changes, and the other being talked out of taking the part by Bogart, respectively. Bogart, who hadn't quite reached the level of big name star by this point, as evident to second billing to costar Ida Lupino, wanted the role badly, as he knew the character of Earle was something he could really sink his teeth into, and showcase his talent to the world.
As I said, Bogart plays Roy 'Mad Dog' Earle, a convicted bank robber serving a lengthy prison term, a life sentence, if I'm not mistaken, who has just been released. We soon find that Roy's early release isn't due to parole for good behavior, but strings pulled by his old boss, Big Mac (Donald MacBride). Seems Big Mac has a score in California that he wants Roy in on, so Roy leaves the Midwest to make the connection. Along the way, Roy has a chance meeting with Pa Goodhue (Henry Travers), a farmer who lost his farm, and is now traveling west with his wife and his clubfooted granddaughter Velma (Joan Leslie), who we will see again later. On reaching the Sierra mountains, Roy meets with the other members of the criminal enterprise Big Mac has arranged, two younger, hot-tempered men, Babe and Red, who have a have a female companion, Marie, played by Ida Lupino. Roy objects to having a woman around, as it's just an unnecessary complication. Marie manages to get Roy to change his mind, as she despises the thought of having to return to her previous career of dancing in a two-bit hall with men for a quarter a dance. Soon Roy learns of the score, and things seem easy enough, but even the simplest plans can go awry.
Directed by actor/writer/director/producer Raoul Walsh, High Sierra is a rich, tense noir crime drama based on a novel by W.R. Burnett and adapted for the screen by Burnett and legendary director/actor/writer/producer John Huston. Bogart really adds depth to his character of Roy, presenting the duality of a seemingly cold-blooded killer who has a soft side. That certainly doesn't mean he's soft, especially when someone gets in the way of his plans. Presented is a character who knows his time is past, and is looking to make his way out, and having thoughts of a future that will never be...and then settling for less than he hoped for, not realizing that maybe that was even too much to hope for...the supporting cast was wonderful, but I found the sort of pseudo comic relief of the character Algernon, a black worker at the fishing camp Roy and his small gang hole up before the score, played by Willie Best, a bit awkward. At the time, it was probably more acceptable, but the stereotyping may chaff contemporary audiences. A minor point, but one I hope wouldn't sour potential viewers from seeking out this film. I just try to understand it for what it was and is, a form of ignorance that has, hopefully, long since past. Best to acknowledge it happened and move on. What I found really interesting was how the noir concept was flawlessly transplanted from dark city streets to the majestic Sierra mountains on the Neveda /California border. Another thing I really loved was the snappy exchanges and use of gangster colloquialisms. The dialogue zings along, just adding a real element of fun to the movie, despite the drama nature of the material.
The picture quality here is beautiful, and the audio sounds wonderful. I was also pleased to see an excellent featurette called "Curtains for Roy Earle", which talks about how Bogart got the role in the movie, his minor skirmish with the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), and the film in general. Also included is a theatrical trailer for the film. If you're a fan of Humphrey Bogart, High Sierra is a must see film. If you like good movies in general, you won't be disappointed here. While the role of Roy `Mad Dog' Earle may not be the one most remember Bogart for, it certainly confirmed his status as an actor in every sense of the word, and served well to showcase his talent and made him a star. Another film soon to follow, The Maltese Falcon (1941) took the star and made him a legend.
A fitting end to the Golden Age of the gangster film
Robert Moore | Chicago, IL USA | 02/21/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This film in many ways is the culmination of the Golden Age of the gangster film. At the same time it is the true beginning of Humphrey Bogart's star career. After a string of gangster films in the thirties, all demonstrating graphically that crime really didn't pay, we get this great film, in which it not only doesn't pay, but doesn't lead to happiness, either. Unlike most of the great gangster characters of the 1930s, Roy "Mad Dog" Earle has an atypical degree of complexity and depth. He is tired of his life, and would like to very much live a different one. He meets two women, one who is a product of the kind of life he would like to escape, and another, who is young, innocent, beautiful, and a symbol of everything he would love to rediscover. Much of the movie's power and poignancy derives from these dual relationships, as he realizes the life he would like to have is denied him, while at the same time not valuing the love of a woman who doesn't represent a new way of life, but who nonetheless truly and genuinely cares for him. It ends a tragic love triangle.The movie features a host of superb actors from Warner Brothers stable of contract players. The always-underrated Ida Lupino (who was also an accomplished director of "B" pictures) excells as Marie Garson, while 16-year-old Joan Leslie is perfect as the young, innocent girl Roy Earle wants to help. The rest of the cast is filled by such superb character talents as Henry Travers, Arthur Kennedy, Jerome Cowan, Henry Hull, Barton MacLane, and a very young Cornel Wilde.The other thing that really makes this film stand out is the remarkable on location scenes in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Almost all gangster films of the thirties were shot entirely on movie sets, and very, very few were shot outdoors. In this one, numerous scenes were shot in various locations in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and elsewhere, and this lends an atmosphere unique to the era. Also, setting it in California rather than New York or Chicago enhances the story. The final, climatic scenes with Bogart trying to escape from the police by heading into the mountains is a classic.Bogart went on to make more gangster films in his career, most notably THE DESPERATE HOURS, but in many ways this film signaled the end of the Golden Age of the genre. Although up to this point his career had primarily consisted of portraying gangsers, henceforward he would more often be associated with detectives or men of action. A great film in every way."
Classic gangster Bogart
Alan W. Armes | Mountain Home, Arkansas USA | 03/20/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"this is one of Bogart's earlier great performances which aided in launching his career to the legendary performances he became most renowned for. this is the classic 'gangster with a heart' Bogart. it is an absolute must for any Bogart fan.
as for the DVD,excellent picture and sound. also included is a short duocumentary entitled "Curtains For Roy Earle"."
For the final scene alone
Shalom Freedman | Jerusalem,Israel | 05/22/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Others have written how this movie was a 'breakout' movie for Bogart. Others have analyzed the complex character he plays, a hardened criminal who nonetheless has a compassionate side. I found the heart- wrenching part of the movie its final scene , one of death and separation and grief presented in a truly desolating way. In my mind is the image of Ida Lupino, the little dog after the Earle- Bogart main character has been killed. What struck me forcibly when I watched this as a very young person was that it did not have a 'happy ending' and the thought that life might not , deeply disturbed at the time."
The First Great Bogart Performance
John McElwee | North Carolina USA | 07/10/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The formula Warner crime dramas of the thirties and forties are many in number --- those that rose above the formula are few, but remarkable --- "High Sierra" is one of these --- truly a rose among a lot of thorns. Bogart himself had been pricked by a number of those --- "King Of The Underworld", "Invisible Stripes", many others --- he would even draw short straws again with "The Big Shot" (hard to believe Warner's would squander him in something like that AFTER "High Sierra" and "The Maltese Falcon"). In fact, Bogart's work load was so heavy at this time, it's doubtful anyone within the studio took notice of his great Roy Earle performance until "High Sierra's" release and the resulting laudatory reviews for the (co)star. The fact that he was assigned to (and refused) "Badmen Of Missouri" just after completing "High Sierra" demonstrates just how obtuse Warner's could be in failing to recognize a maturing talent they'd so far taken for granted. Bogart's Roy Earle is, in fact, one of the most sympathetic badmen ever brought to the screen --- his interpretation so affecting that at least one patron complained that the film was a glorification of crime and criminals (which it certainly is not). This is the emergance of the Bogart persona as we know it --- and it's no coincidance to find John Huston's name among the writing credits. Considering this and Huston's later-in-the-same-year "Maltese Falcon", we can pretty much pinpoint the arrival of Humphrey Bogart as a major acting figure and mythic star. A script this good would have enhanced the career of any actor on the lot --- Muni, Raft, Robinson, any of these would have triumphed with such a part --- but none would have played it as movingly as Bogart --- he's just a revelation here --- nothing he'd done before approached this. The Warner production machinery was never more efficient --- Raoul Walsh's up-tempo direction sqeezes an amazing lot of narrative into a taut 100 minutes --- Hal Wallis, that most underappreciated of genius producers, can be credited with much of the picture's success (read Rudy Behlmer's great "Inside Warner Bros." and you'll see the extent of Wallis' contribution to WB's house-style) --- that a film could still have such vitality nearly sixty years after it's initial release is a tribute to the extraordinary talents that created it --- "High Sierra" is an absolute video must."