[box cover]

High Sierra

For Humphrey Bogart's career, 1941's High Sierra was a high-water mark. Though second-billed after Ida Lupino, it was this film that elevated him out of the rote-roles of second heavies in films like The Roaring Twenties and into his well-deserved leading-man status. And it's also a high point simply because it's one of his best. Sierra follows Bogey as Roy "Mad Dog" Earle as he gets pardoned via a corrupt mayor, only so he can go on a jewelry heist for his old boss Big Mac (Donald McBride). This means hiding out in a hunting village with his new partners, the lunky "Babe" Kozak (Alan Curtis) and the more talkative "Red" Hattery (Arthur Kennedy). The two picked up Marie (Lupino), a dime-a-dance girl whom Roy wants sent off, but she quickly worms her way into his good graces. But Earle has no interest in her romantically — his eyes are on the clubfooted Velma (Joan Leslie), who moved to California after her grandparents' farm went belly-up. Earle offers to fix her foot, and does, but Velma has a boyfriend back home. The heist looms, which seems a precursor to doom — the crew is inexperienced, Mac is deathly ill, and Earle has adopted a dog known to give fatal luck. Marking the end of a 10-year cycle of gangster pictures that had begun with titles like Little Caesar, High Sierra is the culmination of an era and a genre that progressed along with America's Depression-era fascination with gangsters and crooks. Their anti-hero status already cemented, it comes as no surprise that Sierra is a eulogy for Earle. As told by director Raoul Walsh, the outlaw is sympathetic because he is so obviously doomed; Walsh was one of the great cinema craftsman whose invisible touch left him to be taken for granted in America, a master of letting things play without getting in the way. Here that craftsmanship is remarkable: The noir fatalism plays well off of Bogey's natural affability. Working from a script by John Huston, Sierra also has one of the most perverse touches of its era — the harbinger for Earle's fate is a lovable mutt of a dog (which symbolizes both his soft side, and his weaknesses). It's a wonderful send-off to the genre, and a beautiful beginning to Bogart's leading-man career. Warner presents High Sierra in its Academy ratio (1.33:1) in monaural DD 1.0 audio. Extras include the 15-minute featurette "Curtains for Roy Earle" (which seems excerpted from a larger piece on Bogart) and the theatrical trailer. Snap-case.

Back to Quick Reviews Index: [A-F] [G-L] [M-R] [S-Z]

Back to Main Page