High Sierra (film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Raoul Walsh|
|Produced by||Mark Hellinger|
|Written by||W.R. Burnett|
|Screenplay by||John Huston
|Based on||High Sierra (novel)|
|Music by||Adolph Deutsch|
|Editing by||Jack Killifer|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|Release date(s)||January 21, 1941
|Running time||100 minutes|
High Sierra (1941) is an early heist film and film noir written by W.R. Burnett and John Huston from the novel by Burnett. The movie features Ida Lupino and Humphrey Bogart and was directed by Raoul Walsh on location at Whitney Portal, halfway up Mount Whitney in the Sierra Nevada of California.
The screenplay was co-written by John Huston, Bogart's friend and drinking partner, adapted from the novel by William R. Burnett (also known for, among others, Little Caesar and Scarface). The film cemented a strong personal and professional connection between Bogart and Huston. The film is also notable as the breakthrough in Bogart's career, transforming him from supporting player to leading man, and his success in High Sierra would lead to his being cast in many of his iconic roles.
The film was noted for its extensive location shooting, especially in the climactic final scenes, as the authorities pursue Bogart's character, gangster "Mad Dog" Roy Earle, from Lone Pine up to the foot of the mountain.
An aged gangster, Big Mac (Donald MacBride), is planning a robbery at a California resort in Palm Springs. He wants the experienced Roy Earle (Humphrey Bogart), just released from an eastern prison by a governor's pardon, to lead the heist and to take charge of the operation.
Roy drives across the country to a camp in the mountains to meet up with the three men who will assist him in the heist: Louis Mendoza (Cornel Wilde), who works in the resort, plus Red (Arthur Kennedy) and Babe (Alan Curtis), who are already living at the camp. Babe has brought along a young woman, Marie (Ida Lupino). Roy wants to send Marie back to Los Angeles; but, after some argument, she convinces Roy to let her stay. Roy also is adopted by a small dog called Pard, played by Bogart's own dog, Zero.
Marie falls in love with Roy as he plans and executes the robbery, but he does not reciprocate. On the drive up to the mountains, Roy met the family of Velma (Joan Leslie), a young woman with a deformed foot who walks with a limp. Roy pays for corrective surgery to allow Velma to walk normally. While she is recovering, Roy asks Velma to marry him; but she refuses, explaining that she is engaged to a man from back home. When Velma's fiancé arrives, Roy turns to Marie, and they become lovers.
The heist goes wrong when they are interrupted by a security guard. Mendoza, Red, and Babe are involved in a car accident; Red and Babe die, and Mendoza talks to the police.
While Roy and Marie leave town, a dragnet is put out for him, identifying him to the public as "Mad Dog Roy Earle". The two fugitives separate in order to allow Marie time to escape. Roy is pursued until he climbs one of the Sierra mountains, where he holes up overnight.
Shortly after sunrise, Roy trades shots with the police. He hears Pard barking, runs out calling Marie's name and is shot dead from behind by a sharpshooter.
- Ida Lupino as Marie
- Humphrey Bogart as Roy Earle
- Alan Curtis as Babe
- Arthur Kennedy as Red
- Joan Leslie as Velma
- Henry Hull as Doc Banton
- Henry Travers as Pa
- Jerome Cowan as Healy
- Minna Gombell as Mrs. Baughmam
- Barton MacLane as Jake Kranmer
- Elisabeth Risdon as Ma
- Cornel Wilde as Louis Mendoza
- Donald MacBride as Big Mac
- Paul Harvey as Mr. Baughmam
- Isabel Jewell as Blonde
- Willie Best as Algernon
- Spencer Charters as Ed
- George Meeker as Pfiffer
Actor George Raft was originally intended to play the Bogart part. However, Bogart, who took a great interest in playing the role of Roy Earle, managed to talk Raft out of accepting the role. Raft subsequently turned it down.
Bogart had to persuade director Walsh to hire him for the role since Walsh envisioned Bogart as a supporting player rather than a leading man.
Bogart's character's dog, "Pard," was erroneously believed by some to be canine actor "Terry" ("Toto" from The Wizard of Oz). In fact, it is Bogart's own dog, Zero. In the final scene, Buster Wiles, a stunt performer, plays Roy's corpse. His hand is filled with biscuits to encourage Pard to lick Roy's hand.
Many key shots of the movie were made on location in the Sierra Nevada. In a climactic scene, Bogart's character slid 90 feet (27 m) down a mountainside to his just reward. His stunt double, Wiles, bounced a few times going down the mountain and wanted another take to do better. "Forget it," said Raoul Walsh. "It's good enough for the 25-cent customers."
Critical reception 
Critic Bosley Crowther liked the acting in the picture, and wrote, "As gangster pictures go, this one has everything—speed, excitement, suspense and that ennobling suggestion of futility which makes for irony and pity. Mr. Bogart plays the leading role with a perfection of hard-boiled vitality, and Ida Lupino, Arthur Kennedy, Alan Curtis and a newcomer named Joan Leslie handle lesser roles effectively. Especially, is Miss Lupino impressive as the adoring moll. As gangster pictures go—if they do— it's a perfect epilogue. Count on the old guard and Warners: they die but never surrender."
Time magazine reviewed the film when released as having "less of realistic savagery than of the quaint, nostalgic atmosphere of costume drama." The reviewer noted, "What makes High Sierra something more than a Grade B melodrama is its sensitive delineation of Gangster Earle's character. Superbly played by Actor Bogart, Earle is a complex human being, a farmer boy who turned mobster, a gunman with a string of murders on his record who still is shocked when newsmen call him "Mad-Dog" Earle. He is kind to the mongrel dog (Zero) that travels with him, befriends a taxi dancer (Ida Lupino) who becomes his moll, goes out of his way to help a crippled girl (Joan Leslie). All Roy Earle wants is freedom. He finds it for good on a lonely peak in the mountains."
The film was remade twice:
- As the 1949 western Colorado Territory starring Joel McCrea and Virginia Mayo, also directed by Raoul Walsh.
- In 1955 as I Died a Thousand Times starring Jack Palance and Shelley Winters, and directed by Stuart Heisler.
It was also adapted as a radio play on two broadcasts of The Screen Guild Theater, first on January 4, 1942 with Humphrey Bogart and Claire Trevor, the second on April 17, 1944 with Bogart and Ida Lupino.
- High Sierra at the Internet Movie Database.
- Sperber, A.M. and Lax, Eric (1997). Bogart. New York: William Morrow & Co. p. 119. ISBN 0-688-07539-8.
- Meyers, Jeffrey (1997). Bogart: A Life in Hollywood. London: Andre Deutsch Ltd. p. 115. ISBN 0-233-99144-1.
- High Sierra at Film Reference.com
- Curtains for Roy Earle: The Story of 'High Sierra' (2003)
- Hughes, Howard (2006). Crime Wave. I.B.Tauris. p. 16. ISBN 978-1-84511-219-6. Retrieved 2008-04-17.
- Sperber, A.M. and Lax, Eric. Bogart, p. 127.
- Crowther, Bosley. The New York Times, film review, "High Sierra, Considers the Tragic and Dramatic Plight of the Last Gangster," January 25, 1941. Last accessed: January 29, 2008.
- Time. "The New Pictures," February 17, 1941. Last accessed: April 17, 2008.
- High Sierra at the Internet Movie Database
- High Sierra at AllRovi
- High Sierra at the TCM Movie Database
- High Sierra trailer at YouTube
- High Sierra on Screen Guild Theater: April 17, 1944