High Sierra (1941)

Mitchell said

I saw High Sierra (1941; Humphrey Bogart, Ida Lupino) for the first time since the summer of 1984. I’d forgotten almost everything about it, but really dug it this time around. Bogart plays a gangster (this is his last major gangster role) with some sensitivity. John Huston, who co-wrote the screenplay (he didn’t direct this) really gives Bogey some good scenes for establishing a depth of character you don’t see in these thirties-era gangster flicks. Bogart does a good job with the sensitive stuff and with the tough-guy stuff (which of course is why we love him). Lupino’s a bit over the top, but the nice surprise was Joan Leslie, to whom I guess I didn’t pay much attention when I was fifteen but wow.

Until High Sierra, Bogart was strictly a B-movie lead or a supporting, character actor in A-list films. This is the film that broke him out and sorta made him who he was. In fact, Lupino had top billing in this film; it was maybe the last time Bogey’s name wasn’t at the top of the marquee. He became really good friends with John Huston either during or just before the making of this film, which of course was huge for his career, but he also showed more range than other roles had allowed him, and Casablanca followed the next year.

This is a flawed film; there is some over-acting pretty much on everyone’s parts, but it is fun to watch and it has some really good moments. I give it a nice 6 objectively, but it’s so fun watching Bogey become Bogey here that it feels more like a 7.

3 Responses to “High Sierra (1941)”


  1. Reid

    6/10

    An OK film. There’s enough in it to make it worth watching, and at least one major weakness that prevents me from recommending it (unless you’re a Bogart fan). The film has a good qualities, like an interesting story and solid performance by Bogart. I think other idiots might like the film, but its not something I would urge people to see. I could have given this a 7, but I thought there were some aspects of the film that didn’t age well. Those elements, to my mind, would make hesitate in including it in the 1001 list.

    Btw, I had bigger problems with the resolution of the story than with the acting (more dated, than overacting?).

    **
    On the surface, the film is about a big heist, but it’s not really a heist picture. A big crime boss gets Roy Earle (Bogart) released from prison to pull of a robbery of a resort. Along the way, he strikes up a friendship with down-on-their-luck rural family and eventually falls in love with the grand-daugther (Joan Leslie).

    ***(spoilers)

    The most interesting part of story was this juxtaposition of the Earle’s criminal ways and his affection for the rural family he meets (which comes from his rural upbringing). As the film moves along, you know that these two parts of Earle will come crashing together. The contrast of the two worlds can also be seen in the two female characters competing for Earle’s attention–Marie (Lupino), the one associated with Earle’s seedier side and Velma (Leslie), representing his rural and more decent side. Lupino’s performance is the one that stood out for me. She has a strong presence on the screen, that is a match for Bogart’s, and her character is much more sympathetic than Velma. Her character, who associates with questionable characters out of a desperate escape from an abusive father, is a cliche, but I thought Lupino did a solid job of making me care about her.

    But Bogart performance is at the heart of the film. He has charisma, but what is amazing is his ability to believably play a vicious criminal in one scene and then, just as believably, play a kind-hearted small town guy in the next. Bogart’s charima made him a film star, but this ability to bring dark and light into his characters made him a very good actor. These qualities together made him special.

    Ultimately though, the film didn’t fully work for me. It started going down hill once we learn that Velma doesn’t really love Earle. Velma rejection of Earle has nothing to do with her learning about his criminal past (and present)–which causes the story to avoid the collision between Earle’s two worlds: the criminal and decent. The film would have been more tragic and compelling if the conflict came to a head: if Roy Earle had to make a choice between the two worlds. (I thought this was foreshadowed when the crime boss, Mac, reminds Roy to not let him down.) But Pa (Henry Travers, the guy who played the angel Clarence in It’s a Wonderful Life), Ma (Elisabeth Risdon) and Velma never learn about Roy, and once the film reveals this, the film became a waiting game for me–Roy was going to die probably at the hands of the police. How it was going to happen really didn’t matter to me, although I will say that I could see how the car chase scenes could have been pretty exciting for the 1941 audiences.

  2. Mitchell

    That dog in the film was Bogey’s own dog, by the way. I found that element of the plot to be distracting, unnecessary, and lame. But oh well.

  3. Reid

    (spoilers)

    What was the lame? Was it the fact that the dog was bad luck and lead to his death?

    What did you think of the ending where they portray Earle as being free? I thought it was a somewhat decent way to end a film where the character that the audience is probably rooting for dies, but, ulimately, the final act wasn’t very satisfying for the reasons I mentioned above.

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