High Sierra

High Sierra (1941) is a noir heist film released the same year as The Maltese Falcon, both of which star Humphrey Bogart, with John Huston writing both scripts (William R. Burnett also worked on the High Sierra script and wrote the novel). Interestingly, Ida Lupino received top billing for this one even though Bogie is in it way more and she plays a relatively minor role. She was better known at the time, or before The Maltese Falcon made Bogart a megastar, thus the top billing.

Directed by Raoul Walsh, High Sierra is the story of the hard-boiled Roy Earle, fresh out of the penitentiary when he's called on by gangster Big Mac to rob a resort. Earle apparently was based on real-life gangster John Dillinger, and Bogart plays the character with all the right edges, and soft spots. He appears small in a few scenes, but his bad-guy lines and the use of shadow help make him as tough as nails, not to be messed with. He gets sentimental after meeting a girl with a clubbed foot and later arranges for her to have surgery. He falls for her, or maybe for her innocence, which we can assume his own life has been devoid of. This makes his character complex, not just another baddie with only the score on his mind but rather a guy who's got layers, some cold, some warm.

For me, that's what made him compelling and the movie good. I didn't know which way the story would turn, either with Earle pursuing the country girl with the wonky foot or with him carrying out the heist and living a life, or ending it, on the run with his new moll, Marie (Lupino).

William R. Burnett wrote the novel High Sierra, which also came out in 1941. It's remarkable how fast they worked back then to churn out potboilers, screenplays and flicks, especially Huston, and also Burnett, who already had the novel Little Caesar (1929) and screenplay Scarface (1932) under his belt. Last thing, I thought Pard was a good ingredient for making High Sierra entertaining, more so if you're aware Bogart's actual dog, named Zero the Dog, played the role.

Humphrey Bogart on the set of High Sierra

Zero the Dog and Bogart

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