High Sierra (1941)
Humphrey Bogart already had a hit under his belt—"The Maltese Falcon"—when "High Sierra" was released. I don't think any solitary movie could be identified as the turning point in the actor's career, but "High Sierra" certainly didn't do anything to hurt Bogart's popular appeal. The 40s would be good to Bogie, with such hits as "To Have and Have Not", "Casablanca", "The Big Sleep"; and it would all culminate a decade after the release of "High Sierra" when Bogart won his only Oscar for "The African Queen".
With such awards, it's easy to shrug off "High Sierra" as just part of Bogart's oeuvre; but it deserves much more than that. "High Sierra" is a work of true genius at moments, preceding the modern day gangster flick, reaffirming the fallen glory of the bad/good guy.
Bogart plays Roy Earle, a famous crook who is released from his life sentence in prison at the movie's opening. He is inducted back into the crime game and he is told to set up shop near a hotel and be prepared to rob the resort at the drop of a hat.
Moving from Chicago to California, Earle has only one bump in his trip, when he is almost run over the road by a family. He meets up with the zany group of travelers later in the movie when he stops to get gas. He feels compelled towards them in a way that only the viewer understands.
Earle is not a nice man, but maybe he strives for atonement and normality, which is why this family which rings true of easy living and capability of forgiveness, is so enticing to Earle. He finds comfort in spending time with them.
But this is not someone you want to mess with. Though he is obeying the mob boss, his objections are heavy and always carry weight. His words have finality to them.
When he arrives at the crime base, which turns out to be a lodge-like estate where his fellow thieves are waiting with a dame, he doesn't hesitate to tell them to ditch the girl; but she has other plans. Cunning and wickedly smart, Marie (Ida Lupino) wins over Earle's trust quickly and proves to be invaluable to the process.
As Earle gets closer to the date when he has to rob the resort, he finds himself more and more attached to the family from the trip. He keeps bumping into them accidentally and every time he meets them he becomes a little softer on the outside and inside.
This wouldn't be the first time that a bad guy would be humanized for the audience. Raoul Walsh was never really appreciated in his time, but his movies live on and "High Sierra" is a perfect example of a film lost in time. It remains moving, poignant, and a little bit crazy.
Most of the movie might seem like a fluffy piece of entertainment, but the ending will prove otherwise. "High Sierra" has a brain and very high emotions.
It's the kind of movie that's too important to ignore, and its performances speak volumes.
Posted by Micah Jones