High Sierra (1941)

“Times have sure changed.” Believe it or not, Ida Lupino received top billing over Humphrey Bogart in this interesting proto-noir crime film directed by Raoul Walsh (White Heat) and scripted by John Huston and W. R. Burnett from the latter’s 1940 novel. However, Bogie’s great performance here as “Roy ‘Mad Dog’ Earle” along with his portrayal of “Sam Spade” in The Maltese Falcon released the same year set the stage for Casablanca (1942) and superstardom. Needless to say, it was the last time Bogart did not receive top billing. In High Sierra, legendary gangster Earle gets released from prison and heads out West to mastermind the heist of a swanky mountain resort under the direction of bedridden crime kingpin “Big Mac” (Donald MacBride). However, things have changed drastically since Earle was first locked up: Big Mac is on his deathbed; Earle is joined in the caper by two unreliable young punks, “Red” (Arthur Kennedy) and “Babe” (Alan Curtis); the inside guy at the resort, “Louis Mendoza” (Cornel Wilde), is a potential squealer; and tough, ex-taxi dancer “Marie” (Ida Lupino) has become infatuated with him. To make matters worse, Earle is constantly followed by a “cursed” mutt named “Pard.” Earle also has become obsessed with “Velma” (Joan Leslie), the beautiful, clubfooted teenage granddaughter of an old codger known only as “Pa” (Henry Travers) who he has befriended. However, after Earle pays for Velma’s operation and promises her a trip around the world, she refuses to return his affections. Despite everything going against him, Earle proceeds with the heist with tragic results. The final scene was shot on location at 14,50-foot-high Mount Whitney, the tallest peak in the lower 48 states. The tagline screamed, “He killed … and there on the crest of Sierra’s highest crag … HE MUST BE KILLED!” Look for Willie Best as “Algernon.” Pard was reportedly played by Bogie’s actual dog “Zero.” High Sierra was remade as a Western called Colorado Territory (1949), starring Joel McCrea and also directed by Walsh, and as I Died a Thousand Times (1955) starring Jack Palance and directed by Stuart Heisler. George Raft reportedly turned down the “Roy Earle” role, as well as “Sam Spade” in The Maltese Falcon and “Rick Blaine” in Casablanca – much to Bogie’s delight!

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