High Sierra (1941)
Humphrey Bogart became a legend as a tough guy: he talked fast, asked few questions, and stuck his neck out for nobody. His characters were usually only interested in selfish pursuits, but they usually had a soft spot for a beautiful woman. Bogart's character in High Sierra, an aging criminal named Roy Earle, falls right in line with that archetypal character, and the movie he's in is pretty good, to boot.
Earle, just recently out of prison, is quickly hired to heist jewelry and cash from a hotel in Los Angeles. As he's driving to L.A. from Chicago, he runs into an old couple, Ma and Pa, and their granddaughter Velma (Joan Leslie), who is stricken with a clubbed foot, and immediately catches the attention of Earle. Wouldn't you know it? They are headed to Los Angeles as well. Roy, however, is staying at a resort outside of L.A. along with his two cohorts, who turn out to be a couple of smalltime twits, with the nicknames "Babe" (Alan Curtis) and "Red" (Arthur Kennedy). They've brought along with them a young woman named Marie (Ida Lupino), who becomes immediately infatuated with Earle.
Roy doesn't return Marie's affections, however, as he is there to do a job and then get out. He's not much interested in crime anymore, and would like to retire to a farm in Indiana like the one he grew up at. Earle makes a couple of visits to L.A. with several things on his agenda: to scope out the hotel, to meet with the guy in charge, and to pay for an operation that will fix Velma's foot, and hopefully convince her to marry him. Well, things don't always go as planned, and the case is no different here, as Earle ends up running from the law, who are quickly on his tail, and looking to bring this famous criminal down very publicly.
High Sierra, released in 1941, set in motion some staples of today's action genre, including car chases and fugitives on the run. However, the actual action in the film is minimal. There are some obviously ridiculous scenes by today's standards--including Bogart delivering a monologue in his sleep--and the whole film is fairly predictable, but that doesn't really make it any less enjoyable. In general, my rule is, if Humphrey Bogart's in it, it's probably worth seeing. With Bogart, you know exactly what you're going to get, and you know that he will deliver every time. High Sierra is no different.
April 15, 2005