High Sierra (1941)

High Sierra (1941) , directed by Raoul Walsh.

After eight years in prison, an old boss has bought a pardon for bank robber and killer Roy Earle, who immediately heads west to start work on a jewelry heist at a resort hotel. Quiet, disciplined, tough when necessary, Earle's biggest problem is the hot-headed youngsters he has to manage. That and a young woman they have brought with them. Earle may be the first real man Marie has ever seen, and she wants him badly.

This is a remarkable turning point in gangster film history. According to the Code, criminals could not succeed or be glorified, and yet we are entirely with Earle in this story, with no sympathy for the police, guards or hotel guests, and a visceral contempt for reporters, who call Earle "Mad Dog" just to have a headline.

What elevates this above a formula crime picture is the character of Earle, deftly played by Humphrey Bogart. A country boy who would like nothing more than to go back to the farm, he meets a family of poor migrants and thinks if he can do a favor for young Velma, maybe she'll marry him and he can get back where he belongs. But you can't engineer love in a pretty young woman, and instead we have the short, tragic romance with Marie. They adopt a little bad luck dog.

He tells her there will be "nothing special" between them, which is Code for "it's just sex". She agrees, but of course that's not how it really goes.

It must have been influential, because so many of the plot points seem modern:

This is the film that moved Bogart (billed second to Ida Lupino, age 22!) into starring roles. Raoul Walsh had been directing for more than 25 years, but I'm sure it didn't hurt him either, and he became the go-to guy for tough, serious action films.

Elfin-eyed Lupino was a favorite, too. She wrote and directed in later years.

Early work for Arthur Kennedy, Joan Leslie and Cornel Wilde.

Willie Best is the standard comical black character of the period: he wakes up with eyes crossed. But he has an important foreshadowing function, telling us about the bad luck dog.

The dog is Bogart's dog, and a fine little actor.

Mixed studio and locations, with majestic mountain shots when they get outdoors, and a score to match in those parts. Great high-speed chase scene up the mountain.

Co-written by John Huston and W.R. Burnett from the latter's novel.