High Sierra (1941)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 1/17/22
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Ida Lupino

"Of all the 14 karat saps. Starting out on a caper with a woman and a dog."

An ailing crime boss springs bank robber Roy Earle (Humphrey Bogart) out of jail to help him with a jewel heist. Roy is past his prime, but he's still a tough and capable guy with nerves of steel. He's a hard-boiled gangster of a dying breed who also foolishly dreams of living a simple life on a farm and settling down with a "decent girl." The heist takes place at a resort near the Sierra Nevada mountains, where he meets his small-time partners and a former taxi dancer named Marie (Ida Lupino). He also falls under the hex of a dog named Pard, who has a history of bringing bad luck to people. Despite his careful planning and execution, the job goes bad and Roy is forced to flee, resulting in a high-speed chase and a tense showdown in the mountains.

This film was Humphrey Bogart's first leading role, although the studio insisted on giving Ida Lupino star billing. He gives a riveting performance as a loyal and ruthless thug who also has a weak spot for nostalgia and sentimentality. In his mid-life existential crisis, he longs for a life in the country with a nice girl, even though crime and violence are all he knows. When he's spurned by a young country girl that he hopes to marry, the crushing weight of rejection nearly destroys him. On the other hand, the level-headed and street-savvy Marie sees Roy as her salvation and desperately wants to stay with him. They make a great pair, but it's not what Roy wants. Even though it's a small role, the beautiful and bright-eyed Ida Lupino is totally captivating and her chemistry with Bogart is delightful.

The film looks fantastic and the location shots of the ominous Sierra Nevada mountains are gorgeous. There's not much action until the very end, and the car chase through the desert and in the mountains is thrilling to watch. Unfortunately, several unconvincing matte paintings and a few undercranked scenes spoil some of the fun. Not surprising for the time period, some of the dialog is distasteful and the sexist attitudes and racial stereotypes can be uncomfortable to watch. From a historical standpoint, it's exciting to see Bogart's transition from B-movie bit player to leading man, and this movie put him on the road to stardom. Despite his age, his best roles were yet to come.