Monday, July 26, 2010

DVD Review: High Sierra (1941)

High Sierra (1941)

(Released: 2003 by Warner Home Video)

Another (Not so long, this time!) DVD Review by Joe Torcivia

High Sierra”, while not a Hollywood legend like later films “The Maltese Falcon” and “Casablanca”, is notable as the “breakout film” for the great Humphrey Bogart.

It was directed by Raoul Walsh, from a book by W.R. Burnett, with the screenplay by famed director John Huston. Indeed, the long relationship between Bogart and Huston begins here. Bogie takes second billing to Ida Lupino in this film. It would be the last time he does so.

In the film, Bogart, as newly released con “Roy (Mad Dog) Earle”, heads straight to another “job” set up by crime boss “Big Mac” – a jewel heist from a luxury lodge in the California Sierras. A lodge insider is set to assist Earle, who’s been given two green punks, with whom to commit the robbery.

Accompanying one of the punks is Maria (Ida Lupino), who quickly falls for Earle. Along the way, Earle becomes acquainted with a poor family and takes a shine to their club-footed young farm girl, Velma. (Joan Leslie) Oh, yes… there’s also a “dog of death” (ill fortune follows him and those who adopt him) named “Pard” who also becomes affectionate toward Earle. Pard conjures up images of “Vincent” in LOST.

For most of the film, Roy Earle keeps a foot in both worlds, reluctantly going along with the crime plan and Maria’s attentions, and cozying up to Velma to the point where he pays for her operation.

Where do things go for Roy (Mad Dog) Earle? I’m not tellin’! We don’t do spoilers here, but all sorts of unplanned complications ensue! Okay… One hint! Mt Whitney!

Suffice it to say this is a great, underrated film – and it’s small wonder that it led Humphrey Bogart to bigger and better things! Next stop would be “The Maltese Falcon”!

As is our custom in these reviews, we’ll break it into CONS and PROS.

If there were a “CON” to list, it would have to be that the Extra Features are not plentiful, when compared to releases of the more famous Humphrey Bogart films.

Most notably, there is NO COMMENTARY TRACK to accompany this film! Such features on other Bogart films have proved to be of great interest, and so the lack of one here is unfortunate.

The Film: Story, cast, and print quality are all first rate. Not much more to say!

Extra Features: Only two, but they’re goodies!

“Curtains for Roy Earle: The Story of High Sierra” (Runs 15:06).

A brief history of Warner Bros. “Gangster Pictures”, Humphrey Bogart’s contributions to them, and the film “High Sierra” in particular. Participants include: Bogart biographer Eric Lax (who has provided excellent commentaries on other Bogart films – too bad he wasn’t tapped for this one!), film historians Leonard Maltin and Robert Osborne, and performers Leslie Howard and Joan Leslie (the film’s Velma).

Maltin describes Bogart’s “Earle” as “A killer with a soft spot” and, per the documentary, this was a somewhat unusual portrayal in those more [figuratively and literally] “Black and White” times.

Theatrical Trailer for “High Sierra”

Golden Age Hollywood Movie Trailers were a unique art form all their own! Consider this one, melodramatically narrated by one of the “Voices of Warner Bros.”

You may not know the name of Robert C. Bruce, but you certainly know his voice… if you are a fan of Looney Tunes and Merrie Meoldies of the early 1940s. Bruce was the man who contributed excited and melodramatic narration to many a WB cartoon of the period. If you know these cartoons, you will recognize the voice immediately. Cue the dramatic music… Here’s Mr. Bruce:

“THIS is the HIGHEST POINT in ALL OUR LAND! Mighty MT. WHITNEY! Looming above the wilderness with a strange SILENCE OF ETERNITY!

“Yet, stranger still, is the MISSION OF DESTINY that brings men to THIS FORBIDDING BARRIER! Held at bay by the MOST DANGEROUS KILLER since DILLINGER!


“HE’S TRAPPED because men can’t climb ANY HIGHER! And men never came ANY TOUGHER! What BROUGHT him here? What MADE him that way?”

Can’t you just hear that in some great old WB cartoon? …Well, can’t you?

This is a great film with good (but perhaps too few) Extra Features. It is recommended for Bogart Fans, and enthusiasts of the period, or the “tough guy / gangster” genre.

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