After eight years in prison, “Mad Dog” Roy Earle walks out. The mob paid a lot of dough to get him released – they have a job for him to do. But what does Earle do first? He goes to a local park and enjoys the trees and watches the children playing.
Humphrey Bogart became a star to a large degree because he performed Roy Earle in High Sierra. He had played many tough crooks before, but this time, he’s a tough crook with a soft heart. The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca would soon follow.
Criterion gave Raoul Walsh’s 1941 early noir, High Sierra, the works in this two-disc package. There are plenty of supplements, including a whole other feature movie, Colorado Territory, also directed by Raoul Walsh. John Huston and W.R. Burnett wrote the screenplay, based on Burnett’s novel.
“Mad Dog” sprung from prison to do a job in the California mountains. He’s working with two stupid crooks who think they’re tough, but they’re puff balls compared to Earle. Worst of all, these two idiots brought along a “dame,” played by Ida Lupino. It gets more complicated as Earle gets involved with a very nice family with a sweet, teenage, partially crippled daughter.
Soon Earle has two girls, and that makes this more difficult. It’s not a simple good girl/bad girl situation, either. The bad girl isn’t really all that bad, while the good one turns out to be not that good. There’s also an adorable mutt who seems to bring bad luck.
High Sierra was one of the first films that allowed Bogart to show his range. Awful as his character is, you care for him. And, of course, you have a pretty good idea of how things will eventually work out.
Unfortunately, High Sierra contains some very offensive comedy relief from the African American comedian Willie Best.
Despite the racism, which was normal back then, I give High Sierra a B+.
How It Looks
The film was shot at the 1.37 aspect ratio – the standard of the time. Criterion used pillarboxing to get the original image shape.
The 4K restoration is near perfect most of the time. Occasionally bright white blows out the image, but not much. There’s a very fake starry sky, but that’s been there since the movie opened.
How It Sounds
Criterion provides lossless LPCM mono audio. I found no problems.
And the Extras
- Crashing Out: Essay by Imogen Sara Smith discusses author W. R. Burnett, director Raoul Walsh, Humphrey Bogart, Ida Lupino, and John Huston.
- What else: About the Restoration, Special Thanks, Acknowledgements, Production Credits, Movie Credits, Cast, and interesting drawings of Bogart and Lupino in character.
Disc 1: High Sierra
- Curtains for Roy Earle: 15 minutes.
Starts as a documentary on gangster films, then focuses on Bogart and the movie. I caught at least one error and maybe others.
- Bogart: Here’s Looking at You, Kid: 51 minutes. This 1997 documentary follows Bogart’s son Stephen as he sets out to discover the father who died before the son could know him. Interesting and seems to be factual.
- W.R. Burnett: 15 minutes. Essay on the author of the novel High Sierra and co-author of the screenplay with John Huston. Very interesting. Visuals include scenes from the film and drawings of the interview.
- Willie Best: 14 minutes. A video essay by Miriam J. Petty about the African American comedian Willy Best. She discusses the limits that Black performers had to deal with in the 30s and 40s.
- The Screen Guild Theater: 28 minutes. A condensed radio version – a something that was common in those days. The only image is a photo of Bogart in front of a mountain. These radio adaptations were common back then, but I don’t understand why.
Disc 2: Colorado Territory
- Colorado Territory: 95 minutes. Raoul Walsh directed this remake of High Sierra as a western, and most of the magic is gone. Once again, a criminal gets out of jail to take part of a heist. He must deal with two jerks who think they’re tough. There’s a good girl who isn’t that good and a bad girl who isn’t that bad. The film’s real problem is that Joel McCrea isn’t Humphrey Bogart, and Virginia Mayo isn’t Ida Lupino – especially with the awful half-breed Indian makeup. It’s not a bad film, but it’s not a good one, either. I give it a C.
- The True Adventures of Raoul Walsh: 95 minutes. Full-length documentary of Walsh’s life. Sometimes fascinating. Sometimes dull. Often unbelievable.
- Dave Hehr and Farran Smith Nehme: 20 minutes. two film historians talk about Walsh, particularly focusing on High Sierra and Colorado Territory.
- Trailer: But this time, it’s the first thing on the disc.