High Sierra (Raoul Walsh, 1941)

It had potential to be, and often is, more than a typical one-last-heist story because of a particularly interesting sub-plot involving an old farmer and his crippled granddaughter that Bogart’s Roy “Mad Dog” Earle keeps going back to in the midst of planning that one last heist. Never mind the creepiness factor of the older Bogart wooing the obviously much younger girl through small talk, paying for her surgery without asking for a penny in return, etc., I’d say it was sweet if it wasn’t utterly bizarre…but it’s effective. Earle may say he wants to marry the girl and that he loves her, but that’s probably not true. He doesn’t want the innocent, naive girl, he just wants to get out of the fast, crime-ridden lifestyle he’s been drowning in. Ida Lupino’s wannabe-mob girl Marie won’t give him that ticket to the good, easy life, and he knows it, so the next best thing mustbe the young girl and her poor but honest family, by his logic. Marie, and Earle’s cohorts in the upcoming hotel heist, grow increasingly confused at Earle’s behavior as he keeps going back to that family, and indeed it sticks out like a sore thumb in the midst of all the heist planning and mobbish threats as penned by John Huston (the scene where Earle tells the job’s inside man the story of the gun, punctuated by the ‘taptaptap’, is great, showing a terrifying side to Earle that we’ll learn may be little more than a mask of his true self). That family is the specter and the symbolic embodiment of a good life, of the good person that Earle is fascinated by the prospect of becoming, that may even want to be…but is not to be. It’s upsetting that that subplot is all but abandoned as it soon becomes little more than Ida Lupino crying in the passenger seat with the dog in her lap while Bogart acts all manly and shut up-y, but in a way it makes sense. In a surprisingly disappointing screenplay by Huston, complete with the token dog, token black indentured servant with the funny voice and lazy eye, and the farmer’s family coming right out of a Rockwell painting, at least it’s bleak when all is said and done. Earle, from a philosophical and psychological sense, is arguably one of Bogart’s more interesting characters – desirous of a good, crime-free life as seen by his seemingly inexplicable fascination with the granddaughter and her family, and even seen as a good man despite being a criminal, the way he defends a lady’s honor when he sees a black eye, or honors an agreement with his superior despite that superior lying dead on his side, or has an unremovable soft spot for that pesky dog (Bogart’s dog in real life…makes sense when you see how attached it is to the man). Chivalry lives, but crime never pays.


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