Sunday, 10 February 2008

High Sierra (Raoul Walsh, 1941)

Marie: …”just rushing toward death

Marie's remark to Roy defines his doomed character. Gangster Roy Earle is taken out of prison by Big Mac, an old colleague who wants him to participate in a hold-up.

Just out of the prison Earle wants to go to the park to see “if the grass is still green and the trees still grow”. There is a big contrast between country and city in all the film: The country stands for freedom and the purity of man while the city is a symbol of corruption – an idea that will be present in other noir films.

Humphrey Bogart plays the role of Roy Earle – a hardboiled gangster with good feelings (the movie was a turning point in Bogart’s career). In fact we see him as a good-hearted man longing for purity – in nature, in his vision of Velma – the lame girl he helps…

Roy has to take part in a robbery in Tropic springs – then he will be able to return to the simple life he lived as a boy in Indiana. However things go wrong and he ends up chased by the police in the high sierra. His final companions, Marie (Ida Lupino) and Pard – a dog that brings bad luck to his owners - see him die and also become "free" in a dramatic ending.

The film was produced by Mark Hellinger and the script was written by John Huston and William Ripley Burnett. These names would be important in future noir films. In the same way actors like Cornel Wilde (Mendoza) or Barton McLane (Kramer) would appear in other noir movies.

Maybe High Sierra is not strictly a noir film but it was one of the key movies in the transition from gangster pictures to noir movies.


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