Monday, 17 March 2014

High Sierra (1941)

This was Humphrey Bogart's first outing as a leading man, though he still didn't get top billing: that honour went to leading lady Ida Lupino. Both of them turn in excellent performances in this film, as expected, though I honestly think the movie itself doesn't live up to their efforts.

Bogart plays gangster Roy Earle, back on the street after after 10 years in jail. Earle's release was engineered by his gangster friend Big Mac, and he owes Mac a job in exchange: a hotel robbery to pick up a cool half million dollars in jewelry. Given that this was 1941, when gasoline was 15 cents a gallon (less than 4 cents a litre for those of us in the metric world), that's a big haul. Earle's got company on the job, a pair of young wannabes, and a woman named Marie (Lupino) that one of them picked up. Roy initially wants Marie gone, which is ironic given that she soon proves to be the smartest and most reliable ally he has.

In between getting ready for the job and meeting with Big Mac, who's very sickly, Roy romances a young woman he met on the road. Marie, who clearly has a thing for Roy, isn't so thrilled about that.

Roy's efforts to make good on his debt to Big Mac, and to adjust to a world that's changed in his absence, form the centre-piece of the movie. And if you imagine that everything goes smoothly, you clearly haven't seen many movies.

As noted above, both leads do great jobs in their roles. Bogart effortlessly shifts through many gears as Roy Earle, giving this aging gangster a sense of gravitas. It's easy to see why this role opened people's eyes to his talent. Lupino also knocks it out of the park. If only the script was on the same level, but it's marred by some horribly dated elements, such as a 'comical negro', and by some rather flabby pacing.

This is worth seeing for its significance in film history, and for the bravura performances at its heart, but only overall it's only a so-so movie.

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