(1941) dir. Raoul Walsh
My Humphrey Bogart/John Huston fest was a little accidental, but most of these films, including High Sierra (1941), Key Largo (1948), and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) had been in my Netflix queue for some time. High Sierra, unlike the others, I actually had seen before when I was living in England on the BBC or BBC2. My interest in the crime novel hadn’t fully formulated at that time, nor perhaps has it even now…though I am willing to argue a bit more perspective.
High Sierra, in comparison with The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) and Key Largo (1948), is much more a potboiler, much more a templated thriller with more of the cliche elements, characters, and whatnot. If that matters to you. The fact is, High Sierra, from a W. R. Burnett book, re-worked by Burnett and John Huston, is still much more the classic pulp story, one in which the anti-hero is a noirish ex-con who seeks to find the American dream by means of the anti-American dream, the bank robbery.
It’s top-notch stuff. Ida Lupino, an eventual director and producer, a proto-feminist working in a genre that is not too feminist-friendly, is the poor moll, who contrasts to the sexy, sweet-thing club foot chick who turns out to be more of a grassback than Lupino. High Sierra is rich mining material for the Freudian theorist who wants to deconstruct classic Hollywood. It’s also a far cry, a futuristic far cry, from the noir that would follow it. Nonetheless, it speaks of Huston’s humanism that would show up in his work, an affection and appreciation for the working man, of whatever color that workingman’s skin might be.
This all might seem slightly passe by contemporary terms, but it’s all good stuff by the terms and realities of the film’s production. It’s a tragic poem whose criticism leans towards the “straight” world. It’s part of the ideology that leans into the idealism of the non-straight world, in which idealism, meaning, and importance is based on an ideology embedded in the world of known realities.
Yeah, it rocks.