by guest writer
High Sierra (1941) is one of the very early American noirs directed by the underrated Raoul Walsh. Starting out as an actor in D.W. Griffith’s movies, Walsh began his career as a filmmaker as early as 1913. His filmography includes ventures into each genre, starting with westerns, melodramas, comedies, epics, war movies and noirs. I won’t get into the essence of the Hollywood system and why his merits as a director weren’t that praised, because that’s a different story. High Sierra, in my opinion, forms, together with They Drive by Night (1940), the quintessential beginning of US film noir. It is simple to notice the quality of both these movies in terms of script and unfolding action to easily compare them with the ‘benchmark’ of the genre, The Maltese Falcon (1941), all of them, interestingly enough, having Humphrey Bogart as the male leading character.
Bogie, in one of his best roles, plays Mad Dog Earle here, a freshly out of prison gangster looking for a new heist. Roy Earle’s only weakness seems to be attached to women. Throughout his tribulations, the two women he encounters, played by Ida Lupino and Joan Leslie, are like a roadmap in his life, guiding him in making wrong decisions. The script writers, John Huston and W.R. Burnett, made a wonderful team putting together the screenplay after the novel written by Burnett himself. The movie is very well balanced transforming plausibility and sentimentality into reality with a strong grip, not leaving room for any tears or sorrow. A good director always looks out for the entertainment part and Raoul Walsh delivers it with a twist of craftsmanship.
photo: still from the film | Warner Brothers