Monday, July 26, 2021

High Life

High Sierra (1941) - Walsh *35mm at Film ForumHigh Sierra

Infamous bank robber Roy Earl (Humphrey Bogart) just got pardoned by the Governor. It was Big Mac, a crime boss in the West Coast who pulled some strings for his release to do another big stake heist in a fancy hotel up in the Sierra mountains. On his way up to a mountain lodge to meet the heist team, Earl helps out a farmer family who has a car trouble. There he is smittened by the farmer's granddaughter Velma (Joan Leslie). When he gets to the lodge, he is embroiled in a lovers spat already in progress among two hot blooded young men- Red and Doc, and sassy Marie (Ida Lupino). Brats! Earl doesn't want to have any of it, tries to keep his distance and be professional. But Marie, seeing this tough wise guy smacking people around, develops feelings for him.

There are a couple of elements in High Sierra that are cringey - Earl hitting on 20 year old crippled Velma. And Algernon, a black caretaker of the lodge the heist team stays at, is a lazy, cross eyed Stepin Fetchit style racial stereotype.

What distinguishes High Sierra among other hard boiled noir is its spectacular setting. As Earl gets caught in the ever increasing trap that he dug himself in, High Sierra reaches its frenzy with high speed car chase up the rugged, picturesque Sierra mountains. It's raw and unsettling. He runs into the mountain, in his gangster suit with a rifle in his hand and we expect some Rambo: First Blood shit. But it's noir, not some white men action fantasy. Things will end very bad.

Bogey is Bogey, making a cold blooded killer seem cool and ordinary and making us root for him. Lupino is also great as sympathetic mole who doesn't have anyone in the world and clinging to Earl even though she knows the future is doomed.

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