Monday, November 15, 2010

High Sierra (1941)

I can really sympathize with the guy.

Humphrey Bogart's career as an actor with Warner Bros. studios wasn't all peaches and cream. He struggled with delayed stardom and languished at 3rd and 4th billing parts. Bogart got stuck many roles that were beneath him. It wasn't Bogie's fault. It wasn't really Warner Bros. either. They didn't know what it was they had with him or how to capitalize it. He did so well in The Petrified Forest (1936) as Duke Mantee that they just kept giving him similar parts in films for the next few years. Why mess with a sure thing, right? Besides, they had a lot of big stars like Paul Muni, James Cagney, Edward G. Robinson and George Raft who all had big money contracts and Warner Bros. had to use their talents in order to make those contracts worth their money.

Along comes W.R. Burnett's novel High Sierra, with Warner Bros. salivating over it wanting to make it a big picture. At first they wanted Paul Muni, but Muni didn't agree with John Huston's script and flat out said no. Then Warner Bros. considered George Raft but as my friend Paul from Art, Movies, Wood and Whatnot... says Raft didn't made several bad career choices that allowed others to thrive. Bogie read the novel, loved it, wanted the part of Roy "Mad Dog Earle" and sent this telegram:

Bogie saw an opportunity and seized the moment. This telegram reminds me very much of the e-mail I sent inquiring about a new position that I later applied for and acquired. Bogie was fed up and wanted to do something with his career. He sent the telegram, got the role (not sure exactly what happened in between) and slapped on some skunk stripes and off he was to the Sierra Nevadas. Even upstaging, first-billed Ida Lupino couldn't steal Bogie's thunder. High Sierra was his time to shine.


  1. Humphrey was so cool...I wish I had the guts to ask someone something twice! I feel really nervous when I ask someone to do something, they forget and I have to ask them again. Mr. Bogart clearly had no qualms about doing it!

  2. Your blog is beautiful. It's making me want to start wearing hats.

  3. Hi. Just started reading your blog and I like it. I'm really digging learning about all these early Bogart movies.

  4. i just said something about this on the Bogart Estate FB page over the weekend, that being that Earle was Bogies first fully realized, fully fleshed out character. Earle was a multi dimensional person and Bogie absolutely played it to the nines, he was simply amazing in this film! Ida Lupino also played her part, the "Tarnished Angel" as Martin Scorsese called her, so beautiuflly. these characters were soulmates even if one of them didnt realize it until the end. i dont think ida ever looked more beautiful onscreen either, so delicate yet such strength coming from inside. watching her one can only imagine the hardships her character had endured thoughout her life.
    well what can i say, i LOVE this film! once again Raoul Walsh's style and pacing are matchless and with the great supporting cast of Joan Leslie, Arthur Kennedy, Henry Travers (yup i always gotta say: why, look its CLARENCE! everytime i see him) and Coronel Wilde, you cant lose. that being said the film does push plausability out the window at times like WHY didnt they wear masks during the robbery?? but for the most part none of that matters because its Earle and his story we're interested in and even though we KNOW he's got a one-way ticket to Palookaville (as they say!), we just gotta take the ride with him anyway.
    btw i didnt wanna say it the other day in case you had never seen the film, but apparently Raft turned it down because in his contract it said he did NOT have to play any character that dies at the end! so that and the no remakes clause that made him scoff at doing the Falcon sure put a dent in his career! i have also seen interviews with someone who said Bogie would cajole Raft saying stuff like awwww why you wanna do that picture you get killed at the end! cant remember who it was, maybe it was John Huston.

    Ok i'll shuddup now!

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  6. High Sierra is definitely a great film, largely because of Bogie. It was definitely the film that put him on the map. Indeed, it's hard to picture anyone else playing "Mad Dog" Earle!

  7. Such a great post, never heard of the movie, I should check it out!


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