High Sierra (1941)
Directed by Raoul Walsh
Produced by Mark Hellinger
Screenplay by John Huston and W.R. Burnett (based on the novel by W.R. Burnett)
In this early example of the heist film as noir, a fellow named Big Mac (no relation to the burger, I assume) wants to rob jewelry from a posh Palm Springs resort. But not alone. He wants Roy Earle (played by Humphrey Bogart) to do the deed for him, because he’s so experienced. And Big Mac … well, he’s just a chickenshit, I guess.
Thing is Earle was just released from prison. Plus he was pardoned by the governor. So, as befitting a film noir, we have a situation in which a character who should know better makes a bad choice. In this case, a really, really bad one.
So Earle drives all across the freaking country to pull the job. He meets up with three men and a woman named Marie, the latter played by the awesome Ida Lupino. And even though Earle wants to ditch the babe send Marie home to Los Angeles, she stays on — of course!
Now, you know Earle is essentially a decent man (for a criminal, that is), because of several things. First, on the way to meet the men (and Ida/Marie), he hooks up with this nice couple, whose daughter has a gimpy crippled gamey disabled foot. Earle takes steps to find the daughter a (sorta) doctor, who it turns out can fix her foot. Second, Earle sticks up for Marie when one of the three men bully her.
Third, Earle adopts a stray dog, named Pard. And if the dog likes him, how bad can he be?
But, of course, the heist goes all awry, when a security guard butts in and Bogart is forced to shoot him. And the three men? Well, they have an accident, leaving two dead and one alive to squeal to the cops.
Anyhow, Earle makes off with the jewels. But being that there’s dragnet out to catch him, it gives him little time. Despite that, he drops by the nice couple’s house to watch their now-mended daughter dance with her fiancé. And, instead of thanking Earle profusely, the daughter proceeds to tell him she doesn’t love him. In fact, she acts like a total bitch, who should die screaming.
Yet, it’s the newspapers that have dubbed Roy Earle as “Mad Dog Roy Earle”. As if.
This all leads up to a tearful parting between Earle and Marie (who takes Pard in a basket, not unlike Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz). However, they eventually reunite (kinda), when Earle and the cops have a big shoot-out in the high sierras at the end.
I won’t tell you what happens, but I’ll say this much. The ending is sad and ironic because everyone gets so screwed.
Excerpt from I Found it at the Movies: Film Noir Reviews by Debbi Mack.