High Sierra – 1941

High Sierra

My Review

–Great Film, Excellent Bogart—

Your Bogie Film Fix:

5 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director: Raoul Walsh

The Lowdown

Immediately after being released from prison, ex-con Roy Earle (Bogart) signs on for one more heist at a high class resort. As he and his partners prepare for the robbery, Earle is sidetracked by the thought of love with a displaced Midwestern girl (Joan Leslie) and her family who have just moved to California.

What I Thought

This film gets better for me every time that I see it. This was my third or fourth viewing, and I’m continually struck by how many new things pop out every time I watch. (Did you see how much jam Bogart puts on his breakfast toast? Good grief!)

By far his most nuanced gangster role, Bogart’s portrayal of ‘Mad Dog’ Roy Earle is that of a hardened and ruthless criminal who’s been tempered by time and experience. He’s finally reached that often clichéd moment in film where he’s ready for one more job before he settles down. But cliché is avoided here as the story wisely pairs Earle with partners who are considerably younger than him, and who more than likely reflect his own recklessly impetuous past.

Director Raoul Walsh spends a lot of time showing us Bogart quietly listening and reacting to a lot of chaos around him – each time carefully and calmly handling situations with an equal dose of wisdom and intimidation. Perhaps Bogart’s greatest character depth comes from the time Earle spends with ‘Pa’ played by Henry Travers. Where so many of Bogart’s previous gangster roles showed him reacting to frustration and disappointment with violence, High Sierra shows a man who often reacts with quiet resignation and acceptance to his station in life.

The cast is superb. The script by legendary actor, director, and writer John Huston is tight and powerful. Director Walsh gives us a lot of fantastic close ups and quiet moments to linger on. What more could you want from Classic Hollywood or a night with Humphrey Bogart?

As the story goes, when the part of Roy Earle was offered to George Raft, Raft was at the point in his career when he was ready to step away from gangster roles. Supposedly, Bogart needled him a bit about taking on yet another bad guy part, and Raft finally refused the script. Bogart then quickly swooped in and picked it up, knowing that it was a choice role, and a major step up from the previous two-dimensional hoods that he’d played before.

The Bogart Factor

Bogart layers the role of Roy Earle so deeply that you’re instantly sucked into not only empathizing with the character, but actually forgiving him when he commits his crime and is forced to shoot a security guard. I’m amazed and impressed with how much character development was given to Bogart’s role as he’s allowed to build deep and authentic relationships with Henry Travers’ Pa, Ida Lupino’s Marie, Joan Leslie’s Velma, and Donald McBride’s Big Mac. So often in crime films of this era, much more time is given over to the action and adventure, and little effort is spent on building a solid three-dimensional character. Director Walsh gives Bogart plenty of scenes to build a great foundation here though, and it makes for a riveting performance.

Bogart appears to be enjoying himself, and it’s a lot of fun to see him acting against his real life dog, Zero, in the film’s lighter moments. If you’re looking for a solid Bogart fix, this one’s a must see as it’s undoubtedly some of his best work. You won’t be able to take your eyes off of him.

High Sierra was the last film that Bogart made where he wasn’t given top billing, and it’s easy to see why this role made him an undeniably top-tiered star.

The Cast

Ida Lupino plays Marie, the bad girl who’s pining away for Bogart while Bogart pines away for Joan Leslie. Lupino does a great job of not overdoing the role, slowly making advances towards Bogart with patience and just the right amount of manipulation. They have good chemistry together, and I would have been happy if Bogart had ridden off into the sunset with her at the end.  You can read Lupino’s entry into ‘The Usual Suspects’ portion of the blog here.

Henry Travers plays Pa, a down-on-his-luck farmer who’s come to California with his wife and niece for a second chance. It’s not a groundbreakingly new role for Travers as he plays the saintly old grandfather type, but his scenes with Bogart are really, really good, and it’s nice to see him in a big role. You can read my write up on Travers in ‘The Usual Suspects’ portion of the blog here.

Joan Leslie plays Velma, the young disabled love interest to Bogart. Director Walsh uses her in small but powerful doses, and he doesn’t shy away from making sure we don’t see her as too innocently naïve in the end. Leslie does great in the role, and holds herself up against Bogart very well. It makes me excited to watch The Wagons Roll at Night again as I haven’t seen it in several years.

Arthur Kennedy and Alan Curtis play Bogart’s partners in crime, Red and Babe respectively. Again, Director Walsh spends just enough time to give us a good look at these younger versions of Earle without overdoing it. Kennedy is especially good here in an early role, and I need to check out some more of his filmography.

Donald MacBride plays Big Mac, the brains behind the heist, and he’s given a few good scenes with Bogart that show what Earle’s future might have in store if he doesn’t get out of the crime racket.

Willie Best plays Algernon, the simple cabin boy who pops up now and again to add a little levity and plot advancement to the film. I liked Best a lot here as he seems to have a real screen presence, and I’d like to explore his filmography further.

Cornel Wilde does well with a small part as Mendoza, the inside man at the resort who opens the safe for Bogart and his pals, and shares an amazing scene with Bogart which I get to later in the Classic Bogie moment . . .

Bogie Film Blog favorite Barton MacLane has a brief role as Jake, the man who . . . well . . . I’m not exactly sure what his job title was specifically, but he seemed to be Donald MacBride’s right hand man. It’s always fun to see MacLane show up in a film!

And then there’s Henry Hull as Doc Banton. I haven’t seen Hull since my early review of Midnight/Call it Murder, and here he plays an overly-aged private physician to criminals. Hull’s a good actor, so I’m not sure why Director Walsh felt the need to go a little over-the-top with Hull’s old man routine. It’s not too distracting, but it’s odd.

Classic Bogie Moment

Maybe my favorite Bogart scene from any film, Bogart sits down with his partners and explains to them with incredibly subtle intimidation why they need to keep quiet about their work.

Mendoza: Big Mac gave me the machine gun. You know how to work it? Red doesn’t, and neither does Babe.

Red: That’s a good one, that is.

Mendoza: What’s so funny?

Red: Does he know how to work it?

Roy Earle: (WITH INCREDIBLE CALMNESS) Yeah. Say, you know that gun reminds me of one time, nine or ten years ago. We was getting ready to do a job back in Iowa when one of the guys got the shakes. Pretty soon we found out that this guy with the shakes had talked too much, and a bunch of coppers were waiting for us at the bank. But we don’t say nothing. Lefty Jackson goes out and gets his gun. He comes back and sits down and holds it across his knee. The guy with shakes is sitting right across the room from him. Pretty soon Lefty just touched the trigger a little, and the gun went (BOGART TAPS THE TOP OF THE GUN CASE THREE TIMES WITH HIS INDEX FINGER) like that. The rat fell out of the chair dead and we drove off and left him there. Yeah, the gun went (BOGART TAPS THREE TIMES AGAIN).

Mendoza: (NERVOUSLY) Well, I better be getting back. I have to go on duty at 8:30.

Director Walsh could have gone over-the-top with this scene, making it a loud and threatening encounter, but he holds back, and it plays out powerfully.

The Bottom Line

If you’re a Bogie Film Blog reader, more than likely you’ve already seen this one. But if by some chance you haven’t, what are you waiting for?!? Go get it!

Henry Travers

Henry Travers High Sierra

Birth Name:  Travers John Heagerty

Birthdate: March 5, 1874

Number of Films that Henry Travers Made with Humphrey Bogart:  3

The Lowdown

It probably shows how little I truly know about classic film to admit that I learned Henry Travers was an English actor while researching this post!  I’m embarrassed, but at the same time delighted, to discover that Travers is still able to surprise me with the depth of his talent long after his passing.  The guy’s Midwestern drawl was perfect!

I’m also ashamed to confess that until a few years ago, I only knew Travers from It’s a Wonderful Life and a childhood viewing of The Bells of St. Mary’s.  While I’m sure that I’d seen him in other films when I was a kid, his name and face didn’t register for me until much later in life when I really began to indulge my film obsession.

Trained as a stage actor in England, it wasn’t until 1933 that Travers made his way to Hollywood.  With relatively few films to his credit compared to most actors of his era (just over 50), Travers was able to make a career out of playing easy-spoken, good natured, grandfatherly saints.  Who wouldn’t want to hug this guy if they had the chance?

And while his role as the angel Clarence Oddbody will probably forever overshadow the rest of his work, Travers was solid in numerous other films, especially his portrayal as ‘Pa’ in High Sierra, which is still my personal favorite since he got to share so much screen time with Bogart – helping bring the heart and soul to gangster Roy Earle.

The Filmography

Dark Victory – 1939

Travers Dark VictoryWith Geraldine Fitzgerald

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Travers plays Dr. Parsons, Bette Davis’ personal physician.  The role is small, but it’s the quintessential Travers part as he’s the fatherly doctor that wants the best for Davis as he refers her on to a more specialized doctor in George Brent.  You can read my original write up on the film here.

You Can’t Get Away With Murder – 1939

travers.pop.youcantgetaway

Travers plays Pop, the grandfatherly inmate in charge of the prison library.  He immediately takes an interest in Billy Halop’s young street thug and begins to mentor him into a better life.  Again, it’s the prototypical Travers character as the wise but simple hearted saint, but is there anyone who could play it better?  Travers and Halop have some of the best scenes in the film, and Bogart’s intimidation of Travers is in stark contrast to their relationship in High Sierra.  You can read my original write up on the film here.

High Sierra – 1941

Travers High Sierra

Travers plays the grandfatherly Midwesterner Pa, uncle to Joan Leslie, and confidant to Bogart’s gangster, Roy Earle.  This was Travers largest role out of all three collaborations with Bogart, and they get to share a lot of screen time together.  Off the top of my head, I can’t think of many Bogart films where he shares the same type of father/son relationship with another actor as he does with Travers here, and their chemistry together is great.  Travers wonderfully tempers Earle’s ruthless side and is able to help Bogart push his role beyond the typical two-dimensional gangster that he’d often had to play before.  While the film may not be perfect, the scenes between Bogart and Travers hit exactly the right notes, making this my favorite Travers film.  (Although, I need to dig a little deeper into his filmography!)  You can read my original write up on the film here.

*The Usual Suspects is an ongoing feature on The Bogie Film Blog where time is taken to highlight those folks who collaborated multiple times with Bogart.  You can read the rest of the posts here.

You Can’t Get Away With Murder – 1939

You Cant Get Away With Murder

My Review

—Decent Melodrama— 

Your Bogie Film Fix:

2 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director:  Lewis Seiler

The Lowdown

Johnnie Stone (Billy Halop) is a teenager heading down a dangerous path after he falls in with small time gangster Frank Wilson (Humphrey Bogart).  After being sentenced to Sing Sing Prison for a gas station holdup, Johnnie is torn when his soon to be brother-in-law, Fred (Harvey Stephens), joins him in prison after getting the death penalty for a murder in which Frank and Johnnie were actually involved.

What I Thought

I had to wonder while watching this film if Warner Brothers wasn’t trying to create a new B-movie Bogart gangster with Billy Halop.  One of The Dead End Kids, this was the fourth film that Halop made with Bogart (Dead End, Crime School, Angels With Dirty Faces), and Bogart was clearly an influence on the young actor’s style and presence.

The melodrama can skew a little heavy as Halop wrestles with his secrets while in prison.  There are multiple crying-into-the-elbow moments, and a few “You ain’t the bossa me!” teenage rebellion outbursts with Johnnie’s sister.  While Halop occasionally appears a little green and the sibling tension often seems unmotivated, there are some flashes of good work in his performance.

The film is very watchable, despite the fact that there were a few plot points that I had issues with.  Why was Johnnie so dead set on making trouble when he was surrounded by people who loved him?  Was there supposed to be motivation for his behavior implied by the fact that he had absentee parents?  Why wouldn’t his sister Madge (Gale Page) instantly assume that he and Frank were responsible for the murder after they’re busted for the other robbery?  When faced with a more than typically friendly prison staff and inmates, why does Johnnie wait so long to spill the beans on Frank?

I ended up feeling that Director Seiler was a scene or two short in setting up the unbreakable bond between Johnnie and Frank.  I know that the lure of money and power can be overwhelming for a young kid without direction, but once they were in prison, what kept Johnnie loyal, almost to the bitter end?

Problems aside, there are numerous good scenes of comedy, action, and drama which all help elevate the film above a subpar script.

The Bogart Factor

Playing another one of his “young punks” who thinks he has the world by the tail (á la Up the River, The Bad Sister, Big City Blues, Midnight/Call It Murder, etc.), Bogart gets a good deal of time to flesh out his wannabe-gangster persona as he leads young Johnnie astray.  There’s plenty of cool talk and gun play as the elder thug mentors his protégé on the fine art of the criminal lifestyle.

While not fleshed out to a fully three-dimensional character, Bogart’s still very good as the murdering thief whose over-confidence in his own skills continues to trip him up.  Playing the film’s main antagonist, Bogart’s able to pose a physical and psychological threat to Halop with his performance despite the fact that the script doesn’t give Halop a lot of motivation to fall under Bogart’s sway.

Is it Bogart’s best bad guy role?  Not by a longshot.  It’s not even in the top ten.  But I can’t blame the studio for hiring the guy who could look cool, talk tough, and handle a gun better than anyone else to fill the role.

The Cast

Billy Halop as Johnnie Stone deepens his “street tough” persona beyond what we’ve come to expect from The Dead End Kids.  He often tips the line into over-playing his emotions, but what young actor from the time doesn’t?  Even Bogart had to feel his way through a few dozen films before he fully grasped the importance subtlety and nuance.

Gale Page plays Johnnie’s older sister, Madge, and she does all right with a character who only appears when plot advancement requires it.  Page worked a number of films with Bogart in supporting roles, so it’s always good to see her, but she definitely deserved more depth than this.

Harvey Stephens plays Fred Burke, the fiancé to Madge, and he suffers from the same lack of character development that she does.  Existing for little other purpose than the movie-goer’s sympathy, Fred comes and goes whenever Johnnie needs an extra emotional push to move the story along to the next level.  Stephens doesn’t get the time to shine here as he did in The Oklahoma Kid.

Henry Travers plays Pop, the old timer librarian that tries to mentor Johnnie into a better man.  It’s a character that we immediately expect Henry Travers to play, so there’s no new ground broken here for the well know character actor, but Travers is always a treat, so it’s great to see him.

George E. Stone, Harold Huber, and Bogie Film Blog favorite Joe Sawyer all show up in roles as inmates alongside Bogart and Halop – each with their own great character quirks and scene-stealing moments.  It was especially fun to see Sawyer as Red since it’s the only Bogie film in my memory where Sawyer plays a good guy.  We’re even left with an ambiguous ending for Red as he disappears over the wall.  Did they catch him?  I hope not!  After all those gangster and inmate roles, he deserves at least ONE successful escape!

Don’t Forget to Notice

The stuntmen on this film deserve a lot of credit for the prison escape scene.  Two falls have to happen off of a wall that’s somewhere between fifteen and twenty feet high.  The second one looks incredibly painful, and there’s no appearance of padding or trickery.  I winced for sure!

Classic Bogie Moment

I mentioned the same thing about Cagney in a previous post, but Bogart is an actor that can put on any costume and still look cool.  Fancy gangster suit?  You bet!  Down on his luck bum?  Sure.  Cowboy outfit?  Well . . . except for those silly hats, yes!  To put a bullet point behind it though, just take a gander at these pics of Bogart in his prison gear:

bogart classic 4
With Halop and Travers

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bogart classic 3

This is a prime example of the man making the clothes.

The Bottom Line

Not a must see for non-diehards, but there are a few good glimmers of fun and talent to enjoy here.