Combustible Celluloid
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With: Humphrey Bogart, Ida Lupino, Alan Curtis, Arthur Kennedy, Joan Leslie, Henry Hull, Barton MacLane, Henry Travers, Elisabeth Risdon, Cornel Wilde, Jerome Cowan, Donald MacBride, Willie Best, Paul Harvey, Minna Gombell
Written by: John Huston, W.R. Burnett, based on a novel by W.R. Burnett
Directed by: Raoul Walsh
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 100
Date: 01/21/1941

High Sierra (1941)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Career Peak

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Though Humphrey Bogart didn't get to do much except lose an arm in his first film with Raoul Walsh, They Drive By Night, it at least landed him a job on Walsh's next film, the excellent High Sierra (1941). In it, he plays escaped convict Roy 'Mad Dog' Earle. While on the run, he meets a nice family with a pretty daughter who needs an operation. When he goes "soft" on them and tries to help, it leads to his downfall. Remarkably, Walsh handles this potentially deadly material as if it were the most crackerjack of action pictures and it comes across. Ida Lupino (also in They Drive by Night) co-stars again, but this time Bogey gets the spotlight. High Sierra also introduced Bogart to a screenwriter named John Huston, who would cast Bogart in his own directorial debut later that same year, The Maltese Falcon.

In 2021, this terrific film received the Criterion Collection treatment, with a two-disc Blu-ray release. It offers a glorious, black-and-white transfer, crisp, with deep blacks and just a hint of welcome film grain. The audio track is uncompressed monaural. Disc One bonuses include: a 15-minute featurette on Warner Bros. gangster films, from 2003; an hour-long TV documentary on Bogart, from 1997; a video essay on the great author and screenwriter W.R. Burnett; a wonderful featurette by critic critic Miriam J. Petty about the Black character actor Willie Best; a half-hour radio play from 1944 with Bogart and Lupino; and a trailer. Disc Two includes an entire second movie, Walsh's Colorado Territory (1949), which was based on the same source material; there's also a feature-length documentary on Walsh, and a 20-minute discussion on Walsh's films by film programmer Dace Kehr and critic Farran Smith Nehme. Finally, we get a liner notes essay by critic Imogen Sara Smith. This is highly recommended.

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