With exception of WHITE HEAT, this was the movie gangster's last stand. Bogart plays a graying criminal who's had it, and is in pursuit of one last caper in a changing world. He hooks up with Kennedy, Curtis, and informer Wilde to pull of the job, and becomes sympathetic to the plight of
Curtis's moll Lupino, while also obsessing about young Leslie, a lame girl. HIGH SIERRA romanticizes the Bogie character as much as possible within hardbitten guidelines and, with the exception of the always overeager Leslie, it's acted within an inch of its classic life, especially by Bogie,
Lupino and a mongrel dog in the gut-wrenching climax. And that fadeout... .
HIGH SIERRA is a landmark crime film in many ways. It was Bogart's first solid role as a sympathetic lead, a good-bad guy out of his element and beyond his time. As was the case with his first gangster role--Duke Mantee, in THE PETRIFIED FOREST--Bogart is made up to look like John Dillinger, to
whom he bore an amazing resemblance. Bogart, who was second-billed under Lupino, showed his ability to play sensitive scenes with depth, and the public responded enthusiastically. He would never again play second fiddle to Cagney or anyone else.
Director Walsh does a superb job in keeping a nonstop action pace, succinctly pausing to give Bogart setups in which his character is revealed, a masterful balance of movement and repose. Walsh, more than any one else, was responsible for Bogart's big break in getting the part, suggesting him to
Jack Warner when others turned down the role. This was also an important film for screenwriter John Huston; his career took a sharp turn upward following HIGH SIERRA, after which he began his own distinguished directing career. Reworked by Walsh himself as COLORADO TERRITORY.
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