High Sierra (1941)

dir. Raoul Walsh. Roy Earle (Humphrey Bogart) is fresh out of prison thanks to his underworld pal, Big Mac, who needs his expertise to pull off a hotel jewellery heist. Roy embarks on a road trip through the Sierra Nevada mountain ranges to meet up with some small-time crooks, and their dame, Marie (Ida Lupino). Immensely watchable early film noir spanning multiple genres, from heist, romance, to road movie. This is the film than transformed Humphrey Bogart from supporting actor to superstar leading man. There is some uncomfortable racist humour early in the film, which is mercifully brief. HIGH SIERRA feels just as much a western as a film noir, from its wood-cut style opening credits, to the implicit connection between Roy’s physical journey through the American landscape, and his internal transformation. Some great dog acting from Pad, played by Humphrey Bogart’s own pet, Zero! Ida Lupino is superb, she’s just as tough as Bogart, and her own characters transformation is equally as tragic and true. Roy is always dressed in a simple black suit and tie. Betsy Heimann, the costume designer for RESERVOIR DOGS (1992) outfitted her crooks in a similar fashion, inspired by the French New Wave, and Alain Delon. However, I suspect this criminal chic leads back to Bogart. The detailed heist and the human drama evoke another California crime epic, Michael Mann’s HEAT (1995), starring Robert De Niro as Neil McCauley. Roy and Neil are on the same road, just one more job, one real human connection, and they’re free.

By Nicholas Hudson-Ellis

Co-Founder & Film Programs Manager of Bangkok Screening Room.