Mad Dog Earle: Humphrey Bogart in John Huston's High Sierra (1941).
by Night; Lupino played the wife of a trucking baron in love with Raft, whose brother (Bogart) loses his arm in an accident. Born in London and trained at RADA, Lupino had made her film debut aged 15 in Her First Affaire (1933), a Lolita-type role for which her actress mother, Connie Emerald, had also been in the running. In Hollywood from 1934 on contract at Paramount, she was signed by Warners in 1940, but found herself typecast as molls and villains. Of Marie in High Sierra, Lupino said, 'It was a damn good role...Bogart was a killer and no good and I was in love with him. Perfectly normal and natural for us.'
Imposing former male model Alan Curtis played thuggish 'Babe' Kozak. Arthur Kennedy, as 'Red' Hattery, was brought to Hollywood by James Cagney, to star in City for Conquest (1940) as Cagney's sensitive brother; High Sierra was only his second film, but he went on to make movies for the next five decades. Joan Leslie debuted on stage aged nine, and made several films in her teens under her real name of Joan Brodel. In 1941 she was signed by Warner Bros, and her role as selfish Velma in High Sierra was her contract debut. For High Sierra, Cornel Wilde was also on contract at Warners, but was constantly typecast as a heavy; he later left for 20th Century Fox and comparative fame, playing the lead in several successful pictures, including the cult crime classic The Big Combo (1955). Willie Best, as Algernon, had made a series of unfunny comedies under the derogatory stage name 'Sleep 'n Eat' and his sketchy portrayal in High Sierra did little to improve role models for black actors in Hollywood in the thirties and forties. Henry Hull, as 'Doc' Banton, was a reliable character actor, who appeared in The Werewolf of London (1935), Jesse James (1939), The Return of Frank James (1940) and later Hitchcock's Lifeboat (1944) and Objective Burma! (1945).
The crisp script was written by Burnett in collaboration with John Huston, who struck up a friendship with Bogart on set during the film's making. Warners allotted the film a modest $455,000 budget. They Drive by Night, Bogart and Lupino's previous film, was budgeted at $500,000. Filming began on 5 August 1940. The desert and car chase sequences were shot in the Alabama Hills, around Lone Pine, California; the area in the vicinity of Lone Pine and Independence was a popular location for shooting westerns. The 'Tropico Hotel Resort' was the Arrowhead Springs Hotel in San Bernardino (near Lake Arrowhead). Other scenes were shot at Warner Brothers Studios, Burbank; Stage 19 at Warners was transformed into the Tropico Hotel lobby for the robbery scene. Shaw's Camp was filmed on location, with cabin interiors at Warners. For the climax of the film the crew travelled to the High Sierra region of east-central California, to shoot the location scenes around Mount Whitney (then the highest peak in the US). The crew's equipment had to be brought in on horses and pack-mules. Stuntman Buster Wiles played both the dying Roy Earle (plummeting down the slope) and Slim, the sniper who kills him. Bogart was irascible on location and Walsh dubbed him 'Bogie the Beefer'. After a 44-day shoot, the film wrapped in September.
Some sources claim that 'Mad Dog' Roy Earle was based on a real-life member of the Dillinger gang. In Burnett's book, he's named Roy Earldon and Dillinger is name-checked in the film. Earle is probably the unluckiest gangster of all time. The robbery fails because of his cohorts' inexperience; as Earle says, 'Small-timers for small jobs... this one was just too big.' Earle falls in love with a girl who doesn't love him, finances her corrective surgery and then watches her selfishly run off with someone else. To Earle she's 'pretty... and decent', but he's only half right.
Earle's gang - which he's presented with, rather than chooses - are a bunch of 'jitterbugs', nervous and inexperienced. Babe is a drunken bruiser with a temper, Red is jumpy but keen and Mendoza is the one most likely to foul up. Earle doesn't like him at all: 'The cops'll punch him and he'll sing' - and of course he does. The gang are honoured to be in such 'fast company', but the reality is they're out of their depth. As 'Doc' Banton, himself a crook, now involved in 'the health racket', notes of Earle, 'You may catch lead any minute.' There aren't many of the 'old bunch' left (at least the good ones) and Earle himself concedes: 'All the A-one guys are gone... dead or in Alcatraz.' Even Big Mac, the brains behind the operation, is worn out and dying, 'like a kid's toy that's running down'. This sense of the end of the great gangsters is unusually melancholic for a genre piece, a melancholy that resonates in the film's finale.
The robbery itself is well handled by Walsh, with Huston and Burnett's hard-boiled dialogue adding to the planning and execution of the heist, and the subsequent manhunt. They hear there are 'plenty of rocks in the strongbox' and Earle calmly cases the joint with a tennis racket tucked under his arm, rather than a machine-gun (which he keeps hidden, according to genre convention, in a violin case). Later Big Mac is found 'cold as a mackerel' and Earle goes on the run. The frantic car chase into the sierras is an action highlight, with the dusty convoy of police motorbikes and squad cars zooming though the desert and up winding mountain hairpins, captured by Walsh's 360-degree pivoting camera. For these pursuit scenes, the camera was under-cranked, to increase the speed of the vehicles, with the rapidly swirling dust a give-away.
The final stand-off beneath Mount Whitney is presented as a media circus, with the cops and sharpshooters mingling with hyperbolic newsmen; 'One is awestruck by the gruesomeness of this rendezvous with death,' says one announcer. Nearly out of ammo, Earle hunkers down behind the rocks, while the law sends Slim, a sniper with a high-powered rifle and telescopic sight, to manoeuvre behind the fugitive. When Marie refuses to help the police negotiate a surrender, Pard, their dog, hears Earle's voice and scurries up the mountain. Seeing the dog, Earle rushes out looking for Marie and allows the sniper a shot at his back. Newspaper headlines have christened Earle 'Mad Dog'; over his corpse, a bystander sneers, 'Big-shot Earle .he ain't much now is he?' He's a tough man and a killer, and killers must be seen to pay. The ending, with sobbing Marie carrying Pard towards the camera, is pure melodrama, but is very effective nonetheless.
But it is this wistfully sentimental aspect of the film, and of Earle's personality in particular, where the film really scores, and where Huston's involvement is most prevalent. Bogart could sleepwalk through performances as a cold-blooded convict and bank robber, but to colour his portrayal of Earle to elicit sympathy for 'Mad Dog' was impressive. There are references to Earle's childhood as a farm boy in Indiana; on his way to the sierras, he nostalgically visits his old house, as though he senses that time is running out. Earle's first action when he gets out of prison is to go to the park and reassure himself that nothing has changed in the outside world. But Earle is kidding himself: the world is very different. While he sits in the park, a discarded newspaper tells us who this character really is: 'Desperado Released -Roy Earle, Famous Indiana Bank Robber, Wins Pardon'.
Earle's sympathetic relationship with club-footed Velma would have been unthinkable in earlier Bogart incarnations. She knows him as 'Roy Collins', staying 'up in the mountains for my health'. Perhaps because of his duplicity, their relationship is doomed. For his kindness in paying $400 for her operation, her grandfather says that Roy is 'The best man who ever lived', but 'Doc' Banton, quoting Dillinger, notes that men like Earle are 'just rushing toward death'. Earle and Velma are completely mismatched. She has a sweetheart back home named Lon and as soon as she is well, she is seen in gaudy dress and makeup. She wants to 'live a little' and is soon to marry Lon. 'That's swell,' says Roy with a face like thunder. These and other scenes in the film show Earle for the 'sap' he is - too trusting of human nature and equally resentful when he is treated untrustworthily.
Marie is his salvation and soulmate. During the making of the film, Bogart said to Lupino, 'You and I were born to be bad, but we're really saints, Ida'; Lupino replied: 'Who? You and me? Impossible! The halos wouldn't fit... our horns would be enormous!' Earle's relationship with Marie starts off on the wrong foot. Warily, he doesn't want her as part of the gang, but gradually she, and Pard, the stray mutt she adopts, become a surrogate family to Earle - Pard's 'got no home, got nobody' either. As they set off on the robbery Pard follows them and Marie pleads that he be allowed to come along. 'Of all the 14-carat saps,' says Earle, 'starting out on a caper with a woman and a dog.' But he grows to like her, especially after his treatment by Velma, and later, he places one of the rings stolen from the Tropico on the little finger of Marie's left hand; a gesture that reduces her to tears of joy: 'Of course, you would put it on the wrong finger,' she fusses.
There was a rumour around Shaw's Camp that Pard was bad luck. Earle and Marie initially laugh off such suggestions, but the way events unfold they begin to suspect they are indeed jinxed, Earle finally rattily conceding, 'OK, it's all Pard's fault.' Bogart's own dog Zero played Pard. In the final scene, Earle's riddled corpse is played by stuntman Buster Wiles, with cookies hidden in his palm, so the dog licks the dead man's hand. Finally, as Earle has 'crashed out' and is free, the dog remains by his master, a silent goodbye - and Marie, in tears, loves him too.
Prior to High Sierra's release, the stars' billing was reversed. Bogart was originally to have received top billing, but Lupino was promoted by the studio -Bogart, who took the project partly because it was his first starring role, wasn't very impressed. High Sierra was premiered in the US on 21 January 1941 and put on general release the following week. The poster was an exciting depiction of the mountaintop shootout, with the line 'He killed... and there on the crest of Sierra's Highest Crag.He Must Be Killed!' Reviewers were gushing; the Motion Picture Herald noted that 'By painting a character with streaks of white which do not dilute the black, Huston and Burnett drive home their point with power and conviction'. The New York Times said the film had 'Speed, excitement, suspense and that ennobling suggestion of futility that makes for irony and pity'. Less seriously, the New Republic noted: 'This is what I should call a film worth exposing negative for.like it or not, I'll be damned if you leave before the end or go to sleep'. As part of the film's promotion, Bogart and his wife Mayo (known as 'the Battling Bogarts') undertook two weeks' worth of lucrative public appearances at Warners' prestigious first-run cinema, the Strand. A stage show review followed each evening's showing of High Sierra, with other performers including the stars of TV's Ozzie and Harriet and an Egyptian magician called Galli Galli. The film was a huge success in the US, but still didn't gross as well as Raft's and Cagney's films, which irked Bogart. In the UK, it was rated an A. The film was renamed throughout
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