Bogart’s Roy Earle was loosely based on John Dillinger. It was Bogart’s performance in Petrified Forest that made studio heads consider him for a lead role, but that too was hard fought. Paul Muni and George Raft had to first turn down the role. Bogie’s ability to make this role his own convinced them to cast him in the Maltese Falcon. The rest is cinema history.
Joan Leslie played the good girl that Roy wants to love. Throughout there is a theme of keeping with your own kind, and Velma’s wholesome goodness contrasted too much with Roy’s hardened criminal nature. Besides, Joan turned sixteen the day after the film was released. Ida Lupino’s Marie with her hard knock life was more his type.
Not in real life, however. Ida didn’t like working with Bogie and would refuse in the future. Too bad because she spent the bulk of her career in lesser film-noirs and might have seen a bigger hit had they got along. But at this point the 22 year old Lupino was the bigger star and got top billing. After climbing the studio ropes in B movies (frequently as an underaged love interest - I sense a trend) she would get better roles and better movies through the later 1930’s and 1940’s, some of which she directed. In the 50’s she would retire from movies and act and direct in television before returning to cinema in the 1970’s.
High Sierra plays more like a melodrama than a crime film. Roy is the great guy/hardened criminal who goes out of his way to help some people, and plug others. He wants to be good but it’s just not in the cards for him. The old man he befriends was Clarence the Angel, Henry Travers. He shows up whenever an affable old man is needed. Unrecognizable in Colonel Sanders cosplay is Henry Hull, the Werewolf of London himself. I thought he was a Brit but being from the Bluegrass state I suppose his country gentleman character is closer to reality. On the topic of Colonels, or more precisely Cornels, the Wilde variety appears here in his first credited role. Too far to go for that one? I may edit it out later.
A film on the cusp between traditional Gangster flick and film-noir, it clearly sits in the former category. Which may explain why Raft and Muni were uninterested. They had been making this kind of film for a decade. While the end result is somewhat unremarkable, it’s not uninteresting. Bogart makes for a compelling character, hero and villain alike. AMRU 3.5.
"Remember what Johnny Dillinger said about guys like you and him. Said you were rushin' toward death. Yes, just rushin' toward death."