This week in my best of film noir series, I’m talking about another great movie with Humphrey Bogart. As my regular followers know, I write the Reed Ferguson mystery series. My intrepid hero, Reed, loves film noir and his favorite actor is Humphrey Bogart. This week’s post is about the great film noir High Sierra because this movie is featured in my new Reed Ferguson mystery. And this is the first official announcement for the new book :). It’s called The Maltese Felon and it’s about…show dognappings. Stay tuned for more on The Maltese Felon, but now, let’s talk about High Sierra.
The Best of Film Noir – Is This Noir?
One of the debates about High Sierra is its classification as noir. I’ve read some reviews that don’t think it’s a very good film or film noir, but the vast majority claim that this movie signified the end of the gangster film of the 1930′s while at the same time introducing the world to American film noir. This is evident early on in High Sierra, where we get the feeling that things are happening due to fate…a classic aspect of film noir. The film noir elements continue with the noir hero…
The Best of Film Noir – The Noir Hero
As far as noir heroes go, you can’t get any better than Humphrey Bogart. The man was just flat-out cool. What’s interesting about High Sierra is that Bogart wasn’t that well-known. Up to this point, Bogart had been playing supportive roles, but his performance as Mad Dog Roy Earle catapulted him into leading man status. High Sierra is a great heist film but it also has plenty of noir elements. Although Mad Dog Roy Earle is a crook, he still has a heart. He is a killer, but one who does not thrill in the killing. At the same time, he has an innocent side. It’s almost as if he thinks if I can just reclaim my youth, things will be okay. And we also know almost from the beginning when he gets involved in a tragic scheme that he is doomed to a sad, dark ending.
The Best of Film Noir – The Femme Fatale
We don’t necessarily have a femme fatale in High Sierra. We do, however, have Ida Lupino. As with Bogart, this movie launched Lupino’s career. Her character Marie loves Roy Earle, but he does not reciprocate. She delivers a fine performance, ultimately bringing out Earle’s tender side. Later (I won’t spoil the events in between) Marie and Earle do become lovers, but it tragically does not end well. Interesting to note, she received top billing over Bogart (the last time this was to happen for him).
The Best of Film Noir – The Screenplay
High Sierra is based on the book by W.R. Burnett, and he collaborated with Walter Huston on the screenplay. I have not read the book, but I understand that the movie adaptation is very good, especially considering that in the book, Burnett gets into the heart and soul of Roy Earle. This is difficult to translate to the screen, and yet we do get a sense of who Earle really is as a human being. There are many memorable lines and scenes that have the Huston touch (Earle showing youngsters how to use a Thompson machine gun), and as an author, the film is worth studying.
The Best of Film Noir – The Dog
Now why in the world is my character, Reed Ferguson, referencing High Sierra? Because a dog named Pard plays a key role in High Sierra. He seems to be a bad omen for Earle, tagging along with Earle, and the dog plays a key part in the movie’s ending. Since dogs play a key part in The Maltese Felon, I thought it would be fun to use High Sierra in my book (you’ll have to read the book to find out how).
The Best of Film Noir – Trivia
A lot of the scenes in High Sierra were shot on location in California at Lone Pine on mountain roads and Mount Whitney Pass in the Sierras. Other places used were Big Bear, Arrowhead Springs, Cedar Lake, and Chatsworth.
Pard, played by Zero the Dog, was Humphrey Bogart’s dog in real life.
When one of the characters, Pa, first meets Roy at the gas station, Pa refers to an accident he almost had, saying A jackrabbit jumped in front of the car and I kinda lost my head. Director Raoul Walsh lost an eye a dozen years earlier when a jackrabbit jumped through the windshield of the car he was driving.
So grab your popcorn and settle in for some film noir fun! And stay tuned for the release of The Maltese Felon.
If you enjoy film noir, read my Reed Ferguson mystery series. Reed is a wannabe private eye who loves film noir and crime fiction, and these mystery novels are consistently well-reviewed: This Doesn’t Happen In The Movies, Reel Estate Rip-off, and the short story Elvis And The Sports Card Cheat. And stay tuned for a new Reed Ferguson mystery, available next month!
5 Star Review
There is little doubt that Renée Pawlish is a promising new voice to the comic murder/mystery genre. Quite noticeable…is Pawlish’s adept development of the plot coupled with her ability to contrive clear, concise and playful prose with almost perfect pacing.
Norman Goldman, Bookpleasures Publisher and Editor (Amazon top reviewer)