High Sierra: Film Noir Joins The Criterion Collection

Humphrey Bogart and Ida Lupino in High Sierra. Courtesy of Warner Bros.

High Sierra, which made Humphrey Bogart a leading man and enabled John Huston to transition to directing, joins The Criterion Collection.

This film was pivotal for helping both Humphrey Bogart and John Huston to advance in their careers. The two were friends and drinking partners. Prior to High Sierra, Bogart was a mere supporting player. Because of this, Bogart had to fight Raoul Walsh for the role. Walsh wanted someone like George Raft or Paul Muni because he didn’t think Bogart could pull it off. History would prove otherwise! Without this film. it’s quite possible that Bogart never ends up in the likes of Casablanca or Sabrina to name a few. Meanwhile, Huston would also use the film to his advantage. The screenwriter would beautifully transition to a directing career after this film. Huston’s directing career would start with The Maltese Falcon, also starring Bogart.

The gist of the film is that “Mad Dog” Roy Earle (Humphrey Bogart) is pardoned from prison and so he heads west to pull off a heist in California. Roy meets with the three men who are going to help pull off the robbery: Louis Mendoza (Cornel Wilde), Red (Arthur Kennedy), and Babe (Alan Curtiz). However, one of them has brought along taxi dancer Marie (Ida Lupino). Naturally, this means nothing but trouble so Roy wants to send her off to LA. She refuses, of course. Marie ends up falling in love with Roy while Roy does not initially share the same feelings. The heist goes terribly wrong and anything that can go wrong does. Roy doesn’t get his happy ending but then again, when do they ever get happy endings in a gangster film? The Production Code administrators would have a field day!

Raoul Walsh and company take advantage of the scenery that the Sierra Mountains have to offer. There is so much location work that is taking place in the film. The film’s climax makes great use of the location as authorities chase Roy at the end of the film.

Fun fact: Pard is Bogart’s own dog, Zero. It sure makes the job easier when you can play with your best friend on set, right?

It’s amazing that this film was able to get remastered at all. When the film was first released, it’s run time was 100 minutes. However, a subsequent rerelease in 1948 saw five minutes cut out of the film. Moreover, the original camera negative does not survive for either cut. As such, the 100-minute cut presented on The Criterion Collection Blu-ray is from a 35m fine-grain master positive stored at The Museum of Modern Art in New York. Unfortunately, there was also damage along the way and some scenes ended up being replaced by a 35mm nitrate fine-grain of the shorter cut.

High Sierra is a solid gangster movie and a breakthrough showcase for Bogart’s leading capabilities.

Bonus Features

  • New, restored 4K digital transfer, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • Colorado Territory, director Raoul Walsh’s 1949 western remake of High Sierra
  • New conversation on Walsh between film programmer Dave Kehr and critic Farran Smith Nehme
  • The True Adventures of Raoul Walsh, a 2019 documentary by Marilyn Ann Moss
  • Curtains for Roy Earle, a 2003 featurette on the making of High Sierra
  • Bogart: Here’s Looking at You, Kid, a 1997 documentary aired on The South Bank Show
  • New interview with film and media historian Miriam J. Petty about actor Willie Best
  • New video essay featuring excerpts from a 1976 American Film Institute interview with novelist and screenwriter W. R. Burnett
  • Radio adaptation of High Sierra from 1944
  • Trailers
  • English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • PLUS: An essay by critic Imogen Sara Smith

DIRECTOR: Raoul Walsh
SCREENWRITERS: John Huston and W.R. Burnett
CAST: Ida Lupino, Humphrey Bogart, with Alan Curtis, Arthur Kennedy, Joan Leslie, Henry Hill, and Henry Travers

Warner Bros. released High Sierra in theaters on January 21, 1941. The film will be available on Blu-ray and DVD on October 12, 2021.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.