The strange thing about this project is that we see so many movies that are definite "thumbs down" that when we get one that is just ok, I want to praise it to high heaven. The problem is, on a list like this, I think High Sierra should probably be the lowest and the rest should be amazing. But, I didn't write the list (clearly) so this one is firmly in "eh" territory which is dead center for this list. Which, I guess, is its own commentary: we should watch films we both love and hate.
But, anyway, Bogey gets out of jail (again) and no hijinks ensue but there is a lot of angst, botched criminal activity, too-easily broken hearts, general melodrama, and a little dog who seems to be the Grim Reaper in canine form. What's strange to me is that this film was released the same year as The Maltese Falcon (also on the list) which is arguably an excellent film. Having both films on the list really only highlights High Sierra's mediocrity (as does the fact that we've already seen a really effective and engaging wise-guy noir with White Heat). But, I'm guessing High Sierra is on the list because it's Bogey's first leading man role (despite Ida Lupino getting first billing), it was co-written by genius John Huston and Oscar-nominated (not for this film) W.R. Burnett, and was directed by Raoul Walsh who has three other films on the list (The Thief of Bagdad, Me and My Gal, and the aforementioned White Heat).
And the book says: "High Sierra is a landmark of the gangster genre, a career turning point for Humphrey Bogart, and a model of action-film existentialism by Raoul Walsh." The book explains the first and last point by offering that this film was unusual in the era of film Code in that Bogart's character is sympathetic. But then the book argues that Bogart's character "the nobly named hero, towers above the punks and hypocrites he encounters, foolishly pursues a respectable girl . . . , and briefly finds more suitable companionship with a fellow outcast." Here's where I start to have problems with the book's interpretations; again the book seems to be taking more from the film than is there. Who are the "punks and hypocrites" exactly? We have a nervous hotel worker who talks too much but that doesn't make him a punk (just not a good criminal which is expected as this is his first encounter) and he never claims to be a good criminal or quiet so he's not a hypocrite. It seems Roy Earle would be the punk in that situation for relying on a straight guy that talks so much. The "foolishly pursues a respectable girl" part is not explored enough in the film. Yes, Velma seems like a horrid person but Earle sees her a whopping 4 times before he proposes, each time only minutes long, and only once did he talk directly to her. So I don't agree with the book skewering her with "High Sierra's view of straight-and-narrow society is remarkably scathing, reaching a peak in the scene in which Roy is humiliatingly rejected by his vapid middle-class princess in favor of her smug conformist boyfriend." First, she's not middle-class; it's emphasized that she's poor. Second, why the hell shouldn't she reject Earle in favor of a man she was already in love with?! She'd be more vapid to accept Earle and ditch the man she with whom was madly in love--except that would make her like Marie who readily hops gangster beds and who the book likes. And, finally, I really do not see a consistent or arguable "scathing" view of "straight-and-narrow society"; I see Earle really liking Pa and "falling in love" with and helping Velma despite Pa telling him exactly where Velma's heart is. That seems a more scathing view of men who expect love when there was a little hand-holding and a promise of money. Otherwise, the criminals consistently fuck themselves: Earle trusts a copper despite saying repeatedly that coppers are always coppers; Earle signs on to a job with two nimrods he's never met; said nimrods are nimrods and act like nimrods a lot so Earle has enough warning and could bail; Earle takes a dame and a dog on a job; Earle trusts a straight guy with loose lips; Earle does a job for a clearly almost dead man; Earle expects too much from a straight girl; Earle expects too much from a moll; Earle races up a mountain faster than any horror movie dimwit rushes up stairs away from a killer; Marie rushes to the stand-off; Marie lets loose Grim Reaper dog at the stand-off; Earle exposes himself to yell "Marie" a lot. So, yeah, to me that condemns dumbass criminals.
All of that, of course, is arguing with the book rather than the film. I don't hate the film but I didn't need to see it.