High Sierra (1941)

If you create a user account, you can add your own review of this DVD

Released 2-Mar-2005

Cover Art

This review is sponsored by
BUY IT

Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio
Featurette-Making Of-Curtains For Roy Earle: The Story Of High Sierra (15:07)
Theatrical Trailer-1.33:1, not 16x9 enhanced, Dolby Digital 2.0 (2:39)
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1941
Running Time 95:41
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (33:13) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4,5 Directed By Raoul Walsh
Studio
Distributor

Warner Home Video
Starring Ida Lupino
Humphrey Bogart
Alan Curtis
Arthur Kennedy
Joan Leslie
Henry Hull
Henry Travers
Case ?
RPI $19.95 Music Adolph Deutsch


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
Italian
French
German
Spanish
Dutch
Arabic
Romanian
English for the Hearing Impaired
Italian for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    By the time They Drive By Night was hitting the cinemas, production had already begun on the film that was to prove the breakthrough film for Humphrey Bogart. Yet it was a film that he almost did not get a chance to make. Warner Bros. still looked upon Humphrey Bogart as barely more than a bit player despite a critically acclaimed performance in the 1936 film The Petrified Forest that first brought Bogey to the attention of the film-going public. So it was that the first choice for the lead role in High Sierra was Paul Muni, a big star at the time. Despite the screenplay being written by John Huston, with the original author W.R. Burnett to help, he turned the film down as he had issues with the story. Next up for consideration was George Raft, a man that always seemed to be between Bogey and the really good roles. As it was, Bogey passed a few comments and George Raft categorically turned the film down. So it fell to Humphrey Bogart, who had been desperate to play the role of Roy Earle from the first time he read the story.

    The rest is basically history. High Sierra was a critical and box office success, Bogey produced one of his finest performances on film to that date and henceforth he would be the top billing star in every film he made. He made some absolute classics and some would argue that High Sierra is amongst those. As arguably the last of the gangster films that had been the staple of Hollywood, and especially Warner Bros., throughout the 1930's, the film represented quite a pivotal place in film in a general sense. Bogey's next but one film would introduce an entirely new genre and become one of the genuine classics of American film - The Maltese Falcon.

    With quite a few of the cast and crew of They Drive By Night reassembled for High Sierra, it hardly comes as a surprise that the film was shot in 44 days and that it was a seemingly easy shoot - barring the time off Humphrey Bogart had in order to answer some ridiculous charges of being a communist that were levelled against him.

    Roy Earle (Humphrey Bogart) has unexpectedly been granted a pardon from jail, courtesy it seems of someone who wants him for a job. So he finds himself heading across the country to California and the high Sierras in preparation for a job at a nearby resort town. Along the way, he manages to avoid being killed by Pa (Henry Travers) who rather stupidly avoids a jackrabbit whilst Roy is overtaking him on the interstate. Pa is heading to LA with his granddaughter Velma (Joan Leslie) as he has lost his farm in Ohio and is seeking a new life out west. The two form a rather unusual friendship - the hard gangster and the gentle, naive farmer. Roy of course also takes a shine to Velma, who happens to be clubfooted - a condition that Roy happily assists in having rectified. The paths of Pa and Roy cross a number of times during the film. Back at the mountain camp in the Sierras, Roy meets the young guys with whom he is to conduct the job - Babe (Alan Curtis) and Red (Arthur Kennedy), with whom Roy is not exactly happy. He is even less happy with finding out that they have dragged along a dame in the form of Marie Garson (Ida Lupino). He wants her out of there but she does not want to go...

    Of course, hard nosed con Roy now has to juggle his softer side with the realities of doing a job - which is dutifully carried out but with poor consequences which has their insider singing like a jay bird as soon as the police descend. Roy and Marie must dodge the law in order to cash in on the big job. Unfortunately, all roads seem to lead to the high Sierras, where this story will be finalised.

    You can tell this is a gangster film - some of the dialogue really is mired in the clichés of the genre, most notably the immortal line "you'll never take me alive, copper!". I wonder how often that line has been spoken in film? But when it is all done as well as this, who really cares about the clichés? Very well directed by Raoul Walsh, it features a great performance by Humphrey Bogart and another fine effort from Ida Lupino. Whilst some of the rest of the cast is perhaps firmly mired in B-grade film school, the other stand out is the wonderful Henry Travers in another small role, but one that he makes truly memorable.

    There really is not much more to say about High Sierra. Featuring two great performances, a very well constructed story with two opposing aspects to be handled in the one character and some rather nice scenery, it is easy to see why this was the film that burst Humphrey Bogart onto a higher plateau as a star. For all the great films he made, this is still one of the best. Highly recommended.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality

Video

    Not much younger than They Drive By Night, in many respects the transfer is of very similar quality. About the only place where it is noticeably poorer is in the grain that is present throughout the transfer.

    The transfer is presented in a Full Frame format that accords with the theatrical aspect ratio of 1.37:1 pretty well. It is of course not 16x9 enhanced.

    The transfer is generally pretty good throughout and the source material used was in pretty good condition. Sharpness is good, with just some odd lapses here and there (hint: female star...). Detail is generally pretty good overall although once or twice the whole thing just seems to get a little flat looking. This might of course be inherent in the source material. Shadow detail is generally good, although it never really comes into play that much. There is a fair degree of light grain present throughout the transfer and whilst it really does not get distracting, it certainly is noted with ease. Once again the contrast was quite decent, never getting too dark but once or twice early on definitely a bit over bright.

    The black and white tones were just a little flat and at times were not as good as I would have hoped. Certainly blacks are at times not as deep as I would have liked but overall the grey scales are fairly reasonable and quite believable. I guess the slight tendency to grey and grey rather than black and white is the biggest concern here - and that is hardly enough to worry about at all. It might not be the best I have ever seen but it is a long way from being the worst.

    There were no apparent MPEG artefacts in the transfer. There were also few significant film-to-video artefacts in the transfer. About all that was noted was some very minor aliasing in some of the sharper and more detailed scenes, with perhaps the most obvious example being at 7:05 in the base of the windscreen of the car and again in the car radiator at 71:43. There is a bit of wobble to be found on a couple of occasions but nowhere near enough to induce motion sickness. This is another clean transfer in most respects with comparatively little in the way of specks floating around. What is present is not all that noticeable.

    This is an RSDL formatted disc, with the layer change occurring relatively early at 33:13. Once again, this was not noted during the review session itself and was only noted when checking and confirming the DVD specifications on my computer. So basically it does not interfere with the flow of the film at all.

    There are ten subtitle options on the DVD - and in an unusual degree of consistency they are the same options as available on They Drive By Night. The English and English for the Hearing Impaired subtitles are good efforts, once again presented in a nice sized font that does not intrude upon the film all that much. There are a few more lapses here and there in the dialogue, so these are not quite as good as those on the earlier DVD.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    There are two soundtracks on the DVD, being an English Dolby Digital 1.0 soundtrack and an Italian Dolby Digital 1.0 soundtrack. Once again they hold up pretty well despite the passage of the years.

    There is just a little inconsistency in the volume level of the transfer at times, so whilst the dialogue usually comes up well in the transfer there are a couple of places where a bit of concentration is required. The dialogue is usually easy to understand. There were no problems with audio sync in the transfer.

    The original score once again comes from Adolph Deutsch. This time it was a little more distinctive in its own right and certainly good enough to draw just a modicum of attention to itself. It still does a good job in the overall film even though it is more obvious than the score in They Drive By Night.

    Once again we are talking about a rather non-dynamic mono soundtrack that is very near retirement age - so we simply do not expect nor get anything especially wonderful. There is just some background hiss that occasionally draws attention to itself but other than that there is nothing in the way of distortions or other blemishes. Once again it is probably better than I was expecting. The sound effects are pretty crappy (tyres squealing on a dirt road...) but nothing entirely unexpected.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    Whilst not as good a package as that afforded They Drive By Night, at least Warner Home Video have tried and done so in such a manner as to present a package that is very consistent with that on the earlier DVD.

Menu

    Actually rather good looking with some decent audio enhancement.

Featurette - Curtains For Roy Earle: The Story Of High Sierra (15:07)

    In a very similar vein to the earlier DVD in the set, this is a retrospective look at the film with contributions by Eric Lax (Bogey's biographer), Leonard Maltin, Robert Osbourne (film historian) and Joan Leslie. Mixed in amongst the interview material is footage from the film, as well as photos. This is actually a rather interesting effort, not the least because of some of the information that is presented. There is for instance a good coverage of the circumstances by which the role of Roy Earle fell to Humphrey Bogart - having been passed on by both Paul Muni and George Raft. The presentation is in a Full Frame format that is not 16x9 enhanced, with the audio being Dolby Digital 2.0. Apart from the odd instance of aliasing in some of the photos there is nothing wrong with this at all - well at least nothing that would not have been fixed by another thirty or forty minutes of material anyway. There are selectable English, Italian, French and Dutch subtitles.

Theatrical Trailer (2:39)

    Just when you might start to quibble about the quality here and there in the feature, along comes the trailer and you realise how much worse the feature could have so easily been! Don't get me wrong - this still pretty decent stuff all things considered. It is just that it has a darker, slightly harsher look to it that does not bear comparison with the feature too well. The sound is also just a bit strident. It is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, it is not 16x9 enhanced and features Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. There are no subtitles.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The DVD is available as a standalone release in Region 1 that seems to be identical in content to this disc - barring the obligatory variations in soundtracks and subtitles. It does however come in a snapper case. By the reviews located, it would seem the overall quality is very much on a par with this Region 4 release. In Region 2, the DVD is only available as a part of their version of The Bogart Collection Volume 1 - partnered with Casablanca and Dark Passage (to be reviewed shortly as part of our The Bogart Collection Two). The actual DVD itself is the same as the Region 4. So if you want the film alone, your choice is Region 1. Otherwise, there is nothing better than the Region 4 release as far as I can find out.

Summary

    High Sierra is generally considered to be the break out film for Humphrey Bogart, the film that finally catapulted him to the highest echelons of his profession. Warners might not have agreed with it but at least they had the good sense to promote him as well as the film - for which they would reap the rewards over the next decade and more. Whilst he still did not get top billing - he did not really argue the point it seems - it was certainly the last time he was not at the top of the billing. Whilst not as memorable film as say Casablanca, it remains an essential film for several reasons. Aside from the effect it had on Humphrey Bogart's stature as a star, it probably represented the end of the gangster genre that had been the staple of Warner Bros. for nearly a decade. The next Humphrey Bogart film started a whole new genre - film noir. High Sierra saw a different style of gangster too, with the thuggish side tempered by a softer side - and Bogey carried it off beautifully. Perhaps the transfer is not quite as good as the film deserves, and the extras package is perhaps a little lacking (no special edition here), but the film is as good as ever. Terrific stuff.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Wednesday, March 31, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDDenon DVD-1600, using RGB output
DisplayLoewe Aconda 9381ZW. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationYamaha RXV-795
SpeakersEnergy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL

Other Reviews
DVD Net - Anthony Clarke

Comments (Add) NONE