[Fresh on Blu-ray]: Criterion’s ‘HIGH SIERRA’ makes Bogart a star, Kino Lorber supplies hard-to-find Robert Siodmak film ‘DEPORTED’ and 3 noirs

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Travis Leamons // Film Critic

HIGH SIERRA

Not rated, 100 minutes.
Director: Raoul Walsh
Cast: Ida Lupino, Humphrey Bogart, Alan Curtis, Arthur Kennedy, and Willie Best

HIGH SIERRA would be a turning point for Warner Bros. Pictures. The gritty gangster pictures the studio churned out the 1930s – where cherub angels had dirt on their faces – switched to the romantic fatalism of 1940s film noir. SIERRA was an in-betweener. Raoul Walsh’s picture dips its toes in each before deciding to take the plunge into the dark, murky waters of noir with a second-billed Humphrey Bogart as parolee Roy Earle.

Bogart, despite having the lead role, was snubbed the top spot on account of having played the foil and tough-guy types in B pictures for the studio. Ida Lupino was the promoted star to entice theatergoers on account of playing the femme fatale in Walsh’s THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT earlier that same year. 

Writer W. R. Burnett, having popularized the underworld with the novel LITTLE CAESAR (made into a gangster pic starring Edward G. Robinson), used a fishing trip in the Sierras as inspiration for a novel about a career criminal looking to go straight only to fall in with a group of amateur thieves. Warner Bros. bought the rights to HIGH SIERRA (which John Huston would adapt) and produced a feature that signals an end of the Depression-era gangsters the public cheered on as if they were Robin Hoods of the Great Plains. It’s also a western, where our aging outlaw makes a westwardly trip to find saloons replaced with health spas. Finally, and most important, it is noir. The dead giveaway is its fatalistic awareness. Roy calls it “crashing out.” 

Crashing out has nothing to do with a botched jewel heist at a country club in Sierra Nevada. Roy’s problems start much earlier when he helps a family after a minor car accident. Among the passengers is Velma, a young woman with a clubbed foot. Roy is enamored with Velma and pays to have her foot surgery. Her grandfather warns him Velma is engaged. Roy doesn’t care, figuring his love will eventually be reciprocated. It is not, and it affects him greatly. Even Marie (Ida Lupino), the taxi-cab floozy part of the crew, who grows to fall in love for Roy, is no match. Roy is a lost cause.  

Bogart was always great in these types of roles. He just had a knack for not ending up happy. The way he conducts himself in a scene, doing much without doing much of anything. Bogart might have a snappy comeback when provoked, but his languidness hangs in the air long enough for the earth to settle. As the aging old pro, Roy Earle is no longer the outlaw he once was. The funny thing is, neither was Humphrey Bogart. At forty years of age, HIGH SIERRA would be the last time he ever got second billing in a feature. This, along with John Huston’s THE MALTESE FALCON, both released in 1941, and CASABLANCA the following year, made him big time. Bogart was cashing in, not crashing out.    

Criterion has packed HIGH SIERRA to the gills with supplemental content spread across two discs. Documentaries, video essays, vignettes, a radio adaptation, and a western remake! 

The first disc gives us:

  • A video essay on author W.R. Burnett. 
  • “Bogart: Here’s Looking at You, Kid” – an archival doc from “The South Bank Show” (1997) containing interviews with widow Lauren Bacall, director John Huston, film historians, and Bogart biographer Joe Hyams. 
  • “Curtains for Roy Earle” – a feature about Warner Bros. gangster films, Humphrey Bogart’s history with the studio, and the production of HIGH SIERRA. (This featurette was originally included with the film’s 2003 Warner Bros. DVD release.)
  • “Willie Best” – an insightful new program about actor Willie Best, who often played the stereotypically lazy, simple-minded Black characters as background dressing in motion pictures. 
  • The Screen Guild Theater radio adaptation (1944) of HIGH SIERRA with its stars Humphrey Bogart and Ida Lupino. 

On the second disc:

  • COLORADO TERRITORY (1949) is Raoul Walsh’s western interpretation of W. R. Burnett’s original novel. The era is different and so are portions of the story. The cast includes western genre stalwart Joel McCrea, along with Virginia Mayo, Dorothy Malone, and Henry Hull.
  • “The True Adventures of Raoul Walsh” (2019) is a feature-length documentary on the life and career of Raoul Walsh. Among the interview participants are Peter Bogdanovich, actors Illeana Douglas and Jane Russell, and film critic Leonard Maltin. 
  • Film programmer Dave Kehr and critic Farran Smith Nehme discuss Walsh’s oeuvre in a new program produced by Criterion. 

 An essay by critic Imogen Sara Smith as well as technical credits about HIGH SIERRA’s Criterion Collection release are included in the leaflet found inside the keep case package. 

Movie: B
Extras: A

Kino Lorber Studio Classics seems to drop long-forgotten noir pictures every other month. Their selections for November are an odd selection, including a murder cover-up, mentalism, mental instability, and finally one inspired by the man who pioneered organized crime in America, Lucky Luciano. 

Of the four, the most intriguing for noir aficionados is Robert Siodmak’s hard-to-find DEPORTED. It was one of his last Hollywood pictures and it was shot primarily on-location in Italy. The story is based in part on Luciano having his prison incarceration commuted on the condition he be deported back to his home country. That’s where the comparisons end. This gangster drama about Vic Smith (Jeff Chandler), a New York hood who is shipped back to his native land, doesn’t quite have the sheen of Siodmak’s quintessential noirs (like THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE, THE KILLERS, or CRISS CROSS). 

Its story of Smith gravitating to his black-market ways includes a romance with a widowed countess (Märta Torén) as a bit of subterfuge to help reform the gangster. Siodmak fails to accentuate the Italian setting but he does, with the help of cinematographer William H. Daniels, stage a shadowy showdown in the wanning minutes that is a visual highlight.

John Farrow’s NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES would pair nicely with Edmund Goulding’s NIGHTMARE ALLEY as they both involve stage mentalists. Edward G. Robinson, screen royalty of Hollywood’s Golden Age, stars as John Triton, a clairvoyant who begins to have flashes of true precognition. Opening on a suicide attempt before flashing back to Triton’s time as a paid attraction in foretelling future events, the film explores the existing problems of fate and the inability to change horrific events. Robinson is great in the role, working to prevent the murder of an heiress (Gail Russell) while those in law enforcement suspect him as the perpetrator.  

The logline description for AMONG THE LIVING doesn’t do the film justice. “A mentally unstable man, who has been kept in isolation for years, escapes and causes trouble for his identical twin brother.” This movie is crazy. A noir that is a straight-up Southern gothic nightmare for Albert Dekker, who plays dual roles as brothers John and Paul Raden. Harry Carey plays a doctor that has been concealing the truth about Paul’s death for twenty-five years. But when John comes back to town to bury his father, he is told his brother has been alive this entire time, locked in the house cellar. 

With their father dead, Paul escapes the house and starts to experience new sensations. He eventually rents a room and falls in love with Millie (Susan Hayward), the first woman he meets. Wandering into a local bar, Peggy (Jean Phillips), a pretty blonde, flirts with Paul but he turns down her advances. He follows this with a screaming fit as the combination of alcohol, people dancing and talking disrupt his equilibrium and he storms out.

The following day Peggy is found strangled to death and reports of the sheriff being “baffled” by the murder have the town in a tizzy. A lynch mob is created to find the murderer – who they believe to be John. Everything culminates at the old Raden homestead, where the mob rousts the judge and convenes an impromptu murder trial. While the audience clearly knows which brother is the real murderer, the scary part is showing mob mentality in action and how quickly actions can be misguided.

OK. This last one. THE ACCUSED is an oddly structured noir. Loretta Young stars as Wilma Tuttle, a psychology professor who kills a student in self-defense when he tries to assault her sexually. She’s totally in the right, but her fit of rage in the murder is subject to question as is her attempts to cover up the murder instead of going straight to the police. What should be the start of a good noir rather ebbs into melodrama territory before making a turn into a blind alley where Wendell Corey’s investigating detective, Lt. Dorgan, resides.

Young being pigeonholed as an old maid despite being 36 is more of a stretch than a pair of elastic pants. Then again, it was the 1940s where women were expected to be mothers and homemakers, not scholarly intellectuals. The weirdest kicker is having the killed student’s legal guardian (Robert Cummings) being smitten by Tuttle to the extent he’s ready to make a marriage proposal in the third act. THE ACCUSED had the makings of an intriguing psycho noir – dealing with a woman’s psyche after sustaining emotional trauma – but its indecisive, abrupt ending might make you feel like a victim of time wasted. 

All Kino releases include trailers and audio commentary tracks as special features. 

DEPORTED: C
NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES: B-
AMONG THE LIVING: C+
THE ACCUSED: C+

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