Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

High Sierra (1941)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

High Sierra (1941)

In Raoul Walsh's landmark crime/gangster, proto-film noir from Warner Bros. studios (with a script by co-writer John Huston, adapted from the book by author and co-scripter W. R. Burnett) - it was loosely remade by Walsh as a western titled Colorado Territory (1949) with Joel McCrea, and as director Stuart Heisler's I Died a Thousand Times (1955) with Jack Palance; it marked the first lead role for 40 year-old Humphrey Bogart who had been in dozens of 'B'-pictures since the early 1930s, although he was second-billed behind 22 year-old co-star Ida Lupino.

Bogart's association with scripter John Huston (who soon transitioned to being a director) led to six collaborations: The Maltese Falcon (1941), Across the Pacific (1942), The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), Key Largo (1948), The African Queen (1951), and Beat the Devil (1953).

The crime story was also a character study about a newly-released, aging, notorious gangster named Roy Earle, a hardened but noble outlaw-criminal (modeled after real-life gangster John Dillinger) who was pressured to conduct one final heist, who also exhibited pathos and a soft-heart when he fell in love with two women. Released in 1941 when the nation was on the verge of entering a deadly war beyond its shores, it portrayed a man also at a crossroads in his life:

  • the opening title credits scrolled upward from the bottom of the screen, and curved against backdrops of the towering Sierra Nevada Mountains
  • an executive order was signed "PARDON" by the Illinois State Governor in 1932, to release aging, graying ex-con, Chicago-bred gangster Roy Earle (Humphrey Bogart) from Mossmoor Prison after serving time for eight years as a bank robber; the "desperado's" release was pre-arranged by gangster Big Mac (Donald MacBride) who paid off the Governor; outside the prison gates with his newfound freedom, Earle's first wish was to walk to the nearby park to sit on a bench and take in nature: "Just as soon as I make sure that grass is still green and trees are still growing"
The Pardon and Release of Aging Roy Earle From Prison After 8 Years
  • Earle was informed by crooked ex-copper Jack Kranmer (Barton MacLane) that he was to meet up with Big Mac as soon as possible in California; he was provided with a car (with Illinois plates) and some money for his travels; Earle was told that he was deeply indebted to the gangster for springing him from jail; the plan for payback was the genre's proverbial 'one last job' - to orchestrate a major heist of a swanky resort hotel in Tropico Springs, California out west: ("Mac wants you to start to California right away. That car downstairs is yours. Here's the keys. Now here's your route and some dough. The sooner you get out there, the better...Tropico Springs, well it's a resort town. It's the richest little town in the world, they call it. And a hotel there gets all the top sugar. You're gonna knock it off...Mac spent a fortune springin' you. You're workin' for him now. He calls the tune, and you dance to it"); Earle resented being ordered around, dressed down Kranmer with two slaps, and promptly left
  • at the start of Roy's cross-country drive to California in a 1937 Plymouth Deluxe Coupe, he briefly went eastward and stopped in at the old Earle farm homestead near Brookfield, Indiana, where he nostalgically spoke to the farmer (Erville Alderson) and his young son (Gerald Mackey) who was going fishing; when recognized by the farmer ("Why, you're Roy Earle, the bandit!"), Earle quickly drove off
  • soon Earle was crossing the California-Nevada state line, and nearly ran into another car when a jack-rabbit jumped into the two-lane road; shortly later, he would again cross paths with the Okie family; at a gas station in the desert as he filled up, he marveled as the attendant described the distant, mirage-like Sierra Nevada Mountains: "You're looking at the pride of the Sierras. Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the United States. 14,501 feet above sea level"
  • the car involved in the near-accident earlier drove into the gas station where Roy officially met destitute, down-on-his-luck grandfather Pa Goodhue (Henry Travers), his wife Ma (Elisabeth Risdon), and their young granddaughter Velma Goodhue (Joan Leslie); Pa had lost his farm in Ohio and they were on their way to Los Angeles to live with Velma's married mother Mabel, who was married to Carl
  • at an abandoned, remote logging camp in the Sierra Nevadas with rustic log cabins, known as Shaw's Camp, Roy first asked for information from an offensively-portrayed, lazy black "Sambo" character known as Algernon (Willie Best); Cabin # 11 had been reserved for Earle

Algernon (Willie Best)

Marie Garson (Ida Lupino)

'Red' Hattery (Arthur Kennedy)

'Babe' Kozak (Alan Curtis)
  • outside Cabin # 12, Earle met up with two inexperienced, incompetent amateur cons 'Red' Hattery (Arthur Kennedy) and 'Babe' Kozak (Alan Curtis), and Babe's new feisty girlfriend Marie Garson (Ida Lupino), an ex- taxi Los Angeles dance-hall girl (from "a dime-a-dance joint") whom Babe had just picked up; Earle was reluctant and uneasy about keeping the "dame" and ordered 'Red' to send her back to LA: ("Give her some dough and send her back"); a third individual named Louis Mendoza (Cornel Wilde), who worked as a Tropico Hotel clerk, was their inside man; the plan was a jewel heist in the hotel at Tropico Springs, when the hotel was busy and "there'll be plenty of rocks in the strongboxes then"
  • as the two punks (Earle called them "jitterbugs") bickered amongst themselves and squabbled over Marie, reflecting younger versions of the impulsive Earle himself, Marie pled her case to Earle to justifiably remain as his reliable and useful informant; she told Earle that their inside man Mendoza was the one to worry about: "He talks too much, and all he does is brag"; Earle agreed: "Let things stay as they are for a few days and see how it works out"
  • Marie seemed to fall hard for Roy (she brought him a breakfast tray on his first morning at the camp) although he remained skeptical; Roy took more of a liking to a rogue, mongrel dog named Pard (Zero, Bogart's real-life mutt) and adopted him, although Algernon informed him about the bad luck suffered by Pard's previous owners who suffered premature deaths (a foreshadowing)
  • over breakfast with Marie, Earle revealed his nihilistic view of life in prison, where he had been sent for life, and he sometimes considered committing suicide - as others had - by jumping off a building to his death; he told how he was in the midst of an escape plan when pardoned: ("I was always thinkin' about a crash-out"); Marie agreed with his fatalistic chances - for her own life: "You always hope you can get out. That sort of keeps ya goin'"
  • the shady, sweating Louis Mendoza arrived with a map of the hotel's layout; the group contemplated making their getaway after the heist by crossing the Sierras to get to Los Angeles; Earle was handed a machine-gun case, and recalled a bank "job" ten years earlier in Iowa, when one of the gang members who squealed exhibited the "shakes": ("This guy with the shakes had talked too much and a bunch of coppers were waitin' for us down at the bank"); looking straight at Mendoza without blinking, while leaning on the gun case, Earle clearly was hinting and warning that Mendoza better not talk, or otherwise he would end up dead like the previous rat (he tapped three times on the table to suggest three lethal gun shots): "We don't want no slip-ups, Mendoza"
  • on his way to Los Angeles to meet up with Big Mac, Earle briefly detoured to case the Tropico Hotel in Tropico Springs; he grabbed a tennis-racket as part of his disguise, and again conveyed his deep distrust of Mendoza who was working at the hotel's front desk; after leaving the hotel, Earle drove up to the scene of a minor car accident in the local town of Tropico Springs, involving the Goodhue family; recognized as a intimidating "wise guy" gangster, Earle defensively interceded on Pa's behalf: ("These people ain't got any dough. They're on their way to LA and that car's all they got") and ably scared off Pfiffer (George Meeker) who decided not to press charges; the driver even offered $100 to the Goodhues; Roy noticed for the first time that Velma was a "cripple" - club-footed, disabled, and limping
  • that evening at Brown's Motor Court where the Goodhue family spent the night, Pa admitted to Earle that Velma was driving and had distractedly caused the accident; Roy began to develop a touching relationship with Velma when he marveled with her at the stars and planets in the sky: "It's always like this out in the desert. You see that bright, blue star up there? Look at it sparkle. And look. You see that other one?...Now, that's Jupiter...You see different stars at different times. They change with the seasons. Now, look. You see that one twinkling over there? Well, that's Venus....You know, sometimes, when you're out in the night and you look up at the stars, you can almost feel the motion of the Earth. It's like a little ball that's turning through the night, with us hanging on to it"; Velma responded: "Why, that sounds like poetry, Roy. It's pretty"
  • later that evening in Los Angeles, Roy met with the terminally-ill, heavy-drinking Big Mac in his posh apartment, under the care of defrocked mob doctor, 'Doc' Banton (Henry Hull); after Roy thanked him ("Thanks for the spring. I was just getting ready for another crash-out"), Roy mentioned to Big Mac that the job should go smoothly: ("If the boys don't blow up on me, it's a cinch"), and Roy promised after the caper to bring him the jewels, if his "screwball" cohorts didn't mess up; the two commiserated together over changing times, and too many young amateurs: "Young twerps, soda jerkers and jitterbugs. Why, it's a relief just to talk to a guy like you. Yeah, all the A-one guys are gone. Dead or in Alcatraz. If I only had four guys like you, Roy, this knock-over would be a waltz. Yep, times have sure changed"; Roy heartily agreed: "Sometimes I feel like I don't know what it's all about anymore. Yeah, times have sure changed"
  • due to their relationship and Roy's attempt at a fresh rebirth and the correction of flaws, the decent-minded Roy gallantly offered to pay for surgery to fix Velma's disability, by arranging the $400 dollar operation with 'Doc' Banton (using the alias 'Parker'); Earle was warned and tipped off by Pa that Velma had a fella back home in Ohio: ("His name's Preiser. He's about 30 years old and already divorced. He's doing good in the insurance business, but it didn't look right - a divorced man running around with a crippled girl, so Ma and me brings Velma out here to her mother"), but Roy unwisely disregarded the news
  • 'Doc' Benton also advised Roy against helping Velma, since as a long-time criminal, he was fated to die: "She's not your kind and you know it. And she's gonna throw an awful fit when she finds out what kind of a guy you really are....You may catch lead any minute. What you need is a fast-steppin' young filly you can keep up with. Remember what Johnny Dillinger said about guys like you and him? He said you were just rushin' toward death. Yeah, that's it. Just rushin' toward death"
  • back in the mountain cabin, Marie told Roy that she was being fought over; she had been hit twice and bruised in the face by her misogynistic and crazed 'boyfriend' Babe, who also hit Red with a poker and knocked him out; Red was planning to vengefully shoot Babe; Roy confronted Red and disarmed him; then armed with Red's gun, Roy confronted both men; he slugged Babe with the gun, in Marie's presence, and threatened to get rid of both of them if they didn't obey him: "If I was you, I'd beat it and quick, both of you....I'll shoot the first one that don't do as I tell 'em"
  • for her own protection, Marie asked to move into Earle's Cabin #11; he threatened to send her back to Los Angeles (or her hometown of San Francisco) the next day; overnight, Marie overheard Roy in his nightmarish sleep murmuring about 'crashing-out'
  • the next morning, Marie compared her escape from the city (and her abusive and drunk father) to Roy's release from prison: ("Remember what you were saying the other day about prison and the way you kept from going crazy by thinking all the time about a crash-out? Well, that's the way it's been with me. I've been tryin' to crash out ever since I can remember....I waited for my chance, and I beat it. I crashed out, just like you did"), but she now realized that her 'crash-out' from the dance-hall with Babe was a very bad decision: ("I thought Babe was a right guy...So I had nothing to go by, till I met you"); she tearfully begged him to not be taken back to LA; Roy agreed but stipulated that he had no special feelings for her - due to his blind love for Velma: "I got plans, see. And there's no room in them for you. You couldn't never mean nothin' to me. Nothin' special, that is. You know what I mean?"
  • Roy took Marie (and Pard) with him on a drive to LA; on his own, he visited the Goodhues family and Velma ("a mighty pretty girl"); while briefly visiting the post-surgical, recovering Velma after her successful operation, he proposed ("I'd sure like to marry ya"), but she stated that she had feelings for her 30 year-old boyfriend-fiancee back East and was "crazy about him"; she rejected his marriage proposal: ("But we can still be friends, though, can't we, Roy?"), and he felt heartbroken and betrayed; Velma told her Pa: "I don't love Roy, Pa"
  • back at the cabin with Marie, Roy received a coded telegram from Mendoza that the heist would be that night at the Tropico Hotel; as the criminals drove to the hotel in two separate cars, Roy relented and let Pard into his car with Marie, although he groused: "Starting out on a caper with a woman and a dog"
  • at 1:40 am, the robbery began after the safe was opened behind the front desk and the guests' hotel boxes were broken into; Marie served as a lookout outside in a vehicle, and alerted the gang to the approach of a security watchman-officer-guard (William Gould); in the front lobby, the heist unraveled when Roy was forced to shoot and kill the guard in self-defense; as the group fled, Mendoza begged to be taken along: "You've got to take me. I never thought we'd shoot somebody!"; the gang split up - Roy drove off to Los Angeles with the jewels accompanied by Marie and Pard, while the three partners (Red, Babe and Mendoza) were on their way to take the "dough" back to the cabin; Roy and Marie watched as the other car took a wrong turn, went off the road and overturned in a fiery crash; it was presumed that all three died; Roy delivered their epitaph: "Smalltimers for small jobs. They lost their heads. This one was just too big"
  • by dawn, Marie and Roy pulled to the side of the road; she promised to stay with him wherever he was going: "I'm going with you," but Roy didn't want to involve her in any more trouble: "You stick around with me, you'll never be in anything but trouble"; however, she was adamant: "Look, Roy, no matter what happens, I'm sticking with you"
  • in LA at Big Mac's apartment, Roy was informed by ex-cop Kranmer that Mendoza had survived the crash, but that the two others (unidentified) were dead; in the inner bedroom, Big Mac was found dead of a heart attack in his sleep; Kranmer was suddenly greedy and wanted to fence the jewels and get rich: ("a chance of a lifetime"); Kranmer attempted to steal the jewels at gunpoint, but Earle shot him dead; Roy took a bullet in his side during the altercation and sought treatment by 'Doc' Banton
  • afterwards, the wounded Roy had Marie drive him to Velma's place to visit with her one final time to see her walk in the film's most heartbreaking scene - she was dancing in the company of her divorcee-fiancee Lon Preiser (John Eldredge) and another couple; unexpectedly, Marie entered (with Pard) and sized up Velma, wondering what Earle ever saw in her
Velma and Marie Sizing Each Other Up
  • Lon offered to reimburse Roy for the operation: ("I ought to pay you back. After all, it's a lot of money"), but Roy flatly refused: "Forget it. Think nothin' of it"; Velma encouraged him: "But I'd like you to take it, Roy. After all, Lon and I are going to be married very soon, and he can afford it easily"; Roy was crushed and angry at the disliked Lon: ("Yeah, that's swell...I don't like you. I don't like the way you talk, and I don't like your friends. I don't like to think of her being married to ya"); Velma cruelly solidified her breakup with Roy - repelled by him as her suitor: "You haven't got any right to say such things. Lon's gonna be my husband, and I love him. And you're just jealous and mean because I don't want you. 'Cause I never wanted you"
  • in Santa Monica, CA with Art (Robert Strange), Roy fenced off the jewels (except for one ring) for $200, but the full payoff would have to come later, since a reorganization of the criminal syndicate was in progress after Big Mac's death
  • once Roy returned to the car, he put the engagement ring on Marie's left hand (she moved it to her ring-finger) and semi-proposed; the two began to contemplate a future together, but Roy knew the walls were closing in on him; hiding out in a small Palmville motel (on Rte. 395 north of LA), the Circle Auto Court, he became irritated when the Los Angeles Tribune newspaper headline read: "$10,000 REWARD FOR TROPICO GUNMAN"; Marie worried that Pard might bring them bad luck, as Algernon had claimed, although Roy thought it was just "malarkey"; Roy suggested a quick way to end their flight: "You ought to turn me in and live easy for the rest of your life"
  • after Roy heard that his cut of the fenced jewels was now available, he became optimistic (he hugged Marie), and they began packing to leave, without knowing that the day's Los Angeles Star paper splashed a headline: "GUNMAN KNOWN! - Earle Killed Kranmer in L.A. After Tropico Job" and a full-page photo adding the moniker "Mad Dog" to Roy's name: "'MAD DOG' EARLE NAMED AS ROBBER-KILLER"
  • Roy realized that the Circle Auto Court motel owner-caretaker (Arthur Aylesworth) had identified him and his dog from his photo and wanted to collect the reward; Mendoza had undoubtedly "squawked"; he locked the man in their room's closet after knocking him out; he was aggravated that he had been given a nickname: "Them newspaper rats!"; to save Marie from being labeled a "killer," Earle ordered her to be safely parked elsewhere (as they had agreed), and said goodbye to her as she boarded a bus to Las Vegas to be out of harm's way, carrying Pard in a wicker basket
  • in the film's conclusion, the world-weary Earle became the target of a suspenseful manhunt after robbing a druggist (Harry Hayden) for cash in a Fairmount Drug Store; he faced a roadblock set up near Lone Pine, CA (on Rte. 395) and had to change direction; he was faced with driving high up on a single-lane dirt road into the Sierra Nevada Mountains (in view of Mt. Whitney); it was a high-speed car chase on winding dirt roads next to sharp cliffs, followed by a police pursuit; he had to abandon his car at a road closure sign, and then climbed up the steep, rocky mountainous terrain before his doomed last stand; Roy fired a machine-gun at the police as they tried to assault him
  • after hearing about the manhunt on the radio following a five-hour siege, Marie departed from the bus and made her way into the mountains to reunite with Roy; a radio announcer (Sam Hayes) was emotionally-dramatizing the events at the scene: "Any minute now, it may be curtains for Roy Earle....One is awe-stricken by the gruesomeness of this rendezvous with death....The stern-faced officers involved waiting for the kill, and up above, a defiant gangster from a simple farm on the flats of Indiana, about to be killed on the site of the highest mountain peak in the United States"
  • Marie was identified as Roy's "female companion" with his dog (in a basket); as the second day of the search commenced, Marie refused the authorities' demand to call out to Earle to lure and bring him out into the open during the pursuit: ("No, I won't....I won't, I tell you... He's gonna die anyway, he'd rather it was this way. Go on, kill him! All of you. Kill him, kill him, do you hear?")
  • Earle was given one "last chance" to surrender, as Pard began running up the steep cliff to be with him; Earle replied: "That's what you say, copper!" He wrote a note on a piece of paper with the head of a bullet, to be read after his death: "To the coppers - Looks like curtains, so this note goes in my pocket. If you guys ever find Marie, I swear she was never in any hold-up or shooting. I am the one"
  • a sniper-marksman (Buster Wiles) from high above shot Earle when the fugitive heard barking from his mongrel dog; he stood up in the open and impulsively called out "Marie!" - and was shot by the sniper's bullet from behind; Marie screamed from down below; after Earle's body rolled down the steep rocky cliff, his dog Pard licked his hand
  • uncaring officer Healy (Jerome Cowan) sarcastically gave Earle a nickname: "Big shot Earle. Well, well. Look at him lying there. He ain't much now, is he?"; kneeling and weeping as she knelt over Earle, Marie asked Healy about Earle's term 'crash-out': "Mister, what does it mean when a man crashes out?"; Healy wondered about the phrase, then responded: "Crashes out? That's a funny question for you to ask now, sister. It means he's free"; as she picked up Pard and was escorted away, Marie sadly repeated the words: "Free, free " - questioning Roy's tragic and unnecessary heroic death, his dashed dreams and his loss of redemption, but finding some comfort in it
  • in the final, blurry fadeout, Marie's tear-stained face filled the frame before a pan up to the mountains

Sniper-Marksman (Buster Wiles) Above Earle

Marie Screaming At the Moment of Earle's Death

Pard Licking Earle's Hand
Marie Lamenting Earle's Death

After His Release, Earle Was Given Instructions by Ex-Cop Jack Kranmer (Barton MacLane)

Earle's First View of the Distant Slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mtns.

The Down-on-Their-Luck Okie Family - the Goodhues

Earle's Adopted Mongrel Dog Pard (Zero)

Marie Sharing Earle's Fatalistic View of Life

Earle to Marie: "I was always thinkin' about a crash-out"

The Inside Man: Louis Mendoza (Cornel Wilde)

The Tropico Hotel's Layout

Earle's Deadly Warning to Mendoza About a Previous "Rat"

Earle Falling in Love with Young, Club-Footed Velma (Joan Leslie) - Marveling at the Stars Together

Terminally-Sick Gangster-Boss Big Mac (Donald MacBride)

Mobster 'Doc' Banton (Henry Hull)

Marie Listening to Roy's Nightmares about "Crashing-Out"

Sharing Life's Similarities, Marie told Roy: "I crashed-out just like you did!"

Roy's Denial of "Special Feelings" for Marie

On a Drive to LA - With Pard and Marie

In LA, Earle With Recuperating Velma After Surgery: "I'd sure like to marry ya"

Velma to her Pa: "I don't love Roy, Pa"

The Tense Heist at the Hotel
Three Gang Members Before a Fiery Car Crash

Marie to Roy: "I'm sticking with you"

Marie Driving Wounded Roy with Pard to Visit Velma One Final Time

Earle Meeting Velma's Boyfriend-Fiancee Lon (John Eldredge) After the Surgery

"Mad Dog" Earle Newspaper Headline

The Last Moment of Hope for Marie and Roy

Marie at the Stand-Off in the Mountains

Earle Standing Up and Calling Out "Marie!" After Hearing Pard's Barking

Healy (Jerome Cowan): "Big shot Earle!"


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