Friday, May 29, 2009

Bride of Frankenstein: A Toast to Gods and Monsters

If you saw Bride of Frankenstein (1935) as a kid on the Saturday afternoon TV matinee, you probably have fond memories of it as a fun and scary way to spend an hour and a half. If you saw it as an adult, especially one who appreciates the artistry of fine film making, you recognize it as a masterpiece of classic cinema.

The first of multiple sequels, spin-offs and remakes of 1931's Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein is a cornerstone of the American horror genre. Considered by many to be a superior film to the original, it is one of few in cinema history with that distinction. The film's director James Whale, also directed its predecessor, making him immortal in the monster movie world. Discussions for a sequel to Frankenstein began as early as 1931 when the original was released but securing Whale as director and developing a suitable script took several years.

The story begins with a prelude presenting the novel's authoress, Mary Shelley, recounting to Lord Byron and her husband Percy Shelley, the continuation of macabre prose, on a stormy night in pre-Victorian England. The tale then picks up where Frankenstein left off with the Monster supposedly burned in an old windmill. The film continues on to display a series of memorable vignettes that have defined the Frankenstein legend, including the Monster's meeting with a blind, kind-hearted hermit who teaches him to speak a limited vocabulary. The culmination of course is the creation of the Monster's mate, with all the bells and whistles that were missing from the original (the financial success of Frankenstein made more opulent production values possible for its sequel).

Playing dual roles as both Mary Shelley in the film's prelude, and the Monster's bride is the ever delightful Elsa Lanchester. With her lightning bolt bouffant, wide eyes and long flowing gown, her bride has become an iconic movie image and a favorite at many a festive Halloween party. Though credited for her efforts as Mary Shelley, Lanchester goes unbilled for her ghoulish role. The actress portraying the Bride is merely listed with a question mark on the cast of characters. Along with Lanchester's Bride, Ernest Thesiger creates one of the horror genres most enduring characters, Dr. Septimus Pretorius, the mad scientist/physician who tries to entice Henry Frankenstein to continue his human experiments and create a mate for his monster. Thesiger fills the movie with dry wit and a flamboyant performance. His Pretorius is over the top as he displays his tiny human Henry VIII under glass grown from cultures and drinking a cocktail with the Monster among the graves in the catacombs. Dark, sly humor actually plays a large part in the film, unlike the straightforward horror and play-it-for-screams strategy of the original. And of course Colin Clive and Boris Karloff (billed merely as Karloff) reprise their infamous roles as Baron Frankenstein and his Monster.

Universal pulled out all the stops for the production. Whale, influenced by German Expressionism, molded a highly stylized work with lavish art deco sets (the interior ceilings seem to go to the moon) with the help of art director Charles D. Hall. Make up artist Jack Pierce created the images forever associated with the characters in question. The haunting atmosphere was further elevated with John Mescall's cinematography. His close ups of local peasantry particularly give an eerily chilling effect. (Una O'Connor's Minnie the maid is a hoot. Who knew an Irish brogue would fit so well in rural Bavaria). Not to be forgotten is Franz Waxman's powerful score.

Many successors to this film would be produced, the next being Son of Frankenstein (1939) with Basil Rathbone as a somewhat sturdier Dr. Frankenstein, but none would match it in style and panache. Thanks to the gifted direction of James Whale, it is a truly mezmorizing film.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

George Sanders: A Scoundrel for All Seasons

Egomaniac. Heel. Rotter. Villain. Scoundrel. George Sanders has been called all of these and then some, and he took no offense. As a matter of fact, his autobiography is called Memoirs of a Professional Cad. Never was there a more decadent, delicious, deliberate bad egg in all filmdom than George Sanders. His voice, a deep, silky British accent, would carry lusciously to the ear, any number of cynacisms and indignities to any target he chose. Male, female, rich or poor, his verbal affronts knew no bounds. Oh but his verbal assaults were always carried out with style. His characters were always impeccably dressed, always slightly (and sometimes not so slightly) menacing, snobbish with a droll wit. These intrinsic elements of his persona were used to peak perfection in his portrayal of acid tongued critic Addison DeWitt in the film masterpiece All About Eve.

Sanders was born in Russia in 1906 to English parents. The family escaped to England in 1917 during the Russian Revolution. Entering the American cinema in the mid 1930's, Sanders didn't hit his stride until 1940 when Alfred Hitchcock cast him as the obnoxious and despicable Jack Favell in his classic Rebecca. Hitchcock used him again that same year in Foreign Correspondant. Then a string of Nazis and other nasty nellies followed including an unrecognizable turn as a red headed pirate (?) in the Tyrone Power swashbuckler The Black Swan (1942). Eventually Sanders began to find his groove, as an incomparable heel in Summer Storm (1944), The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945) and The Fan (1949). He was also an incorrigible King Charles II in the historical bed hopper Forever Amber (1947).

Then in 1950 came his pinnacle role, the one for which he is most closely identified, Addison DeWitt. For his performance as the theater critic with the poison pen, Sanders won an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actor. Among so many grand personalities and egos, he more than held his own, introducing Marilyn Monroe's buxom sexpot character, Miss Caswell, as "a graduate of the Copacabana School of Dramatic Art." Classic Sanders.

Of course there were his many marriages, including one to super celeb Zsa Zsa Gabor and later to Gabor's sister, Magda, but all ended in divorce. As Sanders aged, he went into decline. Plagued with health problems and fits of rage, he became weary of life itself. Finally in April 1972, he was found dead in a hotel room in Barcelona, Spain. Also found, five empty bottles of Nembutal and an infamous suicide note, which read: "Dear World, I am leaving because I am bored. I feel I have lived long enough. I am leaving you with your worries in this sweet cesspool. Good luck." The urbane cynic who sneered in the face of convention remained unrepentant to the very end.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Jeanne Crain: A Year in the Life

Today marks the 84th birthday of the beautiful and charming Jeanne Crain, one of this blogger's favorite stars of the Golden Age. Instead of trying to cram an entire life and/or career into a few paragraphs, I decided to honor the birthday of this lovely lady by highlighting, via timeline, one of the more eventful years of her long and illustious life, 1945.

January Jeanne began production on State Fair, the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical about an Iowa farm family finding love and success at their annual state fair. Crain's Margy Frake would cement her place as 20th Century-Fox's resident sweet and pretty girl next door. As a result of the overwhelming success of State Fair, Crain was named a Star of Tomorrow by a Motion Picture Herald survey and received a new and more lucrative contract at Fox.

Spring Jeanne appeared as herself in the Fox 2 reel featurette All Star Bond Rally, a morale booster for the war effort. Also on board were Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Betty Grable.

May Production began on the Technicolor melodrama Leave Her to Heaven, in which Jeanne played second lead to star Gene Tierney. The film reportedly garnered Fox it's highest box office receipts to that date and raised even further Crain's rank at the studio.

August Principal production concluded on Leave Her to Heaven. On August 29, State Fair made it's world premiere in Des Moines, Iowa, with the New York opening the following week.

September Immediately after the week of premieres for State Fair, young Crain began production on Centennial Summer, a musical with songs by Jerome Kern. Fox wanted to ride the coattails of popularity for period family musicals established the previous year by Meet Me in St. Louis over at MGM. Along with Cornel Wilde and Linda Darnell, Crain starred in a musical film in which none of the primary leads knew how to sing!(they were all dubbed).

November Principal filming wrapped on Centennial Summer. Crain was then seriously discussed by top Fox brass for the title role in the upcoming My Darling Clementine. But in a memo to the films director John Ford, studio head Darryl Zanuck declared that the minor role was much too small for "the biggest box office attraction on the lot" at that time. As a matter of fact, Crain's fan mail during this period was second only to Betty Grable, whose fan base was still large but whose box office appeal was slipping.

December Leave Her to Heaven premiered at Christmastime. About a week later on New Years Eve, Jeanne married Paul Brinkman, an Errol Flynn look-alike who was a minor actor under the name Paul Brooks at RKO. Crain's mother, Loretta was completely against the union, and reportedly was a source of strain on the marriage, which produced seven children.

January, 1946 After a short honeymoon in Death Valley, Jeanne returned home to begin production on what would be her first big starring moment, Margie, where for the first time she carried a picture by herself. According to the films director, Henry King, Crain appeared so youthful during production, that he replaced the University of Nevada co-eds, hired to surround the star, with girls from local Reno High School.

Jeanne Crain continued to make her mark in Hollywood, eventually even earning an Oscar nomination for her role in the racially charged drama Pinky in 1949. There were bigger, more ostentatious stars than Crain but her comely features, shapely figure and winning smile will forever endear her to those of us who sometimes enjoy a little less flamboyance. I realize that 13 months were actually discussed in relation to this portion of Miss Crain's life and career but somehow the header, Jeanne Crain: Thirteen Months in the Life, just didn't roll off the tongue. Call it literary license.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Review: The Uninvited

One of the finest examples of a ghost story in Hollywood during it's Golden Age is the stylish and haunting The Uninvited from Paramount in 1944. More spooky than scary, more mystery than horror, The Uninvited has an actual supernatural element not seen in most films of it's day. There's no "ah, that explains how that happened" twist at the ending but instead, an open honest look into the paranormal with no excuses.

The story, based on Dorothy Macardle's novel, is of London siblings (Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey), both unmarried, who buy a grand old home, Winward House, on the Cornish coast of England. The current owner, stiffly upper crust Donald Crisp, lets the place go for a song. Hmmm....Come to find out, things were not always so grand and elegant at Winward House and to the new owners chagrin, they find that it is haunted. The film does offer a few unrealistic glitches, like Milland going sailing on a whim in his tweeds, tie and best fedora or the fact that the siblings, out of the blue, decide to plunk their life savings into a decades old house the same day they discover it. But no matter, these missteps can be overlooked in lieu of the finer elements displayed throughout the film.

The Uninvited is somewhat reminiscent of Hitchcock's Rebecca (1940), not in storyline as much as in atmosphere and character. Like Rebecca, the setting is a large stately house on the coast of England. The house is filled with the memory of it's former mistress, Mary Meredith (heck, it's filled with her very spirit, as she's the one haunting it), and there's even a creepy, dark haired mystery woman, who is unyieldingly devoted to the memory of the dead woman, such as Mrs. Danvers was in Rebecca. More than one film analyst has noted the obvious lesbian theme related to this character, Miss Holloway. It is a role that Gale Sondergaard would have excelled in.

The movie is chilling without the use of modern special effects, though the one camera trick that is used, the spectre of Mary Meredith, is very effective. The atmosphere is instead achieved through expert black and white cinematography by Charles Lang, whose masterful use of light and shadow earned him an Oscar nomination. Also a top asset for the film was it's haunting, romantic score by Paramount's resident composer, Victor Young, which includes the lovely tune Stella by Starlight.

Besides Milland, at his devil may care best, and Hussey (too attractive and refined not to be married), the cast includes the afore mentioned Donald Crisp, stage actress Cornelia Otis Skinner, as the eerie Miss Holloway and beautiful, young Gail Russell, who is "introduced" in her role as the daughter of the dead Mary Meredith (in reality she had appeared in the low budget Henry Aldrich Gets Glamour the previous year). An interesting side note, the same year The Uninvited was released, Gail Russell played her co-star, Cornelia Otis Skinner, in Paramount's Our Hearts Were Young and Gay, which recounted Skinner's early years abroad.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

When Frank Met Jean: Sparkling Cinema

Jean Arthur had beat around Hollywood a long time by late 1935, when she was thirty-five years old. She had started out in silents beginning in 1923, featured in several low budget westerns and comedies. When sound came into play, late in the decade, she had a great asset in her husky, nasal voice, distinctive among her peers. But even though she made the transition to talkies smoothly, true stardom continued to elude her. In 1935, she appeared in John Ford's delightful comedy The Whole Town's Talking, starring Edward G. Robinson, where she displayed a flair for comedy that she hadn't shown on screen before. Her wisecracking defender of milquetoast Robinson was a refreshing change of pace.

The same year The Whole Town's Talking was released, Arthur's home studio, Columbia Pictures, was starting production of a film called Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. Frank Capra, fresh from his huge success with It Happened One Night, was the film's director. Set to play the leads were Gary Cooper and Carole Lombard, in a homespun tale of a small town idealist who inherits a fortune and moves to the big city, only to find cynicism and corruption. Three days before production began Lombard withdrew to take the lead in My Man Godfrey. Shooting on Deeds began without a female lead. Then, in what was to be the turning point of her career, Jean Arthur was chosen by Capra to take over the Lombard role. According to Capra's autobiography, he spotted Arthur in the daily rushes of another film she was working on. He then tried to persuade Columbia boss Harry Cohn to give her the part. Cohn was against it but Capra convinced him by having Cohn listen to her voice only and not look at her face (Cohn said Arthur's face was "half angel and half horse", a reference to the star's claim she had a good side and a bad side to be photographed).

The film ended up winning Capra his second Best Director Oscar and making Jean Arthur a full fledged star. After making the classic fantasy drama Lost Horizon (1937), Capra was back at screwball comedy again with You Can't Take It With You (1938). For the female lead in his latest comedy, Capra again wanted Arthur. He called her "his favorite actress." Yet again, his Midas touch struck movie gold with a third directorial Oscar for You Can't Take It With You, as well as the film winning the year's Best Picture (a rare feat for a comedy feature, although Capra's It Happened One Night also reached this pinnacle).

With his fortunes riding high, Capra and Columbia wanted to make a sequel to Mr. Deeds Goes to Town with Gary Cooper and Jean Arthur called Mr. Deeds Goes to Washington. Cooper, however, was unavailable and the story instead became Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) with Arthur and James Stewart, who was borrowed from MGM. Arthur sparkled as Saunders, the cynical secretary who is slowly bowled over by Stewart's idealistic, completely incorruptible Jefferson Smith. Through her exposure in Capra's films, along with other non-Capra films like Easy Living (1937) and Only Angels Have Wings (1939), Jean Arthur one of the queens of the screwball comedy. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington would be the actress and the director's last film together, and Capra's last at Columbia, the studio where they both made their mark in Hollywood.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Review: The Little Foxes

"Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines: for our vines have tender grapes". Song of Solomon, Chapter 2, verse 15. It was this biblical reference which acted as the on-screen prelude and general theme to one of the richest characterizations of avarice put to film. The Little Foxes tells the story of a prosperous family in the Deep South during the turn of the 20th Century, whose overwhelming greed and corruption, corrodes their already deteriorating clan.

The film was directed by legendary William Wyler, produced by legendary Samuel Goldwyn and starred legendary Bette Davis, who gives a masterful performance. But that being said, it's not necessarily a Bette Davis movie as say Dark Victory (1939) or Now, Voyager (1942) were. It's part Bette Davis movie, part William Wyler movie and part Samuel Goldwyn movie, all tied together with a screenplay by Lillian Hellman, authoress of the original play. Each of these creative powerhouses contributing his or her own expertise to conceive a film classic.

Hellman had brought her play to Broadway in 1939, starring the infamous stage actress Tallulah Bankhead in the juicy role of vicious Regina Giddens. The films director, William Wyler immediately wanted to cast Bette Davis as Regina. The two had worked together on two previous films, Jezabel (1938) and The Letter (1940), as well as allegedly having a torrid affair. Warner Brothers, Davis' home studio, never loaned their biggest star out to anybody. However, Jack Warner arranged to have her loaned out this one time as a trade for Gary Cooper, who he wanted to star in Warner's upcoming biopic Sergeant York (1941). It was the only time between 1934 and 1949, when her contract ended at Warners that the studio loaned her services out.

Davis, famous for tour de force, eye-popping, shoulder jerking performances, underplayed the role to great effect. Her Regina is cold and calculating as she and her equally greedy brothers (Charles Dingle and Carl Benton Reid) try to manipulate her gravely ill husband (Herbert Marshall) into investing money in a cotton mill venture that could make them all wealthy beyond their wildest dreams. She is a vision of controlled, steely determination, in the fine period dress and rice powder makeup provided for her by famed make-up artist Perc Westmore.

The film is visually sumptuous. Producer Samuel Goldwyn, well known for his use of high production values in his films, displayed these abundantly with lush interiors. Through architectural nuances, like bold archways and rich decor of dark wood and exquisitely upholstered furnishings, the old south aristocracy is brought vividly to life. As it does in many examples of director Wyler's work, the use of sweeping staircases creates a dramatic stage on which his actors perform, as well as a visual focal point, with much of the action taking place on or around the grand corridor. Master cameraman Gregg Toland uses deep focus photography to capture a sharp and realistic image, enhancing the intensity of the unfolding drama.

Besides Davis, the ensemble cast showcases some superb performances from Dan Duryea as Regina's lazy, imbecilic nephew Leo, Patricia Collinge as the pathetic, drunken Birdie and Teresa Wright, who, in her film debut, gives an Oscar nominated portrayal of Regina's naive but maturing daughter Zan. In all The Little Foxes received 9 Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Actress for Davis and Best Supporting Actress for both Wright and Collinge.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Basil Rathbone: Villain or Sleuth?

Arguably one of the ultimate movie villain actors of the Golden Age is the incomparable Basil Rathbone. But most film aficionados know him best as the master of mystery, Sherlock Holmes, in a series of films beginning at Twentieth Century-Fox in the late Thirties, then moving to Universal throughout the duration of the war.

Black-hearted, icily suave and sadistically ruthless, Rathbone's pre-Holmes characterizations were anything but forgettable. (Rumor has it that author Margaret Mitchell wanted him to play Rhett Butler in the filmization of her novel Gone With The Wind!) A Shakespearean actor in England, he came to the United States in the mid 1920's to perform on the New York stage, but it was his reputation as a sophisticated villain in Hollywood films that made him famous. Although wonderfully sinister in several classics of the mid and late Thirties, including Anna Karenina (1935) and Tower of London (1939), three of his best roles were in Captain Blood (1935), The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) and The Mark of Zorro (1940).

An accomplished swordsman in real life, he fought impressive duels in each of these films with the lead actor (Errol Flynn in the first two and Tyrone Power in the latter) only to lose dramatically in the end. In Captain Blood, Rathbone plays a French pirate who first allies with then defies Flynn. In The Mark of Zorro, the distinctively profiled actor portrays the cool and cruel Captain Pasquale, who acts as nemesis to Tyrone Power's masked avenger. But it's as filmdom's greatest scoundrels, Sir Guy of Gisbourne in Warner Brothers Technicolor masterpiece, The Adventures of Robin Hood, that ingrains in the memory, Basil Rathbone's vision of menacing rogue.

Then in 1939, Rathbone was cast as the definitive detective, Sherlock Holmes, in Twentieth Century-Fox's version of Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles. With Nigil Bruce by his side as Dr. Watson, the iconic duo found themselves in the middle of an unforeseen hit. Rathbone's popularity as Holmes was such a surprise he wasn't even top billed but second to Fox contract player Richard Greene. The studio quickly developed The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes to cash in on the success of Baskervilles. Both films were set in Victorian England as reflected in the Conan Doyle stories, but when the burgeoning franchise was acquired by Universal in 1942, the setting was changed to the present and many of the story lines revolved around World War II based intrigue. All told, Rathbone and Nigil Bruce would make 14 Holmes films. Quite an offering for what started out as a quaint little period picture.

So, which do you prefer? Rathbone the Rogue or Sherlock Holmes.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Lana Turner, Birth of a Starlet, Part 1

Lana Turner became one of the most glamorous, most talked about, most married and most courted stars ever to hit Hollywood. The killing of her then boyfriend, Johnny Stompanato in 1958, by her daughter was one of the most sensational stories of the entire decade. It was the kind of story that fit perfectly into Lana Turner's very colorful and eventful life. Her persona was one of smouldering sex appeal, both on screen and off. But the life and career that exuded so much glamour and fame began quite differently.

It is Hollywood legend how Lana Turner was "discovered" by a talent scout inside Schwab's drugstore in Hollywood in the mid 1930's. As a matter of fact, Schwab's would become synonymous with Turner as a result of the famed fable. Although the legend is similar to the real events that led to Lana Turner's discovery, it was not Schwab's, but the Top Hat Cafe where the future star was sitting that fateful day.

Julia Jean Mildred Frances Turner was born in Wallace, Idaho on February 8, 1921 (although many sources say 1920, Turner in her autobiography claims this is a mistake and she was actually born a year later). Her father was a gambler and sometimes bootlegger. Her mother, practically a child bride. The family moved to San Francisco when little Judy, as she was called, was still very young. In 1930, when she was nine, her father was murdered and robbed after winning big in a crap game. Her mother, Mildred, unable to give her daughter full time care, put her with several foster families. Mildred found work as a hairdresser and she and Judy eventually moved back in together. When Judy was fifteen, mother and daughter moved south to Los Angeles. There the already developed teenager enrolled at Hollywood High School, which was located across the street from the Top Hat Cafe and that was where fate smiled on young Judy Turner.

Cutting a typing class at Hollywood High, the precocious teen was sipping a Coke at the Top Hat soda fountain when she was spotted by Billy Wilkerson, publisher of the Hollywood Reporter, who noted her pretty face and shapely figure. He referred her to comedian cum agent Zeppo Marx (the fourth Marx Brother), which in turn led to a meeting with director Mervyn LeRoy. LeRoy signed Turner to a personal contract and placed his new protege in his upcoming film They Won't Forget (1937). at Warner Brothers. She had the small but pivotal role of Mary Clay, the young victim, who sashays down the street of a small southern town in a tight sweater which showcases her natural endowments. The role earned her the moniker of "The Sweater Girl", a title she kept well into the war years. She and LeRoy decided to change her name to the more glamorous Lana and the legend was born. She was loaned out to Samuel Goldwyn to play an Oriental handmaiden in the epic The Adventures of Marco Polo (1938), starring Gary Cooper. The role required that the starlet's eyebrows be shaved and a higher arch be drawn in by the makeup department. They never grew back and she would have to draw them in for the rest of her life.

When her mentor, LeRoy, moved from Warners to Metro Goldwyn Mayer, Turner followed, signing a contract with the top rate studio in early 1938 for $100 per week. Still a teenager, she joined fellow contract juveniles Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland in Metro's famed Little Red School House where they were tutored on the set. Early on she was given the glamour build up, despite her young age. Even among her contemporaries in her first film at MGM, Love Finds Andy Hardy (1938), it is Lana who is given the role of the glamorous teen aged vamp. Under LeRoy's tutelage she thrived at her new studio. She also thrived socially. Besides Rooney and Garland, her circle included young MGM hopefuls Robert Stack and Ann Rutherford. It also included handsome young men aplenty. Columnist began calling her the "Nightclub Queen". Out late and up early on the set, the underage starlet was burning the candle at both ends. It got to the point that a concerned Louis B. Mayer, head of MGM, called a meeting with Turner and her mother. The meeting climaxed with Mayer shouting, "The only thing you're interested in is....", as he pointed to his crotch.

The whirlwind of men and nightlife would finally culminate in the first of her seven marriages and numerous affairs. On February 8, 1940, her nineteenth birthday, she and bandleader Artie Shaw eloped on their first date. They would divorce four months later.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Review: High Sierra

High Sierra (1941) is the film that Humphrey Bogart fan's can thank for jump starting his career, because it is that film that pushed him closer to stardom and with The Maltese Falcon, made later that same year, he cemented it. Trudging along as a black hearted gangster or second lead at Warner Brothers for years had taken its toll, and Bogie lobbied hard for the part of Roy "Mad Dog" Earle. First offered to Paul Muni, then, after Muni turned it down, to George Raft, the role finally went to the persistent Bogart. Although he received second billing after Ida Lupino, it would be the last time in his career that he would see that slot.

High Sierra is a Warners gangster picture for sure. Many of the usual suspects who show up for the studio's often visited genre are here as well, gun-toting, tough-talking Barton MacLane for instance. The film is filled with the hard boiled dialogue of the day (more "saps", "rackets" and "sisters" than you can shake a stick at), but what makes Sierra different is the character of "Mad Dog" Earle and Bogart's portrayal of him. The actor brings a depth and sensitivity to Earle that is not usually seen in standard gangster fare. Unlike other "bad guys" of filmdom, like Gable's "Blackie" Gallagher in Manhattan Melodrama (1934) or Cagney's Rocky Sullivan in Angels With Dirty Faces (1938), who show signs of decency to help out their upstanding friends, but still enjoy their chosen path in life, Bogart's Earle is three dimensional. Although a thief and a killer, at his core are traces of the Indiana farm boy he left behind many years ago, traces that want to resurface in the form of a relationship with good girl Joan Leslie. Traces that do resurface in the affection for a stray dog, who eventually leads to his downfall.

"Mad Dog" Earle is a convict whose pardon from prison has been bought by gang boss Big Mac (Donald MacBride), so that Earle, an experienced thief, can lead a major jewel heist Mac has planned. Along the way he meets two women. The innocent and soft-spoken cripple, Velma (Joan Leslie, in her first significant role), and hard-on-the-outside but soft-on-the-inside moll, Marie (Ida Lupino). Often an underrated actress, Lupino brings tender pathos as the dime a dance girl turned gangster gal. Her turn in High Sierra raised her stock at Warner Brothers, though she never achieved the fame of several of her counterparts at the studio (she described herself as "a poor man's Bette Davis"). The sympathy felt for both her Marie and Bogart's "Mad Dog" are a testament to both the actors as well as the screenplay. Others in the cast were Arthur Kennedy, Alan Curtis and young Cornel Wilde, in one of his earliest roles.

On the strength of his work as the screenplays co-writer, John Huston was given directorial duty on the upcoming The Maltese Falcon, where he forged a long lasting personal and professional relationship with Bogart. They continued their collaboration with The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and The African Queen among other films. Warner's resident action director Raoul Walsh, who directed the film, would remake it with a Western theme in 1948 as Colorado Territory and in 1955 yet another remake was produced as I Died a Thousand Times.


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