Review: Humphrey Bogart-Starring 'High Sierra' Shines on Blu-ray from Criterion

by Sam Cohen

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday October 18, 2021

Humphrey Bogart is one of the silver screen's most enduring faces, carrying a presence that felt so heartbreakingly weary that it made us care for the characters he played even when they were on the seedier end of the moral spectrum. His breakthrough role in the 1941 gangster drama "High Sierra" is no exception to the rule. In a role Bogart apparently talked George Raft out of taking, this hardboiled drama benefits from a whip-smart script, the precision of Raoul Walsh's direction, and vulnerable performances from both Bogart and Ida Lupino.

The Criterion Collection brings "High Sierra" to Blu-ray, with an excellent 1080p presentation sourced from a 4K restoration of the film's 100-minute cut from the original 1941 release. When the film was re-released in 1948, it was cut down to 95 minutes, but Criterion has restored the original version for release here using the best source materials. The result can look a little shaky sometimes, especially in the shots where there's a clear loss of fidelity due to age and damage to the source materials, but overall the presentation is stunning. Plus, as is Criterion's wont, there's a laundry list of special features included, including Raoul Walsh's 1949 western remake of "High Sierra" titled "Colorado Territory," which is housed on a second Blu-ray disc.

Career gangster Roy Earle (Bogart) is, surprisingly, let out for parole despite being in prison for what was supposed to be the rest of his life. The outside isn't sunshine and rainbows though, as Roy's past creeps back in and threatens to destroy his newfound freedom. Then there's Marie (Lupino), a fellow outcast who is falling head over heels for Roy — yet, she's terrified that Roy will fall back into a life of crime and break her heart.

"High Sierra" may be best known as the film that cemented the beneficial working relationship between Bogart and filmmaker John Huston, who penned the script. That should come as no surprise, given that the plot mostly concerns a romantic fatalism characterized by finding love amidst a life of crime. It's an enthralling thing to watch one of the great actors flourish working in the mode they popularized, but it's another thing to see them flourish and provide a worthy romantic foil to Lupino's almost-elegiac presence.

As for special features, this two-disc edition houses a bunch of extra supplements to dig into. Worth noting here is the new conversation on Raoul Wlash between film programmer Dave Kehr and critic Farran Smith Nehme. It's a terrific watch, filled with incredible info about Walsh. This release comes highly recommended.

Other special features include:

• "The True Adventures of Raoul Walsh" — a 2019 documentary by Marilyn Ann Moss
• "Curtains for Roy Earle" — a 2003 featurette on the making of "High Sierra"
• "Bogart: Here's Looking at You, Kid" — a 1997 documentary aired on The South Bank Show
• New interview with film and media historian Miriam J. Petty about actor Willie Best
• New video essay featuring excerpts from a 1976 American Film Institute interview with novelist and screenwriter W. R. Burnett
• Radio adaptation of "High Sierra" from 1944
• Trailers
• English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
• PLUS: An essay by critic Imogen Sara Smith


"High Sierra" is now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.