This depression era heist film, directed by Raoul Walsh, is one of Humphrey Bogart's breakout roles that made him a star, along with The Maltese Falcon (and written by John Huston, before his 1941 debut).Bogart stars as robber Roy Earle, pardoned six years into a life sentence through the machinations of ailing crime lord Big Mac. Earle has been broken out to do one last heist, alongside two young toughs, who disgust him with their lack of discipline and smarts. Earle finds himself out of place in a world that is changing fast. His failed romance with a young Dust Bowl refugee convinces him that he has no place in honest life, but when the heist goes bad, he finds loyal companionship in the form of Marie, a dancehall girl from Los Angeles.
This movie contains examples of:
- Badass in a Nice Suit: All the gangsters.
- The Caper: Roy, Babe, and Red rob a resort hotel
- Climbing Climax: Earle flees the police up the rocky slopes of the titular High Sierra
- Downer Ending: Everybody dies except Rodriguez, who talked, and Marie, who's going to prison or possibly an asylum, as she appears to be having a nervous breakdown at the end.
- Expy: Roy Earle is based on John Dillinger.
- Film Noir: This is a classic example, although one might consider it a gangster film or pre-noir, as many consider the genre to have been defined with The Maltese Falcon. Historians cite it as a Genre Turning Point, in that it was when the 30s gangster film became Noir, noting the greater psychological focus and the symbolism (which generally defined noir) separated it from the 30s gangster films, which were more focused on social opinions of urban crime rather than exploring character motivations.
- Meaningful Name: Roy Earle is a reference to King Lear, (Earle is a semi-anagrame for Leare, and Roy is French for King). About the only thing in common was the theme of growing old and the longing for One Last Job.
- Never Going Back to Prison: Roy is haunted by Bad Dreams of prison, and is determined to never return. Like so many other examples of this trope, he eventually chooses Suicide by Cop rather than get taken back to prison.
- One Last Job: Roy wants to retire after this heist
- Retirony: He ends up dead.