Film vs. Film: High Sierra vs I Died a Thousand Times

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Classic film noir fans didn’t see to many remakes of a film, with both being made during the classic film noir era. Here is a rare example of just that, High Sierra from 1941 was remade 14 years later as I Died a Thousand Times. So what film is the better movie? I sat down on a Sunday afternoon and watched both of these films back to back to try and answer that question.

Both of these films are based on noir author W.R. Burnett’s book, High Sierra from 1941.

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Round 1: Screen play 

The screenplay is also by W.R. Burnett, though he had John Huston’s help with High Sierra. The dialog is about 85% identical and the story is about 95% identical. It isn’t quite a frame for frame re-make, but it is close.  I would call this a wash, but since the remake basically does not add anything to the original, I’m giving this round to High Sierra. Score: High Sierra 1-I Died a Thousand Times 0

Round 2: Direction and Cinematography 

High Sierra is directed by Raoul Walsh coming off of directing They Drive by Night. I Died a Thousand Times is directed by Stuart Heisler towards the end of his film career as he moved on to television. High Sierra is filmed in black and white while I Died was filmed in Warner Color and CinemaScope. I know, “this is film noir so black and white has to win this battle.” I would say yes to this question most of the time. Black and white cityscapes are the back bone of film noir after all, but this film is more of a country noir, taking place in the beautiful Sierra Mountains for most of the film. Those mountains sure do look better in bright color and on a widescreen. High Sierra is early in the film noir cycle and doesn’t have much of that classic shadowy cinematography like later films either. So I’m giving this round to I Died. High Sierra 1-I Died a Thousand Times 1

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Round 3: The Male Lead

I Died stars the hulking brute Jack Palance as Roy. He is quite a presence on the screen. He looks big and tough and talks big and tough. He is more of a smart thug.  Humphrey Bogart’s star is on the rise here, The Maltese Falcon would arrive later in 1941 and launch him into super stardom. Bogart’s portrayal is more of a smart gangster with a bit of a psycho streak. Both actors have an unique voice and add something to the lines they speak. Well, lets face it, this is film noir and nobody does it better then Bogart. High Sierra 2-I Died a Thousand Times 1

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Round 4: Female Lead

Ida Lupino actually got top billing over Bogart in High Sierra. She was the bigger star at this point in time. Lupino is a film noir legend as an actress and director. I love everything I’ve seen involving Lupino so far. Shelley Winters stars in I Died and adds quite a bit more depth to this character for me. Lupino’s Marie has it together, while Winters’ Marie is trying to survive in a dark world without many options. Winters’ Marie made me believe Roy was her last hope, where I felt Lupino would land on her feet if she lost Roy. Though I loved them both, I’m giving this round to Winters. High Sierra 2- I Died a Thousand Times 2

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Round 5: Supporting Cast

Arthur Kennedy and Alan Curtis are very good as Red and Babe, but Earl Holliman and Lee Marvin seem to be more dark for me. I also liked Lon Chaney Jr. as Big Mac in I Died, but liked Henry Hull as ‘Doc’ Banton in High Sierra. The dogs are both entertaining as Pard. I’m going with I Died for this round. High Sierra 2- I Died a Thousand Times 3

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Well it looks like the remake wins this round by round battle, but lets face it, there was actually a knock out in Round 3 and the fight was called. It’s Bogart after all! Both of these films are great, but High Sierra is a classic for a reason. Though if you have not seen I Died a Thousand Times, you should, it is a bit of a hidden gem from the classic film noir era. I enjoyed both films and if High Sierra was never made, we would be talking about the great classic I Died a Thousand Times. Lets face it, High Sierra is a film that never needed a remake, but if you have to make one, I Died a Thousand Times is as good a remake as you are going to find. Maybe on a Sunday afternoon you will have to watch this double feature and let me know your thoughts.

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Review: The Last Run

The Last Run is a neo noir film from 1971. It stars George C. Scott a year after his Academy Award Winning performance in Patton. When asked why he made this movie he said  “I’m doing it because it reminds me of old Bogart pictures.” This film originally started out being directed by the man who made Bogart famous, John Huston. After constant fighting with Scott, Huston quite the film. Richard Fleischer took over as director and the films original leading lady was fired and Trish Van Devere replaced her. Interestingly Scott’s wife at the time Colleen Dewhurst had a small role in this film. Her and Scott’s marriage was pretty much over by this time. Scott would go on to marry his new co-star Devere a year later.

Scott plays a retired mob driver, who takes a job after his wife has left him. We are left in the dark on what this job is, but we know he needs to drive across the border into France. Soon there is a daring escape when a wrecked truck explodes and a prisoner runs to Scott’s 1957 BMW convertible. This escaped prisoner is played by Tony Musante. Musante demands a detour from their intended path to pick up his girlfriend played by Devere. When Scott delivers the couple to his employers, Musante tips Scott off that something is wrong. Scott rescues the couple from sure death and our trio’s adventure begins. We learn a little more about our trio’s history and a love triangle of sorts begins. Will our three make a clean escape? Who will our girl choice?

This film bombed at the box office and was not well received at the time by critics. Not sure why, maybe critics and audiences were looking for something different from the current Academy Award winner. I enjoyed this film for what it is, a simple neo noir with some good performances, an interesting, mysterious plot, and some great car chases. If you are a fan of Scott or other neo noir film of the early 1970’s I think you will enjoy this film.

Re-watching the Classics: The Maltese Falcon

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The Maltese Falcon has a lot of firsts, firsts that would change film, film-noir, fiction and popular culture forever.  The Maltese Falcon is considered by some as the first true film-noir movie.  It is the first movie John Huston ever directed who went on to direct 46 more movies, many of them considered classics and he is considered one of the best directors in history.  This is Sydney Greenstreet’s first film, at 62 years old, he was a stage actor for 40 years before this film.  Greenstreet went on to make 24 more movies in his career, 9 more with co-star Peter Lorre.  This book on which it is based is written by Dashiell Hammett, who some consider the first writer of noir fiction, if he isn’t he certainly is one of the earliest influential writers and a master of the genre.  His work has not only influenced the noir genre greatly, but has popped up in western and samurai movies and films from all over the globe.  I read the book many years ago, and may re-read it and give it, its own review later.  I can tell you that the book is amazing as well.

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This movie has one glaring non-first, this is the third time this book has been adapted to the screen, the other two where rather lack luster attempts(I have not seen either of them).  The reason this one worked so well is John Huston wrote the script just as the book was written.  The previous attempts all had a happy ending, Huston left the original book ending in his version.

The Falcon itself may be the most famous MacGuffin in film history, it is definitely the most valuable.  There are 4 know Falcons and 2 are made of lead.  These lead versions have gone to auction and sold for well over a million dollars.  That is 3x what the original film cost to make.

We have a bunch of the common themes we will find in noir movies for the next 20 years to even today’s neo noir films.  We have the hardboiled private detective with the overcoat and fedora hat, has anybody done this better than Humphrey Bogart?  We have the femme fatale in Mary Astor.  We have an unhappy ending that maybe not what the audience wanted. We have twists and turns, sometimes us as a viewer are not sure what is going on, does our hero know what is going on?  Most of the film is from our hero’s prospective, we are learning as our hero learns. We also have some underling moral issues that are there but not spoken, do to the movie code of the time.  Is our hero having an affair with his partners wife?  Is one of our thugs actually a gay man?  Is our femme fatale using sex and lies to get what she wants?

Our story starts at Spade and Archer’s office.  Spade and Archer are partners and private detectives.  They take on a case where a man needs to be followed because he has taken our clients younger sister and will not let them see her.  When Archer is on the job, he is shot and killed.  This is where are hero Sam Spade takes over trying to find out who killed his partner and why.  Our adventure is with Spade, he is in every scene of this film, except the scene where his partner is murdered.  We don’t know who to believe and who to trust, just like Sam Spade.  If you haven’t seen The Maltese Falcon yet, do it right now!

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In film noir and noir fiction for that matter we have two writers, that are considered the best of the era.  Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett.  The debt about who is best will live forever.  I’ve read both of them and can’t pick a winner myself.  I think the winner is us, as readers of this classic fiction.  One thing they have in common is Humphrey Bogart, the iconic star that played both Hammett’s Sam Spade and Chandler’s Marlowe.  Who is your favorite Bogie detective, Spade or Marlowe?

Review: The Asphalt Jungle

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The Asphalt Jungle is one of the most famous film-noir movies of all time.  There are a few reasons for this, the biggest historically would be this is the film that brought Marilyn Monroe to fame.  She plays a small part and her name wasn’t even on the first posters, that soon changed as most poster for the film in years to come feature Marilyn prominently.  Before Marilyn became the biggest thing in Hollywood, this movie got by on its own merits.  For the 1951 Academy Awards, Asphalt Jungle was nominated for 4 awards.  This film was also directed by one of the biggest directors of the era, John Huston.  Huston’s eye is excellent and really gave this a great feel and look.  He also helped with the screenplay, based on noir author W.R. Burnett’s book of the same name.  This had other big names in the film like Sterling Hayden, as our anti-hero, Louis Calhern as our godfather type lawyer, Jean Hagen as our anti-hero’s girl.  I also liked Sam Jaffe in his role as Doc, the mastermind of the crime.  This film and story was later turned into a T.V. series. The series isn’t available on Netflix and I’m not sure if it is available on DVD or not.  I would like to see some of the T.V. series to see if it made the transition well, I’m thinking it wouldn’t.  This film was also re-made 3 times in different versions, one a western, one overseas, and one a blaxpotation movie. I have not seen any of these films but looking at their ratings on IMDb they had no where the success or are anywhere as good as the original.  This movie is pretty much required viewing if you are a film-noir fan and if you haven’t seen it yet, enjoy!