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: Illegal

Illegal is a film noir from 1955 starring film noir great Edward G. Robinson.  This film is also one of the first films of Jane Mansfield’s short career.

The film is directed by Lewis Allen and a screenplay by noir writers W.R. Burnett and James R. Webb based on a story from Frank J. Collins.  This is the third time Collins’ story was brought to the silver screen.  I’ve never seen the other two films, so I can not compare the three.

This movie starts out with Robinson as a District Attorney winning a case.  We see the man convicted going to the electric chair.  Robinson is rushing to the hospital where he is given a death-bed confession.  He calls the prison and is too late, they have executed an innocent man Robinson got convicted.  Robinson quits the office and soon becomes a defense attorney.  He is also in love with his assistant, played by Nina Foch who stays at the D.A.’s office and marries another man played by Hugh Marlowe.  Robinson uses his great skills to win cases for some of the worst criminals in town.  This shows one case after another, won in grand fashion by Robinson.  The last case of the film is a very personal one for Robinson’s character and it cranks up the tension and grittiness of the film.

This film is obviously at a  lower quality level then we are used to from Robinson.  Robinson of course was in some of the greatest pre-noir gangster films and a list of some of the best films noir of the 1940’s.  He was then caught up in the McCarthy Un-American Activities Committee.  He testified and was absolved of Communist activities, but was never in anymore great films.  He did elevate films like this one but was never able to re-gain his standing as one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, playing minor parts in big movies and big parts in small movies.

This is still a good film worth watching for Robinson fans and classic film noir fans.  Though it isn’t the same quality of story and production of his earlier stuff, it is still a highly enjoyable performance and film.

Favorite Tidbit:  Edward G. Robinson’s character is loosely based on the famous lawyer Bill Fallon, “The Great Mouthpiece” who got gambler Arnold Rothstein off for the “Black Sox” of 1919 World Series fix.  His likeness has appeared in a number of films and television series over the years.

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!