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While The Petrified Forest gave Humphrey Bogart the jumpstart his career needed, it was High Sierra that proved he was ready to be a star.
After bringing Duke Mante to the screen in Forest, Bogie was largely stuck in “B” movies playing the villain. That is, until Sierra came along.
At the time, some considered gangster films to be old hat, which is why James Cagney, George Raft, Paul Muni, and Edward G. Robinson all turned down the lead in High Sierra.
Bogart, however, wanted the part and telegrammed producer Hal B. Wallis about it.
Wallis was a big name in Hollywood, and he was already familiar with Bogie’s work, having produced The Petrified Forest (read about that here), The Roaring Twenties (read about that here), and Dark Victory (read about that here).
Since no other stars were interested, Bogart got the part somewhat by default. Nevertheless, it proved to be career defining, as he breathed life into the Mad Dog Earle, a criminal with layers.
John Huston, who co-wrote the screenplay, said, “Bogart was a medium-sized man, not particularly impressive offscreen. But those lights and shadows composed themselves into another, nobler personality."
Bogart and Huston would work together less than a year later in The Maltese Falcon, which would become one of cinema’s greatest film noirs.