Humphrey Bogart as Roy “Mad Dog” Earle, professional armed robber on parole
Sierra Nevada Mountains, California, Spring 1940
Film: High Sierra
Release Date: January 21, 1941
Director: Raoul Walsh
Wardrobe Credit: Leah Rhodes
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Tomorrow marks the 80th anniversary of the release of High Sierra, arguably the movie that launched Humphrey Bogart from a Warner Bros. background player in the ’30s to superstardom in the ’40s. A violent criminal with an earnest streak, Roy Earle was the ideal role for Bogie to transition from the secondary sniveling bastard in movies like The Petrified Forest and The Roaring Twenties to the tilted-hat heroes we love in The Maltese Falcon, Casablanca, and more.
W.R. Burnett had blazed the trail for American gangster fiction with his 1929 novel Little Caesar, an Al Capone-inspired roman à clef inspired by Burnett’s own experiences as a night clerk in a seedy Chicago hotel. The filmed adaptation starring Edward G. Robinson arguably launched the American gangster movie as we know it, and Burnett busied himself during the following decade as a somewhat more idealistic alternative to the more hardboiled James M. Cain, Raymond Chandler, and Dashiell Hammett, inspired by the headlines to draft his criminal characters that yearned for something better in their lives.
Burnett found the ideal muse in John Dillinger, the Indiana-born bank robber whose yearlong crime spree captivated the imaginations of a cynical populace looking for folk heroes against the despair of the Great Depression. Unlike the pariahs of other decades, Depression-era desperadoes were eagerly received by a public captivated by anti-authoritarian rebels, and the charismatic Dillinger became a surprising celebrity with his crooked smile, laidback demeanor, and relative aversion to violence, at least when compared to more bloodthirsty contemporaries like “Baby Face” Nelson or Wilbur Underhill.
Dillinger was gunned down by federal agents in July 1934, acting on a tip from the infamous “Lady in Red” (although Anna Sage was, in fact, wearing an orange skirt that night), cementing his legend in the annals of American crime and giving rise to scores of characters in the burgeoning sub-genre of gangster cinema. No doubt due to his physical resemblance to the famous gangster, Bogie himself had a turn as the Dillinger-esque “Duke” Mantee in The Petrified Forest, though Mantee was 100% snarling swagger and 0% charm.
Roy Earle, on the other hand, was a considerably more dimensional character. Born in Brookfield, Indiana—just thirty miles east of Dillinger’s hometown of Mooresville, on the other side of Indianapolis—Earle is presented as a professional who approaches crime as a means to an end rather than as an outlet for his violent urges. Like Dillinger, who found an audience in the less fortunate among the American population, Earle connects with underdogs like the club-footed Velma (Joan Leslie), the “dime-a-dance” girl Marie (Ida Lupino), and his dog Pard, played by Bogart’s own dog Zero:
Of all the 14-karat saps… starting out on a caper with a woman and a dog.
Roy has spent more than eight years languishing in prison when his parole is arranged by powerful Chicago gangster “Big Mac” (Donald MacBride), on the pretense that the experienced Earle pull a job on his behalf, robbing a resort in a Palm Springs-like town, echoing the motives behind Carter “Doc” McCoy’s early release in Jim Thompson’s The Getaway and the two subsequent film adaptations.
Earle learns more about the heist from Jake Kranmer (Barton MacBride), a burly crook whose appearance and mannerisms evoke George “Bugs” Moran, the real-life mob boss who gained infamy after members of his gang were wiped out by Capone’s thugs during the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1929.
Bogart reportedly lobbied hard for the star-making role, talking George Raft out of it. Whether it was his own campaigning or Raft’s excessive stipulations, it was Bogie who spent the late summer of 1940 chased through California’s picturesque Sierra Nevada mountain range as the wanted “Mad Dog” Roy Earle.
What’d He Wear?
Roy Earle spends much of High Sierra clad in a dark self-striped wool suit. Though an unfashionable color outside of funerals and evening wear, the suit has been depicted as black in artificially colorized versions of the movie, and it may indeed have been, given Earle’s villainous occupation.
The single-breasted suit jacket has notch lapels and a two-button front, which he wears tends to wear unbuttoned in coordination with his perpetually loosened tie. Standing 5’8″ with a lean frame, Bogart may not have been physically imposing but brought a dangerous menace to many of his characters that was emphasized by his tailoring, in this case building up the shoulders of his suit jacket with padding and high-roped sleeveheads as well as a subtly suppressed waist. His ventless jacket also has a welted breast pocket, straight jetted hip pockets, and three buttons on each cuff.
Earle’s double reverse-pleated, full-fitting suit trousers are fashionably and flatteringly high-waisted, with the long rise accented by Bogie’s frequent habit of hooking his thumbs in his waistband. At the waist, his trousers are held up by a brown leather belt, as suggested by the considerably light color contrasted against his dark trousers, which closes through a small single-prong buckle. The waistband has only four belt loops: two on the front (each lined up with the more forward of the two pleats) and two spaced apart across the back. The side pockets are gently slanted, there are no back pockets, and the bottoms are finished with turn-ups (cuffs).
Roy favors off-white work shirts in brushed cotton flannel, an informal alternative to the usual dress shirts that befit the more casual mountain environs and his value for function over flash. The likely colors would be a pale blue, gray, or beige, all of which had been used to depict the shirt in contemporary promotional art.
The shirt has a point collar that Roy always wears unbuttoned at the neck, whether or not he’s wearing his four-in-hand necktie which—for the sake of argument—we’ll describe as black. The somewhat oversized shirt fits properly at the shoulders but fully through the chest and arms, though the sleeves are just the right length with a single-button closure at each rounded cuff. The shirt has a front placket and two chest pockets that have single-button pointed flaps to close.
The Sportier Alternative
Roy wears a variation of his usual outfit when he drives into Tropico Springs to stake out the resort. Similarly styled as his suit jacket but with a boxier cut, Roy’s sports coat looks like a heavier woolen cloth with more conventionally shaped notches in the lapels and a decided lack of roping on the still-heavily padded shoulders.
After Roy removes his jacket (flashing the manufacturer’s label stitched inside the right breast), we see that he’s also changed his trousers as these solid dark slacks are flat-fronted, lacking the pronounced pleats of his suit trousers and even worn with a darker leather belt.
Ditching his jacket and tie in his Plymouth, Roy strides into the resort in his shirt sleeves. The two-pocket shirt may initially resemble his flannel work shirts, but the lighter color and lighter-weight material given to wrinkling indicates that he’s also changed into a white linen shirt, a fashionable must for any gent’s summer wardrobe.
Like his work shirt, the linen shirt has a point collar, front placket, two pointed-flap pockets, and button cuffs that Bogart wears unfastened and rolled up his forearms.
Evoking the traditional villains in old-fashioned B westerns, Roy the dangerous criminal wears a black hat—at least I’ll assume it’s black—though it’s a more contemporary fedora with a coordinated wide grosgrain silk band. Like the rest of his tailoring, Bogart’s hat builds up his appearance with a high, pinched crown and a shorter self-edged brim that serve to elongated his vertical definition on screen.
Roy wears leather oxfords, likely constructed with black calf uppers, with six-eyelet closed lacing and a brogued toe-cap.
Roy Earle drives a Plymouth De Luxe Coupe, though IMCDB and IMDB have both observed that his two-door coupe alternates between a 1937 (P-4) and the 1938 (P-6), the newer model characterized by a shorter, wider grille. Both coupes were powered by a 201 cubic-inch “L-head” straight six-cylinder engine that produced 82 horsepower at 3600 RPM and 145-lb.ft. torque at 1200 RPM.
More than 67,000 Plymouth De Luxe coupes were produced for 1937, sold at $575 each. Production dipped to just over 27,000 for the following year, though the base price increased to $730.
One of the screen-used Plymouth from High Sierra, a 1937 coupe painted stone gray, currently resides at the Museum of Western Film History in Lone Pine, California, not far from where much of the film was shot. Bogart would land in the cockpit of the 1938 Plymouth, suggested by some to be the same, five years later as Philip Marlowe in The Big Sleep.
Due to how unreliably .45 ACP blanks fed through pistols, many Hollywood productions shied away from arming its characters with the venerable 1911 pistol when it was required to be fired on screen, either using revolvers instead, swapping in the cosmetically similar 9mm Star Model B (as famously seen in movies like The Wild Bunch and The Untouchables), or even building 1911 mock-ups around revolver frames as seen wielded by the Depression-era outlaws in The FBI Story.
The same year that Sergeant York had to give its famous protagonist a Luger instead of a 1911, High Sierra managed to arm Humphrey Bogart with a genuine .45-caliber M1911A1 as Roy Earle, echoing the favored choice not just of John Dillinger but also those in his orbit from Clyde Barrow to “Pretty Boy” Floyd, all of whom made liberal use of 1911-style pistols chambered in both the standard .45 ACP as well as the newly innovated .38 Super, a high-pressure round favored for its ability to pierce auto bodies.
After High Sierra made Bogart an established star, he often continued to be featured wielding full-size 1911 pistols on the posters for movies like Casablanca, though—unless playing a military character who would have reason to carry one—he tended to favor smaller-framed pistols like the Colt Model 1903 Pocket Hammer or Colt Model 1903 Pocket Hammerless on screen, as these wouldn’t look quite as oversized in the slight-framed actor’s hand.
During the same Warner Brothers photo shoot that stuck a pair of .45s in Bogie’s hands, the actor posed with a snarl and a shotgun, specifically a Winchester Model 1912 pump-action shotgun with a riot-length barrel. The Model 1912 had been developed as a modernized supplement to the popular Winchester Model 1897, the notable difference being the Model 1912’s hammerless receiver against the Model 1897’s external hammer. While prominently featured in those publicity photos and some promotional material for High Sierra, Bogart never actually wields the shotgun as Roy Earle on screen.
Instead, Roy’s long arm of choice would be a Winchester Model 1892 lever-action carbine rifle that he takes with him during his last-ditch escape attempt into the high mountains of the Sierra Nevada.
John Browning had developed the Model 1892 as a lighter version of the powerful Model 1886 rifle, chambered for handgun rounds and thus supplementing the venerable Winchester Model 1873, which had served the same purpose prior. The Model 1892 was available in a range of calibers also found in six-shooters like the Colt Single Action Army, thus allowing shooters to only need to carry one type of ammunition that would service both revolver and rifle.
The Model 1892 was introduced for the .32-20, .38-40, and .44-40 Winchester centerfire rounds, with the powerful .44-40 WCF emerging as the best-selling option. Winchester would manufacture more than a million rifles during the production timeline that ended in 1945 after more than half a century, also introducing small-game and varmint rounds like the .25-20 WCF and .218 Bee.
Though he uses it to considerable effect from his high position in the Sierras, Roy’s Winchester helps him the most when he needs to write a note and, lacking a pen, extracts a few full-jacketed rounds from the rifle to draft a final note declaring Marie’s innocence in his crimes.
How to Get the Look
Roy Earle establishes an early template for the professional criminal dressed to steal (and, if necessary, kill) in a plain black suit and tie, an example that would be revived by Steve McQueen in The Getaway and the slick crooks in Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction.
- Black self-striped wool suit:
- Single-breasted 2-button jacket with notch lapels, padded and roped shoulders, welted breast pocket, straight jetted hip pockets, 3-button cuffs, and ventless back
- Double reverse-pleated trousers with belt loops, gently slanted side pockets, and turn-ups/cuffs
- Off-white cotton flannel work shirt with point collar, front placket, two button-flapped chest pockets, and button cuffs
- Black tie
- Brown leather belt with squared single-prong buckle
- Black calf leather 6-eyelet cap-toe semi-brogue oxford shoes
- Black socks
- Black felt fedora with wide black grosgrain silk band and self-edged brim
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie. (When looking to grab this link from Amazon, my Prime account reminded me that I had actually purchased my own DVD copy of High Sierra eleven years ago today on January 20, 2010!)
I wouldn’t give you two cents for a dame without a temper.