The jagged peaks of the Sierra Nevada hover like a mirage above a dusty, last-chance desert gas station as the midwestern bandit Roy Earle (Humphrey Bogart), freshly sprung from prison, drives into California. He squints in wonder at this wall in the sky, the distant slopes puckered like a sunbaked shroud.
Earle’s creator, the writer W. R. Burnett, had made his own trip west in 1930 and hit pay dirt in Hollywood, where the studios seized on him as an underworld expert on the strength of his best-selling 1929 debut novel, Little Caesar. He was speedy and prolific, producing dozens of original stories and screenplays, as well as novels that the studios snapped up, sometimes even before they were published. Near the end of the thirties, Warner Bros. assigned him to write a screenplay about John Dillinger, collaborating with Charley Blake, a reporter who had covered the bank robber’s career and been on the scene in 1934 when “Public Enemy No. 1” was gunned down by federal agents outside a movie theater where he had gone to see a gangster picture, Manhattan Melodrama. When the studio announced the Dillinger project, it was attacked in the press for making yet another movie glorifying a criminal, and Jack Warner hastily pulled the plug.
“Nostalgia pervades the film, for both a lost world of agrarian innocence and a vanished age of outlaw glory.”
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