I Died a Thousand Times
Cast & Crew
While serving a life sentence in Illinois, Roy Earle is pardoned through the machinations of gangster boss, Big Mac, who then orders him to come out west. While driving near Mt. Whitney, Roy skillfully avoids colliding with an antiquated Ford, when its driver loses control. At the next gas station, the driver, Pa Goodhue, a displaced farmer en route to Los Angeles, thanks Roy for averting the accident and introduces his wife and nineteen-year-old granddaughter Velma. Afterward, Roy proceeds to his scheduled rendezvous with Jack Kranmer, an ex-policeman whom he immediately distrusts. Kranmer conveys Mac's orders that Roy is to rob a hotel safe in the resort town of Tropico and then directs him to some cabins known as Shaw's Camp, where his accomplices are waiting. At the hideout, Roy meets Babe and Red, the inexperienced young thugs ordered to assist him. He later meets Louis Mendoza, a Tropico hotel clerk working with them, whom Roy judges as unreliable. Roy is displeased that the men have picked up taxi dancer Marie Garson and orders her to leave, but soon relents. She warns him that Mendoza boasted about the robbery to her. Although he usually remains aloof, Roy tells Marie how he survived the mental torment of prison by fantasizing about jumping to freedom forty feet out of his cell block. Pard, a little dog hanging around the camp, takes a liking to Roy, who has a soft heart despite his steely demeanor. Chico, who maintains the camp, warns Roy that the dog's three former owners died. While scouting Tropico, Roy again encounters the Goodhues, who are involved in a traffic accident. After helping them, Roy joins the family for dinner, and becomes attracted to Velma, whom he discovers was born with a clubfoot. Before Roy leaves, Pa invites Roy to visit them in Los Angeles. Because the robbery is scheduled for the peak of the tourist season, when more jewelry will be stored in the safe, Roy has time to travel to Los Angeles to visit his old friend Big Mac, who is bedridden with illness. Although Mac acknowledges that Roy is one of the few "professionals" left, he brushes aside Roy's apprehension about the amateurish henchmen. Concerned about his health, Mac gives Roy written instructions about how to proceed in case something happens to him. With the help of Mac's physician, Doc Banton, Roy arranges to pay for a specialist to operate on Velma's foot. When Roy returns to the cabin, he finds that Babe has hit Marie and gotten in a fight with Red. Roy slugs Babe and offers to pay for Marie's bus fare to Los Angeles, but she is falling in love with Roy and after refusing his offer, she tells him about her escape from a cruel father. Sympathetic Roy agrees to let her stay, but makes it clear that she will never mean anything to him. Roy returns to Los Angeles to see Velma, who is recuperating from the operation. Despite Pa's earlier warning that Velma is infatuated with a wealthy young man back East, Roy hopes to win her over, but she is only interested in men her own age. Back at the cabin, Roy prepares for the robbery. Due to his assistants bungling the robbery, Roy is forced to shoot a night watchman in the leg after retrieving the safe's contents. Panicking, Mendoza impulsively decides to leave with Babe and Red. As they race away, Babe makes a wrong turn, loses control of his car and runs over an embankment. The car catches fire, killing Babe and Red, but Mendoza, who the police believe was kidnapped, is thrown from the vehicle and suffers only a concussion. In the second car, Roy drives with Marie, Pard and the jewels to Mac's apartment, where he finds that his old friend has died. Kranmer, who was at Mac's apartment when Roy arrived, shoots him to get the jewels, but Roy kills him and has Banton dress his wound. Roy then has Marie take him to the Goodhue's house, where Velma is dancing with friends. After Velma introduces Lon Preisser, her Ohio beau who has proposed marriage, Marie dances with one of the young men. When Roy breaks up the dancing and announces his dislike of Lon, Velma accuses him of being jealous. Resigned to Velma's disinterest, Roy says goodbye and then proceeds to Mac's jewel fence, Art, who promises to pay Roy after the jewels have been appraised. Roy takes one of the rings to give to Marie and hides out with her in a desert motel. While Roy waits for payment, the police, informed by Mendoza, print a description of Roy, Marie and Pard on the front page of the newspaper. When Roy discovers that the motel owner has recognized him, he ties up the man and puts Marie on a bus to Las Vegas, promising to meet her later. Roy then heads toward Los Angeles to get his money, but the motel owner escapes and alerts the police, who set up roadblocks. Chased by several police cars, Roy backtracks into the mountains and, leaving his car, climbs a trail into the hills. The police cannot reach Roy, so they arrange to have a man dropped by helicopter above him. Marie hears about the siege on the radio and, carrying Pard in a basket, returns to be near him. By evening, she joins the crowd that has formed below the mountain. The sheriff warns Roy that it is his last chance to surrender, but Roy, who has written a note declaring Marie's innocence, calls back to refuse. Responding to Roy's voice, Pard runs up the mountain. Hearing him bark, Roy looks over and calls for Marie, thus allowing the policeman dropped from the helicopter to shoot Roy, who then falls over the cliff and dies near the dog. Knowing how miserable Roy would have been in prison, Marie declares, "He's free."
Lon Chaney [jr.]
Howard St. John
Robert B. Williams
Daisy Ii, A Dog
W. R. Burnett
William L. Kuehl
Charles B. Lang
Maurice De Packh
I Died a Thousand Times
Nowhere can this transition be seen more clearly than with I Died a Thousand Times, a 1955 remake of the Humphrey Bogart crime classic High Sierra (1941) made fourteen years earlier. Here Jack Palance takes on the role of Roy Earle, who's hired by gangsters to knock over a mountain casino as soon as he's released on parole from prison. He winds up entangled with "dime-a-dance" girlfriend Marie (Shelley Winters) who's less than thrilled when Roy seems more interested in using his cash to help clubfooted Velma (Lori Nelson), a situation that gets worse when the robbery doesn't go as planned.
Taking a story already familiar to movie audiences (including another 1949 version in between, albeit outfitted as a western, called Colorado Territory), I Died a Thousand Times does little to alter the original script by screenwriter W.R. Burnett (who also penned the source novel); however, the additions of blazing Warnercolor and expansive CinemaScope give the film a far more '50s ambience as the foul deeds contrast with the pictorial beauty of the scenery around them. Cinematographer Ted D. McCord was already proving to be a pro with the newly popular super-widescreen formats of the mid-'50s thanks to his work on the same year's East of Eden, and he would go on to outstanding scope work the following decade with Two for the Seesaw (1962) and The Sound of Music (1965).
Director Stuart Heisler was more of an old school black-and-white fellow, best known for such monochromatic dramas as Storm Warning (1951) and The Star (1952) as well as one of the best Paramount noirs, The Glass Key (1942). After this film he largely worked on TV western series, using some of the same visual affinity for pictorial landscapes he displayed with this film.
Despite the emphasis on locations here, the film was never intended to retain the name of High Sierra. Instead other titles like Jagged Edge and A Handful of Clouds were considered throughout production before settling on the final one. Perhaps even more strangely, another Warner Bros. production released the following year, Walter Doniger's The Steel Jungle (1956), was originally going to be titled I Died a Thousand Times and went through other permutations including I Died a Thousand Deaths, Marked for Life, and once again, Handful of Clouds, a title someone at Warner must have liked a great deal.
A former boxer and World War II veteran, the Ukrainian-American Jack Palance began acting in the late '40s after a successful stage career, including understudying and eventually taking over for Marlon Brando in the Broadway production of A Streetcar Named Desire. His physicality made him a natural for imposing bad guys and the occasional good-hearted lug, including trademark roles in westerns such as his memorable villain in Shane (1953). By the time he made this film, Palance was already a veteran of hard-boiled thrillers with credits like Sudden Fear (1952), Man in the Attic (1953), and the same year's The Big Knife (also co-starring Shelley Winters) under his belt. Of course he went on to appear in many films and TV shows both in America and Europe into the next millennium and even scored an Oscar® for Best Supporting Actor thanks to his memorable turn as Curly in City Slickers (1991).
Stepping into the starring role originally played by Ida Lupino, Winters was already a specialist at playing down-on-their-luck women in films like A Place in the Sun (1951). 1955 proved to be one of the busiest years in her career as she also played deeply flawed women in I Am a Camera, The Treasure of Pancho Villa, and one of her most memorable roles as the ill-fated Willa Harper in The Night of the Hunter. In the next decade she would also go on to win a pair of Academy Awards as Supporting Actress for her roles in The Diary of Anne Frank (1959) and A Patch of Blue (1965). Though she and Palance never made another film together after their two 1955 noirs, they were seen together on numerous occasions in 1965 for multiple episodes of The Hollywood Squares (during which Palance famously dozed off next to Michael Landon).
Completing the Oscar®-winning star trio of this film is Lee Marvin, who went on to win Best Actor for Cat Ballou (1965). Taking over the role of Babe originated by Alan Curtis, this was the first of four action-packed collaborations between Marvin and Palance, followed by Attack (1956), The Professionals (1966), and Monte Walsh (1970). Marvin and Winters would also reunite in 1986 under very different circumstances for the all-star Cannon Films action cult favorite, The Delta Force.
The most dimensional role of Velma went to Lori Nelson, a relative newcomer under contract to Universal who was also extremely busy that year with other projects like her famous bathing suit turn in Revenge of the Creature, the campy Liberace vehicle Sincerely Yours, and Roger Corman's post-apocalyptic drive-in favorite, Day the World Ended. The rest of the cast is rounded out with a number of other familiar faces like Lon Chaney, Jr. (who made this back to back with Big House, U.S.A.), Latin comedy specialist Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez, rugged character actor Earl Holliman (who would co-star in Forbidden Planet and Giant the following year and went on to play Angie Dickinson's partner on Police Woman), Frankenstein (1931) leading lady Mae Clarke, and even fleeting roles for grizzled Dub Taylor, physique model Ed Fury, and two young actors who appeared more famously the same year in Rebel without a Cause, Dennis Hopper and Nick Adams. Even those who know this film's story backwards and forwards from the Bogart version can find plenty of entertainment value just watching for little surprises like these before the big, violent finale.
Producer: Willis Goldbeck
Director: Stuart Heisler
Screenplay: W.R. Burnett (writer and novel [uncredited])
Cinematography: Ted D. McCord
Art Direction: Edward Carrere
Music: David Buttolph
Film Editing: Clarence Kolster
Cast: Jack Palance (Roy Earle/Roy Collins), Shelley Winters (Marie Garson), Lori Nelson (Velma), Lee Marvin (Babe Kossuck), Gonzalez Gonzalez (Chico), Lon Chaney (Big Mac), Earl Holliman (Red), Perry Lopez (Louis Mendoza), Richard Davalos (Lon Preisser), Howard St. John (Doc Banton)
I Died a Thousand Times
The working titles of the film were Jagged Edge and A Handful of Clouds. The character "Roy Earle" introduces himself as "Roy Collins" to "Pa Goodhue" to avoid revealing that he is a felon. According to a February 1955 Hollywood Reporter news item, portions of the film were shot at Lone Pine, CA and on Mt. Whitney. A February 1955 Hollywood Reporter news item added Bob Wilke to the cast. Although studio production notes found in the AMPAS file list Wilke in the role of "Jack Kranmer," James Millican played the role in the final film and Wilke's appearance in the film is doubtful. According to the Hollywood Reporter review, Daisy II, the dog portraying "Pard" in the film, was the offspring of the dog "Daisy," who was featured in Columbia's Blondie series (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40 and 1941-50).
As noted in reviews, I Died a Thousand Times was a remake of the Warner Brothers 1941 production, High Sierra, directed by Raoul Walsh and starring Humphrey Bogart as "Roy Earle" and Ida Lupino as "Marie." W. R. Burnett, who wrote the novel High Sierra, and co-wrote the screenplay for the 1941 film with John Huston, received the sole writing credit for I Died a Thousand Times. His credit reads: "Written by" and does not mention the novel. Another film directed by Walsh, the 1949 Warner Bros. Colorado Territory, which starred Joel McCrea and Virginia Mayo, is also based on High Sierra (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50).
Released in United States Fall November 1955
Remake of "High Sierra" (1941), directed by Raoul Walsh.
Broadcast in USA over TBS (colorized version) September 18, 1988.
Frank Sinatra was originally considered for the title role.
Released in United States Fall November 1955
Released in USA on laserdisc (letterboxed version) June 19, 1991.