A few months ago, I participated in the Dynamic Duos blogathon, with an article about director Anthony Mann and cinematographer John Alton, who are one of my favorite partnerships in Hollywood history. It wasn’t until a while later that I realized screenwriter John C. Higgins is as much part of this as Mann and Alton. Then it hit me just how underrated he is. I suppose that, other than the fact that he’s a screenwriter, his underratedness can also be explained by how little information there is about him (go on, Google him).
Well, apparently he was born in 1908 in Winnipeg, Canada and he went to Hollywood in the early 1930s, where he began his career by writing murder mysteries, including The Murder Man (1935), starring Spencer Tracy (and a not-yet-famous Jimmy Stewart), as well as a number of shorts, such as The Public Pays (1936) and Come Across (1938). The 1940s were undoubtedly his greatest period, during which he frequently collaborated with Anthony Mann in numerous films noir, including T-Men (1947), Railroaded! (1947), Raw Deal (1948), He Walked by Night (1948) and Border Incident (1949). Looking back at these, one wonders why John C. Higgins isn’t more widely celebrated, not only beacause of how great they are, but also how unique they are. The importance of male friendship in a dark underworld in T-Men, the unlikely progressiveness of Raw Deal regarding its female characters, and the inclusiveness and sympathetic character portrayals in Border Incident, particularly, should have been groundbreaking enough for Higgins to have a permanent place in the Classic Hollywood grand pantheon. Higgins understood people. He gave noirs and their characters a heart, compassion and empathy. Anthony Mann and John Alton may have created visual poetry with their shots, but John C. Higgins tugged at your heartstrings with his words.
He continued to write films throughout the 1950s and 60s, including Shield for Murder (1954), The Black Sleep (1956) and Impasse (1969), before passing away in 1995.