WolfmanOz at the Movies #79


Nuts am I ?

The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre (released in 1948) written and directed by John Huston is a brilliantly sharp-edged study of the effects of greed on otherwise normal men, and one man in particular – Fred C. Dobbs, superbly realised by Humphrey Bogart.

Dobbs and Bob Curtin (Tim Holt) are down and out bums in a small Mexican town where they meet up with prospector Howard (Walter Huston the father of the director). When Dobbs wins a lottery, he uses the proceeds to finance a trip for the three to search for gold in central Mexico.

The three have to deal with the lawlessness of mid 1920s central Mexico where bandits are on the loose robbing and killing at will. So the three men not only have to worry about bandits once they strike gold, they also have to worry about the darkness of their own souls.

https://youtu.be/MuKxgNmikjA

In the beginning, Bogart’s Fred C. Dobbs is a decent guy who does not take advantage of others. Dobbs only takes his money from the guy that wouldn’t pay and he does share his lottery ticket winnings and is generous with his fellow miners, but as greed begins to take root in him, little by little we see his goodness eaten away. It’s a great credit to the writing and Bogart’s skills as an actor that this is done gradually and played out over time. His descent into uncontrollable paranoia is frightening on the screen, it’s one of his greatest performances, if not his finest.

His evolution from a decent man who wants a job and some money to the cold-blooded paranoid lunatic who tries to keep the gold for himself is not only fascinating but also mirrors the evolution of the film from the light-hearted mood in the beginning to a heart-pounding thriller later on.

Dobbs overestimates himself and the fallibility of human nature. Walter Huston’s character Howard freely admits what gold could do to any of them including himself. Dobbs is sure it will never happen to him, but he’s never had anything, so he’s never faced temptation, and when he falls it’s a long way down.

https://youtu.be/WTTvBmHCpaE

I think the great lesson of The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre is the effect civilization has on the behaviour of man. Some people are only as good as they ought to be and the case in point is the guys that go out into the Sierra Madre gold prospecting and how their behaviour changes.

The ending of what happens to the men and their acquired treasure in the Sierra Madre mountains is something else. In a location far from civilization and far from law it’s shown that the Almighty does have a wicked sense of humour.

https://youtu.be/P45eTahbgug

The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre was one of the first major studios films filmed outside Hollywood, in Mexico. The geography in John Huston’s film is crucial as it provides the obligatory escapism for any adventure film, with a unique flavour.

The movie is less politically loaded than B. Traven’s novel on which it is based, and the differences between the characters set the perfect circumstances for tension, despite the many signs of camaraderie displayed in the beginning. Curtin, Tim Holt in a remarkable performance, is younger and also exudes a certain idealistic naiveté that counterbalances Dobbs’ growing cynicism. Howard, the old-time prospector, with the unforgettable Walter Huston, knows everything about prospecting, with enough experience to foresee the psychological changes on people when gold is at stakes. Of course, the movie is also remembered for the famous Gold Hat bandit, Alfonso Bedoya with his unforgettable “stinking badges” line but more than an exotic villain, Bedoya portrays the smiling but vicious bandit with a glee that is utterly memorable.

Indeed, one never knows how gold would transform us. During their journey guided by Howard, Dobbs and Curtin discover the true meaning of the word value as measured through the efforts you spend, days and nights, to find the treasure. Walter Huston deservedly won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, and whatever Howard says, we know it’s the truth, as when he’s reluctant, we understand it’s a bad premonition; or when Howard esteems that it would be best to split the share when it becomes money, Dobbs, already showing signs of suspicion, recommends that each one takes care of his own share. Howard is experienced enough to resign his misgivings, with all the wisdom of a man who doesn’t want trouble.

And any other consideration is as pointless as crying over the loss of the gold, and the only reaction it deserves is the unique loud and hysterical, jig-driven, maniacal laugh of Walter Huston.

Like Casablanca from last week, The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre is in my top 10 favourite films of all-time.

Enjoy.

and the tease for next weeks post . . . Songs My Mother Taught Me.



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Cliff Boof
Cliff Boof
July 13, 2023 9:32 am

You missed the “steenkin’ badges” clip.

johanna
johanna
July 13, 2023 12:52 pm

Westerns were a dime a dozen, and most of them are forgettable.

But yes, this one is a masterpiece. I just don’t understand why Jack Elam wasn’t in it. 🙂

johanna
johanna
July 13, 2023 2:39 pm

🙂

jupes
jupes
July 13, 2023 6:42 pm

I watched this movie for the first time last year. While I certainly appreciate the acting, I wouldn’t rate it as one of my favourites.

Johnny Rotten
Johnny Rotten
July 15, 2023 8:53 am

I made more lousy pictures than any actor in history.

– Humphrey Bogart

I don’t believe that. JR.

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