Thursday, 25 October 2012
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
1948. John Huston hasn't made a movie since the ill-fated 1946 documentary "Let There Be Light". The last narrative film he made was 1942's Across The Pacific. So when Huston chose B. Traven's bleak novel to be his next project, studio heads were noticeably worried. Adding to the worry was the fact that Huston refused to shoot his film in the studio. He wanted to shoot it entirely on location, and he refused to budge. Add into the mix a balding Bogart and a faded star in Walter Huston, and it seems almost incredible that the film was made at all.
But it was.
Fred Dobbs, a down on his luck American drifter in Mexico, gets by by begging passerby's for money. He sleeps on the streets, and in a homeless shelter when he can. It is there that he meets Curtain, a fellow down on his luck drifter. Together they hear of old prospector Howard's tales of gold and fortune out in the desert. Hatching a plan with Howard, the three set out for the Sierra Madre, hoping to strike it rich.
Dobbs and Curtain learn the tricks of the trade from Howard. It isn't long before local outlaws begin to cause trouble, and at the same time they manage to find a vein of gold, but nearby prospector's come into balance. The weather plays a part in setting them further and further away from their goal. Then of course there is greed.
I'll be honest, this film is overrated. I don't like as much as a probably should, but it is a very intriguing film. Bogart is excellent, and I did feel that he became kind of hammy at the end, but that was typical of the time. His performance strikes a great balance of being innocent, yet smarmy at the same time. That is until, he completely throws out the balance and beats it to a bloody pulp. That is not a criticism, but it can't surprise you that much, thanks to the layers to Bogart's performance.
Tim Holt, as Curtain isn't amazing. He provides the calm in between necessary, but he doesn't have much of a commanding presence, which doesn't help him, but it does suit the character. However, the main acting achievement on display is that of Walter Huston. Huston owns every scene he's in, and he totally dominates the film. His son John's decision to cast him isn't nepotism, he is a great actor, and he proves it. In every scene.
The visuals are bleak and as desolate as can be. The scenes in the desert have a certain rugged beauty to them, and this makes the setting perfect for the scenes of greed and corruption that follow. Speaking of greed, that could have been the film's title. Greed is what drives the plot, and is what dooms the characters from the start. In the beginning, Bogart keeps asking the same white suited American (played by John Huston, of course) for money. He doesn't stop this, and eventually the man in the white suit confronts him.
If you watch Bogart's eyes, you see him not paying attention to what the man is saying, but the coin he is holding in his hand. Greed drives Dobbs to the treasure, and also to his end. Huston's direction is terrific, he lets his observe the scenes passively, yet never being showy. However, as I stated above, the film is overrated. It is very interesting, but easily boring at the same time. It is great for discussion, but hard for enjoyment.
I will say one thing for the film, it has a terrific ending. From all the Huston's I've seen so far, I've noticed that they all have great endings. From The Maltese Falcon to The Misfits, with The Night Of The Iguana being perhaps the only exception, so far, the endings have been standouts. I won't ruin it, but it is a great ending to a good film.
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,
Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston and Tim Holt
Directed by John Huston
1. The Misfits
2. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre