MOVIE REVIEW | ***AFI WEEKEND*** #38. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)

“The American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest Movies was selected by AFI’s blue-ribbon panel of more than 1,500 leaders of the American movie community to commemorate 100 Years of Movies”. Every weekend(ish) during 2015, I’ll review two(ish), counting them down from 100 to 1.

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“I think I’ll go to sleep and dream about piles of gold getting bigger and bigger and bigger.”

When it comes to all time classic movies, you have the ones everyone knows about.  Even if you’ve never seen Citizen Cane, or The Wizard of Oz, or Gone With the Wind.  Even if you have no intention of ever seeing them, you know they exist and probably know one or two things about the cast, or plot, or have some inkling about why it’s a classic.  Then, just below that surface, are the classics that movie nerds and snobs seem to love.


I’d never heard of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre until a few years ago when I watched it for a uni assignment.  But ever since then, I see the title pop constantly in best of lists, and more often, when great directors and actors are talking the movies that inspired them.  I’ve watched it annually since that discovery a few years ago, and each time, all I can think of is, why isn’t The Treasure of the Sierra Madre a public knowledge classic like Citizen Cane, or The Wizard of Oz, or Gone With the Wind.

In 1920s Mexico, destitute American Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart) has been lowered to begging for a few pesos in the street just to buy a meal.  Taking a job with fellow destitute American Curtin (Tim Holt), the two are ripped off by their employer and have just enough money for a night in Mexico’s worst flophouse. Here, they meet Howard (Walter Huston), the kind of grizzled old prospector who set the standard for every grizzled old prospector in movies and TV since.  Howard has mined gold all over the world, and is sure that he knows of an untapped claim in some Mexican ranges.  All he needs are some younger men to help him mine it.

The next day, Dobbs and Curtin find their conman of an ex boss and beat some of the money owed to them out of him.  Combined with a couple of hundred pesos won in a local lottery, and Dobbs and Curtin have enough to throw in with Howard to buy the supplies they need to try their luck in the mountains.  In the best of spirits and fast friends, they set off.  But it’s obvious that the world wise Howard’s warnings about the effect gold has on men have been learned the hard way.  And despite Dobbs’ assertion to the opposite, the more riches they find, the harder it is to remember their loyalties.

I’m used to Humphrey Bogart characters from this time being flawed and almost anti-heroes, but at the end of the day, they generally do the right thing.  But the character of Dobbs is a real piece of work.  From his scamming in the early moments where he expects hand outs and never even seems grateful for them, to the green eyed monster that begins to rear its ugly head before they’ve panned their first specks of gold.  This is a Bogart character and performance like no other.

But, this movie belongs to Walter Huston.  Howard’s not only the brains of this operation, he’s the heart as well.  Huston makes him loveable, impressive, and a know-it-all all at once.  And it’s seeing the downfall of Dobbs through Howard’s eyes that makes The Treasure of the Sierra Madre so tragic and so amazing.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
Directed By – John Huston
Written By – John Huston

ACADEMY AWARDS
Best Picture (nominated, lost to Hamlet)
Best Director – John Huston
Best Adapted Screenplay – John Huston
Best Supporting Actor – Walter Huston

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