Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Signal Watch Watches: Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)

Before turning it on, I knew literally nothing about the film The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948).  I didn't even know it was literally about hunting treasure in the Sierra Madres, just that it featured Humphrey Bogart, and it was not High Sierra.

By the time this movie got made by director John Huston, Bogart was a huge name and draw, and I think you see a bit of Bogart you don't normally get.  Sure, I've seen a desperate Bogart in Dark Passage and the end of High Sierra, but his character here never starts as the cool, collected sort he normally plays.  He's down on his luck from the start, and seems to spiral as the movie goes on.  It's an interesting turn.

Bogart plays Dobbs, an American unemployed in Tampico in 1925.  After a bad experience with what he'd believed to be honest work, Dobbs and fellow bum Curtin (Tim Holt) are sinking low when Dobbs gets his hands on some money through luck and teams up with fellow Americans Howard (Walter Huston), an aging prospector looking to strike it rich.

The trio head out and begin their quest for gold, and, of course, there are threats both from external sources such as bandits as well as distrust growing in the camp as they realize how vulnerable they really are.

I haven't seen every movie made between Exiting the Factory* and Treasure of the Sierra Madre, but I'd argue that this film set the baseline for a lot of other movies to come about how things can go from iffy to extremely poor when you start ignoring the good feelings you started with at the beginning of a project and were ready to stab someone right around Beta release.  Not that I've experienced such a thing.

Of course this is about finding gold in the Mexican wilderness, so there's a lot to be made of spiritual metaphors, etc... as one watches the trio make their various decisions.  And, of course, the good and bad locals and others who pop up throughout the film.  As fates are doled out, in modern terms we may find these a bit predestined, but the script is so tight and the action moves along so well, it seems driven by character and story and far less by the Hayes office.

All in all, for a movie about three guys digging around in the dirt, its a gripping story, and you can see the influence on a hundred other films you've seen since.

Also, its the movie which brought us the concept of not needing no stinking badges, so that was kind of exciting to see play out.

*the magic of movies!


Jake Shore said...

Great movie. My second favorite Bogart flick. How many films can you think of where the protagonist becomes the antagonist?

The League said...

Yeah! (spoiler for those who haven't seen it, I suppose)

Its a unique twist, and I was impressed that Huston took it all the way through to the various conclusions for all the characters.