Tuesday, August 20, 2013

#1,100. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)

Directed By: John Huston

Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston, Tim Holt

Tag line: "Storming to a New High in High Adventure"

Trivia: Director John Huston has a small role in the film, and a young Robert Blake makes an uncredited appearance

Studio Chief Jack Warner was against the idea, but John Huston shot the bulk of his 1948 film The Treasure of the Sierra Madre on-location in Mexico, a country the director once called home (Huston spent two years riding with the Mexican Cavalry). Moving the production south of the border proved a stroke of genius, the first of many that would help turn The Treasure of the Sierra Madre into a full-fledged Hollywood classic.

Times are tough for Fred C. Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart) and Bob Curtin (Tim Holt), a couple of Americans trying to make a go of things in Mexico. Howard (Walter Huston), a grizzled old prospector, tells them about his experiences searching for gold, at which point the two pals buy as much equipment as they can afford and set off into the mountains, hoping to strike it rich. With Howard as their guide, Dobbs and Curtin do, indeed, find gold, but will petty jealousies and greed get the better of them before they can cash out?

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre has it all. First and foremost, it’s a rousing adventure, with the three main characters encountering a number of dangers during their quest for riches, not the least of which are Mexican bandits. Facing off against one particular group, the gang’s leader, played by Alfonso Bedoya, tries to fool Dobbs and the others by claiming he and his men are members of the Mexican Mounted Police. Dobbs asks to see their badges, resulting in the film’s most famous line: “Badges? We ain't got no badges. We don't need no badges. I don't have to show you any stinking badges!

Huston’s direction is also top-notch, with the noted filmmaker stirring up plenty of tension late in the film, when Dobbs, convinced that his partners are out to steal his share of the gold, slowly loses his mind. The picturesque, occasionally treacherous Mexican landscape adds a dose of gritty realism, while the cast is also in top form. Huston's father, Walter, is excellent as the aging prospector Howard, his boisterous performance earning him his one and only Academy Award (for Best Supporting Actor). As for Bogart, he is damn near flawless as Dobbs, taking what was a somewhat likable vagrant at the outset and transforming him into a potential killer.

Part adventure movie and part morality tale (warning about the corrosive effects of greed), The Treasure of the Sierra Madre ranks as one of the best Hollywood films of the 1940s, and one of the greatest ever made.

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