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Movie Critique - The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

For review of all movies starring Humphrey Bogart, go here.

Stars: 5 / 5

Recommendation: The movie showcases some first class acting, story-telling and directing by the film makers while showing the viewers what the real treasure is all about. Indeed a treasure must be watched!

The Treasure of Sierra Madre is a 1948 American western adventure film starring Humphrey Bogart, Walter Hutson, Tim Holt ad Bruce Bennett. Written and Directed by John Huston, it is adapted from 1927 novel of the same name by B. Traven. Traven's book in turn was based on a 19th century ballad by a German poet. The film was produced by Henry Blanke.

The story revolves around two young men - Fred C. Dobbs (portrayed by Humphrey Bogart) and Bob Curtin (portrayed by Tim holt) - who join an old-timer Howard (portrayed by Walter Huston) in search of gold in Sierra Madre Mountains in Mexico. Only their search takes on a different persona of itself leading to greed, betrayal and murder. The plot is set in 1925.

It showed very clearly that Bogart was wearing a toupee to cover his baldness. At the age of 48 he was practically a veteran actor in Hollywood at that time. Still he did many of his own stunts just like his younger co-star Tim Holt. 

Having no clue of what the story would be, it came off as a surprise how extended Tim Holt's Curtin's role was compared to the others. Supported by Bruce Bennett's Cody, the quartet of characters become the epitome of a perfect scenario where greed takes over human judgment; where betrayals override friendships and trust. And they didn’t even needed a femme fatale in the mix to create the chaos. Oh wait, the treasure is the femme fatale!

Walter Huston was the father of the director John Huston. His role and some incredible screenplay by his son made Walter's role immemorable. Specially the one where he does the dance with some fast speaking talk.

The biggest surprise for me was the character Gold Hat portrayed by Mexican actor Alfonso Bedoya. He has but a few short lines and small fight scenes. Yet I think he came out on top, even topping Bogart's dark and paranoid Dobbs. He left with one immemorable dialogue that has been used again and again since then.

This was one of the first Hollywood film that was shot on location outside United States, in Mexico in this case. Huston's screenplay left some memorable quotes from the film, although the dialogues had to be changed to meet Hays Code regulations.

Gold Hat: "We are Federales ... you know, the mounted police." / Dobbs: "If you're the police, where are your badges?" / Gold Hat: "Badges? We ain't got no badges. We don't need no badges! I don't have to show you any stinkin' badges!"
Dobbs: I think I'll go to sleep and dream about piles of gold getting bigger and bigger and bigger.
Howard: I know what gold does to men's souls.
Howard: Water's precious. Sometimes may be more precious than gold.

The film if you look at closely is not about gold at all. It is all about how one can influence someone else's character, tipping them over to the bad side, or bringing them to the good side, or walking through the grey lines. Sadly we get to see characters being flawed more than moral; greed overriding better judgment.

Director used several symbolic props and background to depict the immoral and evil thread running hidden along the plot-line. For instance, in the beginning of the film, when Dobbs and Curtin are chatting on the park bench, the tree branches behind Dobbs mask three letters from the "Seville" marquee on the store, making the word "EVIL" float behind Dobbs for a few seconds.

The film influenced several future film makers and tv show episodes, and in one case a song titled "Fools Gold" by 80s English Rock Band The Stone Roses, by song writer Ian Brown. No wonder the film one two Academy Awards - the father-son duo got it, John Huston for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay, and his father Walter Huston for Best Supporting Actor. It certainly left a lasting impression. A first father-son win.

Surprising though that Bogart didn’t win an Academy award nomination for his outstanding acting. The movie showcases some first class acting, story-telling and directing by the film makers while showing the viewers what the real treasure is all about. An excellent movie depicting human nature successfully in a long and winded way. Indeed a treasure must be watched!

Spoiler Alerts:

1) Movie Trivia:

a. Lux Radio Theater broadcasted a radio version of the film on April 18, 1949 with Humphrey Bogart and Walter Huston reprising their roles.

b. In the opening scene, look out for director cameo by John Huston. The scene was directed by Humphrey Bogart. In three separate scenes, Bogart's character Dobbs pesters Huston for money. And Huston has a few lines to say as well. 

c. Other uncredited appearances by actors who became famous in the near future: Actor Robert Blake as the young boy selling lottery ticket; Jacquelyn Dalya as the flashy girl who passes Dobbs when he comes out of the saloon; Ralph Dunn, Clifton Young in his adult role and Jack Holt as flophouse bums.

d. The famous star of silent and early sound Western and action films, Jack Holt, is the father of co-star Tim Holt who plays the part of Bob Curtin. He has a few lines in this film. Another father-son duo on screen.

2) Grammatical / Historical / Location / Character Errors:

a. Shadow of a boom mike passes along the barrel as Dobbs and McCormick walk along talking about pay at the worksite.

b. Crew member's shadow seen on Curtin's shirt before he goes to check on condition of Cody.

c. Curtin reads Cody's letter out of order. First he starts on first page. Then when he opens the inside pages, he reads from the third page first and then reads from the second page before turning to the back page.

d. When Curtin is hit on his shoulder you can clearly see blood flowing. But when Dobbs goes back to check up on him again, there is no sign of blood whatsoever on him or around. 

e. When Dobbs is looking for the body he trips and falls down. As he is getting up you can see a part of set visible on the upper left corner - a hose and a tank.


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