Monday, August 22, 2011

The Treasure of Sierra Madre

It was over 20 years since I'd seen this film and when I was suddenly bed-ridden with flu, I decided to watch it. And what a great film it is!

The Treasure of Sierra Madre, as you know by now, is based on a novel by German-born Leftist novelist B. Traven and written and directed by John Huston. It stars Humphrey Bogart, Tim Holt and Walter "John's dad" Huston, and they work together marvellously. There's not a bad scene in the film. Huston's direction is very cinematic without being overtly so (look how he uses deep focus almost throughout the film, and the set-pieces are very nice, just like they are in The Maltese Falcon, where Huston has a very good eye for a composition), and the pacing is superb.

The greatest thing about the film, though, is its depiction of actual work. Not in many a Hollywood film working men look so dirty, worn out and ragged. The almost anti-Hollywood attitude shows also in how Huston (and Traven) show the men in their raw passion for gold and the pure hatred and paranoia that's spawn from that passion. Bogart especially makes that clear - and his portrayal of Fred C. Dobbs is one of the best I've seen from him, full of insanity and paranoia, all that talking to himself and weaving back and forth.  This is not merely a morality tale: it's a tale of what makes capitalism work, a tale of why gold is so expensive.

The only thing I'm sorry about the film is its casual racism towards Mexicans. They are simple, stupid, naive and superstitious, and if they're not, they're thieves. But then again it'd be pretty hard to avoid those clichés in 1948.

I haven't read Traven's novel in ages, either, but I'm not sure whether I have time for it right now. As I'm in flu, I'm getting seriously behind my deadlines...


Cullen Gallagher said...

You're right about the movie's great portrayal of physical work.

I just bought the novel, and I'm looking forward to reading it.

Juri said...

Yeah, it feels like Bogie, Holt and Walter Huston are really, actually doing the work!

Anders E said...

Bogart could do that borderline craziness so well. He did something similar in THE CAINE MUTINY and somewhat less similar in IN A LONELY PLACE.

And in the beginning, when Bogart is supposed to be down and out, he sure looks it.

Juri said...

Yeah, the grittiness in the film doesn't look like it's especially designed for the film. The realist tone in the film must be what makes it stand out in the Hollywood canon. (I think it goes with THE GRAPES OF WRATH, but it's even longer since I saw that one.)