Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

Based on the novel by B. Traven, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is the story of two Americans who go to 1920s Mexico with an old-timer to find gold where they would encounter trouble. Written for the screen and directed by John Huston, the film is a look into the world of greed and human nature at its ugliest as well as a look at how a journey can lead to great danger. Starring Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston, Tim Holt, and Bruce Bennett. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is an incredible yet eerie film from John Huston.

It’s 1920s Mexico as a man named Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart) is seeking to find some way to survive as he needs money as he and a man named Curtin (Tim Holt) got cheated out of wages that was promised to them for labor work. After meeting an old prospector named Howard (Walter Huston), the three go on a journey to find gold in an old mine in the Mexican mountains as they have to endure all sorts of things while greed eventually seeps in the mind of Dobbs as he become paranoid. The film explores the world of greed and how far one man is willing to keep what he’s found as he has no sense of morals while becomes paranoid thinking that everyone wants his loot while Curtin realizes the danger of greed as he turns to Howard who knows a lot more about what is important.

John Huston’s screenplay explores the dynamics of these three men as they all want some gold in the Mexican mountains yet it is Howard that knows a lot more as he knows where the gold is and what it looks like. The only reason he takes part in the journey is so he can get his cut of what they’ve earned but he knows that gold and money aren’t that important. The Curtin character is a man that just wants what is right as after he’s got his gold, he has ideas for what he wants to do. He and Howard share a bond over what they want as they become good friends while Dobbs becomes more engrossed in his greed where he starts to talk to himself and become paranoid. Notably as the three men encounter a man named Cody (Bruce Bennett) who is also looking for gold as he knows what these men have. Other characters they encounter are a group of bandits led by a man known as Gold Hat (Alfonso Bedoya) who just wants weapons.

The script also has some very stylized dialogue in the way it plays to that development of the characters where Dobbs starts off as a man looking for money to survive but once he comes across with a lot of money. He definitely descends into some form of madness making Curtin and Howard uncomfortable and realizing that Dobbs could do anything. When the appearance of Cody causes more trouble where the result would be tragic. Curtin and Howard become aware of what this man really wanted to do as they become more concerned with doing what is right rather than give in to the gold but Dobbs starts to lose that sense of right and wrong where he becomes selfish. Eventually, the three men would separate though different means but its conclusion would definitely lead to an understanding about humanity where some will survive while others don’t.

Huston’s direction is truly engrossing in the way he explores the dark world of greed in the world of Mexico as many of the film’s exteriors are shot in Mexico with some scenes set at night shot in a studio. Huston’s compositions create some very telling images in the way he explores the relationship of these three men as it starts off in the town of Tampico where Dobbs and Curtin are looking for work. Much of the first act is set in Tampico where Huston uses medium shots and close-ups to play up that world with a few wide shots until the film moves into the Mexican mountains where Huston uses more wide shots to captured the rugged beauty of that world.

One aspect of Huston’s direction that is very interesting is that since the film is set in Mexico, he allows many of Mexicans to actually speak Spanish while the main characters also talk some Spanish without the use of subtitles. Unless the audience understands what the Mexican characters are saying though Howard does some of the translating. Huston knows that he doesn’t need to use subtitles to understand what they’re saying by focusing more on the action as well as some subtle close-ups to establish what is happening. Even as Huston knows what not to use in order to establish a few moments of violence as he also uses some wide shots to capture a world that is unique and also not filled with any complications such as greed. Overall, Huston creates a very captivating yet sensational film about greed and humanity.

Cinematographer Ted D. McCord does fantastic work with the film‘s black-and-white photography from the look of many of the daytime exterior scenes while using available light and such for some of the scenes at night to maintain a sense of darkness that looms in the film. Editor Owen Marks does excellent work with the editing where it is quite straightforward for the most parts though he uses fade-outs to help structure the film while utilizing some rhythmic cuts to play up some of the action and suspense. Art director John Hughes and set decorator Fred M. MacLean do superb work with the set pieces from some of the places in Tampico to some of the other places in the mountains as well as the look of the well near the mines that the men built

The sound work of Robert B. Lee is wonderful for some of the sound effects created from the sound of gunfire to the sound of coyotes and such in the locations set in the desert. The film’s music by Max Steiner is brilliant for its array of orchestral pieces created from some upbeat, playful themes to some more ominous yet suspenseful moments to play up Dobbs’ paranoia.

The film’s cast is amazing as it features some notable appearances from a young Robert Blake as a boy pestering Dobbs to buy lottery tickets, John Huston as a man Dobbs keeps asking for money in Tampico, Barton MacLane as the contractor that cheats Dobbs and Curtin over their wages, and Alfonso Bedoya as the bandit leader who spouts one of the most famous lines in film. Bruce Bennett is terrific as a man named Cody whom Curtin meets in town as he later tries to blackmail the three men into giving him a share of the gold without any trouble. Tim Holt is excellent as Curtin as a man that wants to look for gold for his own reasons as he later becomes aware of how much trouble it brings as he has to deal with the paranoid Dobbs.

Walter Huston is great as the old prospector Howard as a man who knows a lot about getting gold from mines as he also tries to deal with Dobbs’ paranoia where he brings a lot of charm and humor to his character. Finally, there’s Humphrey Bogart in a phenomenal performance as Dobbs as a man who is in need of money to survive in Mexico as he becomes desperate to go find gold with a couple of men only to descend into madness as it’s a very chilling yet mesmerizing performance from the actor.

The Treasure of Sierra Madre is remarkable film from John Huston that features amazing performances from Humphrey Bogart, Tim Holt, and Walter Huston. The film is definitely a very compelling piece into the exploration of humanity as well as the dark world of greed. It’s also a film that explores a world of the West that is very different from American westerns while still having some element of honor. In the end, The Treasure of Sierra Madre is a spectacular film from John Huston.

© thevoid99 2013

2 comments: said...

great review, of a must see classic. Always happy when I am looking for something to watch and this film is on.

I actually climbed Mount Whitney with my brother where they filmed the Bogey scramble up the hill. That hike is no joke.

thevoid99 said...

It's a great film. I can see why PT Anderson watched this all the time. It's intense.