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USA 1948
Directed by
John Huston
126 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is one of those Hollywood films whose enjoyment value exceeds its formal merits.

Part adventure yarn, part morality play the film tells the story of two scruffy itinerants Fred C. Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart) and Curtin (Tim Holt) down  Mexico-way who meet up with an old-time prospector, Howard (Walter Huston, the director's father), and together go looking for gold in the Sierra Madre mountains. They get lucky but their biggest problem is not the uninvied guest who they encounter but their own insecurities.

There are two things which principally contribute to the film’s success. One is Huston’s use of authentic locations, a relatively unusual move at the time when most Hollywood productions were studio-bound and something which gives the film a high degree of verisimilitude when it comes to depicting the harshness of the expedition. that same desolation helping to bind together the rather schematic story elements into a cohesive whole. The other is the performances by Bogart and Walter Huston, the latter who won an Oscar for his support role as Howard the seasoned prospector who knows full well the effects of gold on men’s souls and tries to mollify the growing antipathies of his partners.

Somewhat less effective is John Huston’s Oscar-winning script which was adapted from a novel by B. Traven. If the first half of the film is a fairly long preamble to the men finding gold, the second part moves rather too quickly through what are its most important elements with Dobbs turning paranoid, then calming down after the death of a would-be prospector, Cody (Bruce Bennett), who tries to muscle in on their operation, then turning paranoid again. Huston’s treatment of Curtin and Cody are rather superficial, the former a conventional Mr Nice Guy, the latter likewise but with an incongruously manipulative streak. Even the men’s handling of Cody seems inconsistent with Howard’s philosophical disposition.  Walter Huston deserved the Best Supporting Oscar but it is really Bogart, in one of the best performances of his career, who galvanizes the film with his mentally and morally disintegrating Fred C. Dobbs. Oddly enough Bogart did not even muster an Oscar nomination.

Although the action scenes are rather clumsily handled, notably a fight in a Tampeco bar between Dobbs, Curtin and a dodgy contracter (Barton MacLane) which is clearly performed by stunt men, Huston won the Best Director Oscar (Best Picture went to Olivier’s Hamlet) which one would also have to say is deserved because he manages to get such an effective result from what are often rather ordinary means.  In this respect some credit should go to Max Steiner’s rather intrusive score.   

FYI: Huston appears in a bit part as the “fellow American” from whom Dobbs cadges money at the outset of the film




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