Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)

Fred Dobbs has a bad case of gold fever.

Maybe that's what happens when a middle-aged American is constantly broke in Mexico in 1925.

Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart) is reduced to begging, supposedly for meals, but often to cover his bar tab or a shave and a cut at the barbershop. An offer of steady work holds promise. But after slaving away under the cruel heat for several weeks, bossman McCormick (Bruce Bennett) leaves his employees with no pay.

Then, Dobbs knows about being paid an honest day's wages for an honest day's work. He and another American on hard times, Curtin (Tim Holt), find McCormick, beat him and take just the money they're owed. No greed there. Dobbs' good luck continues when he wins 200 pesos from 1/20 of a lottery ticket he purchased. He's overjoyed with his good fortune on a ticket that includes the number 13. The cash inspires an idea from Dobbs. He and Curtin can become partners, recruit Howard (Walter Huston), an old man with experience working at gold mines, and set out to earn their own fortune. Dobbs offers to cover some of Curtin's share of the start up costs. No greed there.

But Walter is wise in many ways for his years. He knows his way around the Mexican countryside. Walter speaks the language. He also knows how gold's lure can eat away at a man's soul. Walter also happens to still be sleeping in a dorm with lots of other men in his latter years. Why isn't he living in luxury after his mining experience?

Funny how it's Dobbs who wants to call it quits as the trio labours through tough terrain with no promising finds in sight.

A sweet spot in a mountain offers plenty of gold for the three men to be comfortable for the rest of their lives. Curtin and Howard have modest goals. Not Dobbs. He wants lots and lots of money. "I need dough and plenty of it," he vows, with plans to spend the cash on fine clothes and women. Greed, and plenty of it, has seeped into Dobbs' veins.

He begins acting irrationally, convinced Curtin and Howard are out to cheat him out of his gold. This happens even after Curtin saves his life twice.

The trio has other problems including Mexican bandits in the area who'd be happy to get their hands on the miners' weapons and stash of precious metal.

Treasure of the Sierra Madre earned three Academy Awards for best director and screenplay (John Huston) and supporting actor (Huston). The film's exploration about greed still stands today. Dobbs becomes totally engrossed by his pursuit for gold. Money and power still hold plenty of lure in 2013, but there's always someone else with similar goals ready to take it away. Outside forces have a funny way of messing around with one man's dreams.

Tim Holt and Bruce Bennett, who makes a brief appearance as another American with a passion for a buck, don't stand up well next to Bogart and the senior Houston. Better casting with these two roles would have made a great film even better. Bogart's Dobbs gets so consumed by riches his judgment is clouded and he risks losing everything he worked so hard to get. Viewer beware.

RATING: 8/10

FUN FACTS: Director Huston appears as a wealthy American who helps Bogart out, repeatedly, in Tampico.

Tim Holt was Virgil Earp in My Darling Clementine.

Barton MacLane also appeared with Bogart in The Maltese Falcon.

The young lad who sells Bogart his winning lottery ticket is Robert Blake (Baretta).

Pat Flaherty, who appeared in Mutiny on the Bounty with Clark Gable, has a small role here as an American who knows about McCormicks's tricks.

1 comment:

James The Movie Reviewer said...

This is actually my favorite Bogart film, although his other films are usually excellent, this one really worked for me.