So I wanted to continue going through more classic films in this years blind spot lists and, seeing how I’ve not seen any films staring Humphrey Bogart, I thought Treasure of the Sierra Madre would be a good fit. Now I’m familiar with elements of parody that this film inspired, mainly from Looney Tunes and Blazing Saddles but I wanted to see this film due to how influential it was, and how it helped in defining post-war cinema in America, and having seen it I have to say the praise it’s earned is deserved.The film follows two Americans, Dobbs and Curtin, living in Tampico, Mexico in 1925, both of whom are down on their luck. After meeting with prospector Howard, and gaining enough money to fund an expedition, the three men set out into the Sierra Madre to find gold. After the men find gold, paranoia and greed sets in as the men need to determine how the gold is divided, with the threats of bandits and the weather in the background at all times. Now the main element of the film that makes it work is the look at how people are changed by greed. At the start of the film, we see Dobbs and Curtin barely making enough money to have a bed for the night, with even this mostly done through begging. Due to this, they’re willing to fall for scams where they’re promised work but the payment is denied to them. With this, there is a sense of morality amongst the men, when they attack the man who conned them, they only take the money they were owed. When the gold is discovered though, faced with so much wealth, Dobbs and Curtin, particularly Dobbs, start to go mad, their former morals being destroyed with the prospect of wealth in the air. This leads to paranoia between the two men, some of it being stoked by Howard, with the characters being wary even of sleeping out of fear that the other will steal the gold while they sleep. This helps to make the film a solid morality play, whilst never letting up with the tension. Every single character that is introduced once the characters get to the Sierra Madre has the potential of being a bandit who’ll kill the characters, steal the gold or both, with some excellently staged gunfights, for the time, being created, making solid use of the locations to make the environment as much of a hazard to the characters as the people.
The performances meanwhile help add to the overall tone of the film. Humphrey Bogart is excellent as Dobbs, playing the character suitably pathetic at the start of the film, showing just how low a character can go. His best work though is in the second half of the film, showing Dobbs’ descent into madness through greed expertly, along with the paranoia growing in the character. Tim Holt as Curtin meanwhile is more moral through most of the film, but there are moments where the darkness in the character comes through, mainly a scene involving a collapsed mine. There’s some great ambiguity meanwhile from Walter Huston (father of the film’s director John Huston) as Howard. At the start of the film, he comes across as something like an eccentric drunk, never knowing whether he knows what he’s talking about or whether he’s perpetrating a scam against Dobbs and Curtin. As the film goes on, we see that Howard is the most effective person in the team, knowing how to get around the terrain and knowing what gold actually looks like, but he also does actions which bait Dobbs and Curtin against each other, along with actions benefiting the local visitors. Throughout most of the film, we never know whose side Howard is on, whether he’s really trying to help Dobbs and Curtin or whether he’s just in it for himself, and this gives the film a great level of ambiguity.
Overall, Treasure of the Sierra Madre is a powerful, effective morality tale about the dangers of greed, told effectively through John Huston’s direction, which takes advantage of the harsh environment to enforce the dangers faced by the men, his script, which does great work at showing how the relationship between the men collapse after they find gold, with this all being enforced by excellent performances from Humphrey Bogart, Tim Holt and Walter Huston.
My Rating: 5/5