Sunday, May 1, 2011

1948 - The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

Well, I'm back in Las Vegas, making stuff up on stage with the rest of the cast of Aussie Improv Comedy Explosion. The weather is certainly much more agreeable than in New York City, but the trade-off is the increased static electricity due to the dry desert air. And, unfortunately, it is next to impossible to avoid touching metallic objects, so the sparks are flying.

You can now put your request in for the next year of review by using the poll over there on the right. You have your choice from a bunch of fine 1980s films.

For now, let's begin our look at the Best Picture nominees from 1948 by discussing...

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
John Huston
John Huston
(based on the novel by B. Traven)
Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston, Tim Holt, Bruce Bennett, Barton MacLane, Alfonso Bedoya
Academy Awards:
4 nominations
3 wins, including Best Director and Best Supporting Actor (Huston)

Fred C. Dobbs (Bogart) and his new buddy Bob Curtin (Holt), both down on their luck, spend a few weeks working construction but their employer (MacLane) skips out on them before they get paid. After a chance meeting with veteran gold prospector Howard (Huston), the three set off to find a small fortune in the Mexican mountains. They quickly hit pay dirt, but as their gold intake increases, paranoia begins to take over. Dobbs is especially distrusting of his partners, frequently imagining they plan to steal away with his share. The trio contend with bandits, nosy Americans and each other as they attempt to make it home with their treasure.

It is no surprise that The Treasure of the Sierra Madre has become such a classic. A well-crafted, easy-to-follow story, the script is tight and engaging. The action sequences are brief but thrilling, from a tense three-way fight scene (despite awkwardly low volume sound effects) to an unexpected mine collapse.

Clearly, the narrative is aiming to study the dark psychological effects of greed. Dobbs serves as a sad reminder of what money can do to people. However, his transformation from subservient humility to arrogant paranoia is improbably swift. One minute, he's reasonable. The next, he's certifiably insane. Curtin, on the other hand, remains circumspect, a far more subtle and realistic response. But notwithstanding the fact that the Dobbs character borders on caricature, it is jolly good fun to watch as he unravels.

Bogart is compelling despite the exaggerated nature of his character. His snarls (pictured) are ferocious and his laughter is discomforting. Walter Huston won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his amiable performance as the seen-it-all prospector. Tim Holt portrays Curtin's likeability with affecting subtlety. And, as the comic relief, Alfonso Bedoya is delightful as the leader of the bandits, delivering the now iconic (and oft misquoted) line regarding "stinkin' badges".

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre did well for the Huston family at the 1948 Oscars. Along with Walter's win, the film also garnered two wins for his son John for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. In fact, of the film's four nominations, its only loss was for Best Picture.

1 comment:

  1. I have to admire Humphrey Bogart. After spending the decade honing an iconic image with films such as The Maltese Falcon, To Have and Have Not, The Big Sleep and especially Casablanca, he gives us an aging, disheveled, disintegrating to eventual deranged character in this quintessential adventure story of avarice and distrust. I do agree with you Matt that his downward spiral is rather suspiciously quick and convenient. It doesn't help that Walter Huston, Tim Holt and even Bruce Bennett are all perhaps too principled and upstanding. Well, I guess Holt did vote to bump off Bennett and seems to be heading off to see his widow at the end, but he is basically a decent fellow.

    Bogart is very good though. So much so, that his later film, The Caine Mutiny seems more a paranoiac reprisal than a fresh character. His absence from the list of Best Actor nominees is a head-scratcher to me. Walter Huston gives one of the premier supporting actor turns and he was appropriately rewarded.

    The Treasure of the Sierra Madre isn't one of my all-time favorites, but it will certainly contend in what is an off year for me.