Saturday Night Cinema: Treasure Of The Sierra Madre


Tonight’s Saturday night cinema is the classic, The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre, a superior morality play and one of the best movie treatments of the corrosiveness of greed.

When John Huston came back from the war and Humphrey Bogart was a star big enough to choose his next project, the two of them chose to make a film about a seedy loser driven mad by greed. “Wait till you see me in my next picture,” Bogart shouted to a movie critic outside a New York nightclub. “I play the worst s— you ever saw.” The movie was desolate and despairing, the nicest character in it dies trying to defend men who were about to kill him, and the ending is not merely unhappy but like a cosmic joke against the hero’s dreams. Jack L. Warner, the studio boss who sent the crew to Mexican locations and yanked them back when the budget ran out of control, thought it was “definitely the greatest motion picture we have ever made.” (more)

‘Treasure of Sierra Madre,’ Film of Gold Mining in Mexico, New Feature at Strand
Published: January 24, 1948

Greed, a despicable passion out of which other base ferments may spawn, is seldom treated in the movies with the frank and ironic contempt that is vividly manifested toward it in “Treasure of Sierra Madre.” And certainly the big stars of the movies are rarely exposed in such cruel light as that which is thrown on Humphrey Bogart in this new picture at the Strand. But the fact that this steel-springed outdoor drama transgresses convention in both respects is a token of the originality and maturity that you can expect of it.

Also, the fact that John Huston, who wrote and directed it from a novel by B. Traven, has resolutely applied the same sort of ruthless realism that was evident in his documentaries of war is further assurance of the trenchant and fascinating nature of the job.

Taking a story of three vagrants on “the beach” in Mexico who pool their scratchy resources and go hunting for gold in the desolate hills, Mr. Huston has shaped a searching drama of the collision of civilization’s vicious greeds with the instinct for self-preservation in an environment where all the barriers are down. And, by charting the moods of his prospectors after they have hit a vein of gold, he has done a superb illumination of basic characteristics in men. One might almost reckon that he has filmed an intentional comment here upon the irony of avarice in individuals and in nations today.

But don’t let this note of intelligence distract your attention from the fact that Mr. Huston is putting it over in a most vivid and exciting action display. Even the least perceptive patron should find this a swell adventure film. For the details are fast and electric from the moment the three prospectors start into the Mexican mountains, infested with bandits and beasts, until two of them come down empty-handed and the third one, the mean one, comes down dead. There are vicious disputes among them, a suspenseful interlude when a fourth man tries to horn in and some running fights with the banditi that will make your hair stand on end. And since the outdoor action was filmed in Mexico with all the style of a documentary camera, it has integrity in appearance, too.

Most shocking to one-tracked moviegoers, however, will likely be the job that Mr. Bogart does as the prospector who succombs to the knawing of greed. Physically, morally and mentally, this character goes to pot before our eyes, dissolving from a fairly decent hobo under the corroding chemistry of gold into a hideous wreck of humanity possessed with only one passion—to save his “stuff.” And the final appearance of him, before a couple of roving bandits knock him off in a manner of supreme cynicism, is one to which few actors would lend themselves. Mr. Bogart’s compensation should be the knowledge that his performance in this film is perhaps the best and most substantial that he has ever done.

Equally, if not more, important to the cohesion of the whole is the job done by Walter Huston, father of John, as a wise old sourdough. For he is the symbol of substance, of philosophy and fatalism, in the film, as well as an unrelenting image of personality and strength. And Mr. Huston plays this ancient with such humor and cosmic gusto that he richly suffuses the picture with human vitality and warmth. In the limited, somewhat negative role of the third prospector, Tim Holt is quietly appealing, while Bruce Bennett is intense as a prospecting lone wolf and Alfonso Bedoya is both colorful and revealing as an animalistic bandit chief.

To the honor of Mr. Huston’s integrity, it should be finally remarked that women have small place in this picture, which is just one more reason why it is good.

On the stage at the Strand are Lionel Hampton and his orchestra, featuring Winni Brown, Roland Burton and Red and Curley.

TREASURE OF SIERRA MADRE: Screen play by John Huston; based on the novel by B. Traven; directed by John Huston; produced by Henry Blanke for Warner Brothers Pictures, Inc. At the Strand.
Dobbs . . . . . Humphrey Bogart
Howard . . . . . Walter Huston
Curtin . . . . . Tim Holt
Cody . . . . . Bruce Bennett
McCormick . . . . . Barton MacLane
Gold Hat . . . . . Alfonso Bedoya
Presidente . . . . . A. Soto Rangel
El Jefe . . . . . Manuel Donde
Pablo . . . . . Jose Torvay
Pancho . . . . . Margarito Luna
Flashy Girl . . . . . Jacqueline Dalay
Mexican Boy . . . . . Bobby Blake

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