If The Maltese Falcon was “the stuff that dreams are made of,” then The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is the stuff which gets you sent to Hell. John Huston’s comment on greed and materialism utilizes film noir tropes to create a multilayered experience as profound as it is entertaining. Beautifully rendered for Blu-ray from Warner Brothers, Treasure of the Sierra Madre ensnares you.
Fred C. Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart) is a bum living in Tampico, Mexico whose aspirations are grander than his current situation. When he meets up with a young man named Curtain (Tim Holt) and a crazy old-timer named Howard (Walter Huston), the trio decides to go into the Sierra Madre Mountains to prospect for gold.
Money is the root of all evil. We’ve heard the phrase countless times, and movies about greed are a dime a dozen. But The Treasure of the Sierra Madre stands up alongside Wall Street as the harshest, and most honest, depiction of greed out there. Wall Street explored 1980s excess, while Huston’s movie is a bit simpler in its approach of gold prospectors who turn against each other, a likely outcome for the Western genre. Huston’s crafted several films about the ill-effects of greed, but he infuses Sierra Madre with enough complex dialogue and beautifully framed cinematography to turn this into a ballad to the lost innocence of the West itself. When Fred and Curtain shake hands before riding out, their handshake uniting the frame as Howard sits in the middle, Huston sets up an almost biblical tale of Cain and Abel coming together in the desert.
Humphrey Bogart turns in an award worthy performance (he failed to secure a nomination that year) as the mad Fred Dobbs. The cynical PI of Maltese Falcon is nowhere in evidence with Fred Dobbs, a man who believes his wealth should cover his material excesses. The movie’s two-hour runtime methodically plots Dobbs descent into madness. He’s selfish from the first moments where he gets a handout from a sharp-dressed man (director John Huston in a cameo) only to use it for a shave and a haircut before seeing if he’s got enough for a prostitute. He starts out with the best intentions and a proclamation that he’ll never get greedy….suffice it to say things dissolve from there. Eventually, Dobbs turns into a dirty, greedy lunatic talking to himself and acting like a 1948 version of Gollum. As the campfire rises in front of a mentally unhinged Fred, the audience realizes the slow descent into Hell they, and Fred, have entered into.
Huston won Best Director and Screenplay, a rightfully deserved choice considering the well-paced nature of the tale, the incisive dialogue, and beautiful sequences employed. Walter Huston, John’s father, also earned a Best Supporting Actor award for the conflicted Howard. Howard and Curtain lack the insanity of Bogart’s Dobbs, but possess a subtler internal conflict since they believe they’re inherently good. A memorable sequence involves the trio going in a merry-go-round, in and out of their tent, having a “looksie” about their surroundings to mask going to check on their treasure. Howard, lovingly played by the wacky Huston, believes he won’t fall into the greed trap but realizes it can change even the most stalwart of men.
The Blu-ray is lovingly rendered in 1080p and looks crisp and clear. The Blu-ray includes an interesting commentary by Bogart’s biographer, Eric Lax. It’s a bit dry but interesting as it explores the various character motivations and especially Bogart’s performance. There’s a lengthy documentary profile on John Huston which is fairly comprehensive; an almost 50-minute featurettes on the actual film including a fascinating story (worthy of its own movie) on the illusive author of the source material, B. Traven; a fun Warner Night at the Movies segment with an introduction by Leonard Maltin, and an audio-only radio show with the stars of the movie.
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is a thrilling exploration of human frailty with a passion for analyzing the dark hearts of men.