Movie of the Week: ‘The Treasure of the Sierra Madre’

“The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” (1948) – “Hey, Buddy.  Can you stake a fellow American to a meal?”  – Fred C. Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart)

Fred is down on his luck.  He’s broke, unemployed, and he lives on the streets of Tampico, Tamaulipas, located on Mexico’s east coast.

However – out of the clear blue sky – a wealthy entrepreneur (Barton MacLane) gives Fred a two-week job!   Unfortunately, his temporary employment doesn’t work out like Fred envisioned, so he turns to Plan B:  taking an old gold-miner’s (Walter Huston) advice.

Howard (Huston), Fred, and his new pal Curtin (Tim Holt) traipse all over plenty of dusty, rocky buttes, mountains, and valleys looking for gold.  Fred and Curtin have zero clue about finding these precious nuggets, but they put their trust in Howard, while dodging local bandits who would love to place their mitts on their guns, ammo, and gold, of course.  

Howard (Walter Huston), Curtin (Tim Holt), and Fred (Humphrey Bogart)

Director/writer John Huston – the filmmaker’s version of Ernest Hemingway – adapts B. Traven’s novel and fills his movie with machismo and hard knocks, figuratively and literally, as fist fights sometimes follow handshakes. 

Set in 1925, these men don’t enjoy universal health care, 40-hour work weeks, and logging in from home.  Life is hard, and during this excursion, Howard, Fred, and Curtin risk their lives, as tough talk and meddle are their best chances to discover hopeful treasures and safely return to the U.S. 

Rather than offer a fun, swashbuckling tale of three American Amigos, Huston grinds the happenings down to noir in the film’s second half, and the results are surprising, including Bogart’s performance.

Curtin (Holt), Fred (Bogart), and Howard (Huston)

What’s also surprising – in a much appreciated and pleasant way – is that the on-screen Mexican characters are actually played by Mexicans, and Huston doesn’t include subtitles during Spanish speaking moments.  Well, there’s something you don’t see every day, nor do you witness a director cast his father as a key supporting player.  Yes, Walter is John’s dad, and he won the 1949 Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his work here to boot!

Hey, Buddy.  Can you make a classic, must-see film?

⭐⭐⭐ 1/2 out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Written and Directed by: John Huston

Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Tim Holt, and Walter Huston

Runtime: 126 minutes

Rated: Unrated

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