The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

As you see, I’m having a mini-Huston/Bogart retrospective.

I did go to Google in an effort to try to find a previously established connection between this and Macbeth, but apart from being released in the same year as Orson Welles’s filmification of the Scottish Play I found none. This surprises me because it seems to me that there are strong parallels, and I’m more than sure that John Huston would have seen it too.

Like Macbeth, this is a story of corruption of the noble-minded by enhanced fortune, and of fall from grace as a result. For Fred Dobbs, an American down on his luck in a small Mexican town, the weird sisters are replaced by the young boy who through sheer persistence and bare-faced cheek flogs him a lottery ticket and predicts that it is a winner. Well, he would, wouldn’t he? Except that the prediction comes true, but not before Dobbs and his companion Curtin have fought and won a battle against a merciless Macdonwald in the guise of a crooked employer who fleeces his hands.
The lottery win enables Dobbs, Curtin, and the enigmatic Howard, who they meet in a Mexican dead-end doss-house, to join forces and go gold prospecting. But after Curtin saves Dobbs’s life (at great risk to himself) and the prospectors have finally struck lucky, the gold infects Dobbs with the greed, suspicion, and downright nasty-mindedness that destroy him.

All that’s missing is a Lady M, but this is a film about men in a man’s world and there’s no room for one. Still, for all its machismo this is not a film that rejoices in macho values. One wouldn’t want to spoil the plot, because amongst other things this is a captivating two hours, but in the end it is real human values affirmed; the rest just ain’t worth the candle.

As ever, Bogart is superb but it’s a testament to his oustanding and unselfish acting talent that, as with Key Largo, this is not in the end his film. Instead it belongs to the director’s old dad, Walter Huston, who is amazing as the dotty, but ultimately wise and compassionate, Howard. And yet it is Bogart who gives Huston the power to shine.

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Once again we eschew the Lake District and head for Westmorland and the limestone country. Longer days mean we can do this, and I note that we’ll be going even further afield in the coming weeks but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

The day was sunny, which was nice, and the wind was brisk, which was, well nice in one way because otherwise it might have been almost too warm for comfortable walking. On the other hand, it was coming from the east, which meant we spent almost the whole linear walk going straight into it, and in one or two places it was a trial making progress against it. Out on the wild and windy moors indeed, but I won’t pursue that line too hard in case Tom or his lapine proxy pounce on me.

These are not, in any case, the dour gritsone moors of Cathy and Heathcliff; these are the gentle limestone moors, grazed by many Swaledale sheep and the odd pony, criss-crossed by drystone walls and mercifully well-drained (although it was nice to note the funky little bridge provided to cross a boggy bit.) And it’s sweet walking on springy turf where even the wind is mostly pleasant on the skin. The efficacy of all that drystone walling was amply demonstrated at the afternoon break as we basked in warm sunshine on one side while hearing the wind howling on the other. The easy walking compensatewd for the lack of spectacular views, for the limestone country is pleasant and expansive rather than stunningly dramatic.

The last part of the walk, after descending to the valley and crossing the ghastly A685 road – there used to be a perfectly nice, winding A685 but there just has to be a flat, straightish track for the boy racers at the expense of the land, doesn’t there? – was less enjoyable being across farmland but the best was saved until the last. There, at journey’s end, was quite the nicest pub we’ve ended any of these rambles at. The King’s Head, Ravenstonedale.