Film Diary: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (John Huston, 1948)

Sunday, 25 May 2008

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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3 Responses to “Film Diary: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (John Huston, 1948)”

  1. pussreboots Says:

    I’m really intrigued by your comparison of the western to the play. I majored in film studies but I don’t remember Treasure of Sierra Madre included in the group of films when we were studying the influence of Shakespeare on film. That’s not to say there isn’t a connection!

    I did a little digging around too. Walter Huston (John Huston’s dad) was a first generation Canadian of Scottish parents. He was also a Broadway actor before transitioning to film. I don’t know though if he ever acted in the play in question but it is likely that both Hustons were aware of the play.

    If you’d like to see another film that is an homage to the Scotts play, I recommend Throne of Blood by directed by Akira Kurosawa.


  2. […] about the way greed and jealousy can poison even the best-laid schemes. In this it resembles The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and if you have read my piece on that, you’ll see that I have compared that to Macbeth. […]

  3. sabster Says:

    It’s based loosely on the “Pardoner’s Tale” in Geoffrey Chaucer’s _Canterbury Tales_.


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