RogerBW's Blog

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) 05 October 2023

1948 psychological adventure, dir. John Huston, Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston: IMDb / allmovie. Gold fever takes men in strange ways.

"Wait till you see me in my next picture", said Bogart to a critic he met in a New York nightclub. "I play the worst shit you ever saw."

I think the point of this film is moral failure, but I can't work out whether it's supposed to be regarded as one- or two-dimensional. Is it meant to be that Curtin and Howard are better men than Dobbs, so they can carry the extra psychological strain of potentially getting rich, while he can't? Or is it, and I prefer to think of it this way, that they are different men, and the possibility of wealth takes them each in different directions?

After all, when they're talking about what they'll do when they'll get back, all Dobbs can think of is short-term: get clean, get well fed, get laid (as much as the Code allows him to mention this). Curtin wouldn't mind those things, but his real objective is to go somewhere pleasant and just live there; when he talks about his memory of fruit-picking, it's as if Dobbs were hearing an alien language. And Howard has been round this loop before: he's good at going out and finding gold, he enjoys it, but he knows he's going to spend it and have some fun and then be back in the flophouse.

The start is slow (and I feel we'd know more of the psychology if we ever learned why Dobbs was living hand to mouth in Mexico in the first place). There are two female speaking roles, and they get one line each. But there's also a splendidly un-glamorous bar fight and that won me over: nobody here has anything to lose because, they think, they've already lost it all. There's lovely scenery and some surprisingly practical material on gold-panning, but the point of the film is the psychology and Dobbs's breakdown, and it's superbly observed.

I talk about this film further on Ribbon of Memes.

Tags: film reviews

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