THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE (John Huston, 1947)

Brilliantly written and directed by John Huston, who won Oscars for doing both, Treasure of the Sierra Madre begins in Tampico as a current of what appears to be good fortune launches an expedition for gold by three Americans, two young struggling laborers and old prospector Howard (Oscar-winner Walter Huston, John’s father), whose eyes tell us he has seen everything, including “what gold does to men’s souls.” In the aftermath of the 1910-20 Mexican Revolution, the countryside is alive with mirror-images: murderous native bandits and their police opponents, the Federales. The trio of prospectors find and mine gold but run into trouble also from within. Heretofore a model of fairness, Fred C. Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart, riveting) comes to believe that the other two seek to cheat him out of his share of the gold; like Nixon, Dobbs takes to referring to himself in the third person as he mentally unravels. Tim Holt, still in his twenties, gives the film’s most beautiful performance, one which perfectly captures an inflection of evil in a personality of resounding decency; his Bob Curtin is symbolically linked to James Cody, an outside prospector whom the trio decide to kill as a competitor (an expression of the novel’s and Huston’s hatred of capitalism), whose peaceful life home in Texas Curtin is prepared to take over once the bandits preempt the trio by killing Cody. The mysterious B. Traven (writer-director Huston), on whose book the film is based, appears dressed in white; he tells Dobbs early on, after giving him several pesos as handouts, “From now on, you will have to make your way through life without my assistance.”
     Poignantly, the prospectors lose all their gold to the winds of Fate—a cosmic joke and test of character.

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