Monday, September 1, 2008

Decade by Decade, Part 9: "We don't need no stinking badges!"

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) is a perfectly balanced movie. Everything that happens in it is both a necessary, well-told part of the narrative and also a part of the growth (or degeneration) of one or more of the characters.

The script and acting in this movie mesh perfectly. There's not a lot of action (though the fight with the bandits is exciting), but there's a lot of suspense inherent in wondering which of the three main characters--prospectors who have struck a rich vein of gold in a remote mountainous region--will give way to greed and--perhaps--murder.

Humphrey Bogart, Tim Holt and Walter Houston--dirty and unshaven through most of the movie--make a wonderfully realistic trio. Bogie is particularly good, giving hints to the shallowness of his character throughout the early part of the film before finally giving way to all his worst instincts.

The movie balances out both the brutishness and the occasional flashes of nobility that are both a part of human nature. And it tells a really cool adventure story at the same time.


Directed by John Houston and photographed in beautiful black-and-white, Treasure can be considered a film noir. Most noirish films have an urban setting, with dark alleys and dingy hotel rooms often being used to generate a claustrophobic feeling--a sense that the characters are trapped in whatever dangerous situation besets them.


Treasure is set in the wilderness, but still has that same trapped, closed-in feeling. We get a few wide shots of the surrounding mountain region when the characters are searching for gold in order to establish the setting. But once they begin mining, the movie is staged in such a way to remind us that the prospectors are pretty much stuck together in a fairly small area. It's yet another example of how perfectly balanced all the various aspects of the movie are.


Treasure of the Sierra Madre is a superb film--well-worth watching if you've never seen it and well-worth re-watching even if you have seen it. There's so much to appreciate about it that it easily stands up to repeat viewings without losing any of its impact as either a great story or an exploration of human nature.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...