The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) movie poster

(1948) dir. John Huston
viewed: 08/22/08

Truly one of Hollywood’s classics, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, oddly enough was not a film that I had ever before seen.  But recently, I had picked up a copy of the novel by B. Traven upon which the film had been based, read it, read up on it, and decided that the time had come to finally get around to it.

Directed by John Huston, one of several excellent John Huston/Humphrey Bogart collaborations, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is classic Hollywood at its best.  The story of a group of down-and-out Americans in Mexico during the 1920’s who take up the mining of gold in the harsh outlies of the Mexican desert amid outlaws, dodgy governement, viciously hard toil, and ultimately the greed of “what gold does to men’s souls”.  The film features many great performances, none better than the one by the director’s father, Walter Huston, as the wily old Howard, the one who has made and lost enough fortunes to be the cynnical realist of the bunch while actually having a sense of humor at the brutality of fate.

What is also vastly fascinating is the story of the author of the original material, B. Traven.  Rather than try to retell the details of this mysterious figure, I recommend reading up on it at the Wikipedia bio.  He himself is almost as interesting as the story he makes up.

Huston, whose work I really have failed to see enough of, really is one of the auteurs of Hollywood.  He made dozens of films, excellent films, and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is as iconic as any of them, as iconic as Hollywood gets.

The film does pull an expected punch in the narrative, allowing one character to live that perishes in the book, allowing for more traditional hope and fulfillment of American dream idealism.  The book’s power is both in its intensive realism, a picture of Mexico that strikes quite a believable note, and in its Socialist humanism.  But the story is a harsh one, one which has a striking poetry in the fate of the luckless gold miners, the lure of the lucre, the evil evoked in even the hearts of otherwise decent men.  It works.  It’s not literature, but effective.  And the film rides that out in fine form.

Great, grand stuff.

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