Friday, December 24, 2010
#12: The Treasure of Sierra Madre
What do you say about a movie that has no female character through the entire duration of 126 minutes, is adapted from a book by a mysterious author who couldn't be traced and one that has the son directing his father in a role which wins the father a best supporting actor Oscar while the son goes on to win the Oscar for best director.
The Treasure of Sierra Madre is a movie that has so much history going for it, so much off-screen trivia that I could write an entire post on it. (Not that I won't be able to slip a few inadvertently during this review.) The pre-production for the movie began many years before the year of it's release in 1948 but the word was that execs at WB were really keen to have John Huston direct this movie and so they waited until he returned from the war even though they had a ready version of the script with them. So once John returned from the war, this was the first movie he directed.
With a title as simple, the story was obviously going to be about a group of people setting out in search for treasure. In this it turned out to be three men in search of gold in the mountains of Mexico. One of the first things that John Huston got right in the movie was the casting. Tim Holt as Curtin played the subdued partner to Humphrey Bogart's rugged and greedy personality of Fred Dobbs and whenever Walter Huston's character Howard spoke on screen, he simply stole the limelight. There's this one dance which Howard pulls off during the movie which is one of best expressions of happiness ever on-screen ( Do I note this down ? I don't but they stick in mind e.g. Will Smith's expression in the climax of The Pursuit of Happyness ). The story goes that this was a dance which Walter Huston brought from one of the plays he had acted in and was not a part of the original script but when John saw what his Dad was doing, he let the step be in the movie. The magic moments don't end there. The character of the Mexican bandit who comes up with the famous 'We ain't got no badges...' line and the pleasant digression in the movie about the tribals taking a liking towards Howard keeps you hooked as a viewer. The contrasting styles of the three main characters give room for suspicion, jealousy and fear that enhances the drama with the only binding factor between the protagonists being an unfulfilled quest for gold.
One of my favorite stories about the movie is how the author B.Traven was corresponding with John Huston regularly over letters and John was quite keen that the author come over to the sets as a consultant. The reluctant author would always refrain from agreeing to visit but instead sent his assistant by the name of Hal Croves to the film's sets. After working with Croves, almost everybody at the sets was convinced that Hal Croves was actually B.Traven himself but nobody could affirm it for sure because nobody has ever seen B.Traven.
The Treasure of Sierra Madre is a peach of a story with a very smart director handling the script. More often that not, that is good enough for a movie to sail through with mediocre actors but here's a movie where the actors give so much to their respective characters that it's impossible to be not swayed by their emotions as the story moves along. In the DVD, Martin Scorcese quotes a famous director about being fortunate to be in the business that made movies like The Treasure of Sierra Madre. .
Now, who am I to better that, as a humble viewer?