By 1948 John Huston had proven his ability as a director with just his first film, The Maltese Falcon. Since then he had returned to Humphrey Bogart in Across The Pacific and again in The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre. Each of these films presented the star in very different surroundings and situations. His Dobbs character here couldn’t have been any farther from his Sam Spade character. But in each case Huston relied on his leading man to dominate the screen with his trademark mannerisms and his ability to liven up even the most cliché of dialog. Now Warner is bringing these classic Huston and Bogart collaborations to Blu-ray, and it’s about time.
Dobbs (Bogart) and Curtin (Holt) are down-on-their-luck men trying to make a living in Tampico, Mexico during some rough times. Dobbs has taken to street hustling for enough to buy a meal or a shave. The two try working on a work crew but get ripped off by the foreman. It seems as though there is no way for the two men to get ahead. They hear a story from old-timer Howard (Huston) who regales the two with stories of striking it rich prospecting the mountains for gold. He claims to have a nose for finding the stuff in remote areas that no one else would think of looking. All he needs is a stake. When Hobbs hits a small lottery, he combines his money with Curtin’s and the three buy the supplies they need to set off after the mother lode. In what turns out to be the worst luck in the world, the three find a strong deposit and pull out over a hundred thousand bucks worth of gold dust. The success leads to suspicion, particularly for Dobbs who no longer trusts his two partners. They have to defend themselves against bandits and eventually each other in order to get off the mountain with their “goods” as they call the gold, or even their lives.
Bogart took an incredible chance by taking on the role of Dobbs. While Sam Spade was very much an anti-hero, Dobbs becomes a completely bad guy. He starts out innocently enough, and eventually greed and suspicion turn him into a ruthless and paranoid murderer. I had never seen the film before. It was never considered a huge box office success and hasn’t been incredibly available, for the most part. It just might well be Bogart’s best performance. Unlike his more famous roles, Dobbs has to undergo a tremendous change at his very core. We feel incredibly for the man when we meet him as a simple beggar. It’s not hard to root for these three to strike it rich and live happily ever after. But Huston doesn’t let us have it both ways. There is no storybook ending as Dobbs becomes less and less a man we want to root for. By the time of the final reel, there isn’t any sympathy remaining for the prospector. This is a more balanced and complicated performance than I once thought Bogart had in him.
John Huston also casts his father as the prospector Howard. While Walter Huston is certainly a very compelling character, Huston gets too caught up in the role. His dialog often comes out undecipherable. He’s caught hamming it up a time too often and reminds us too often we are watching a film. Tim Holt provides the more traditional look of a Hollywood leading man here as the voice of reason between the other two characters and actors. Make no mistake. The film completely depends on the performances of these three. The supporting cast isn’t even on the film for much screen time. The three carry the film for most of its two-hour running time. This is one of the earliest examples of quality character study that I’ve been fortunate enough to discover.
Huston adds tremendous authenticity to the film. Here atmosphere isn’t supplied by cinematic style, but rather convincing real locations and solid native actors that fill out these small parts in a believable way. There are times you almost feel like you’re watching a documentary. Huston captures the social climate and the depressed economic circumstances with the realism that made him such a renowned documentary filmmaker as well.
The film is also noted for one of the most misquoted famous movie lines. Everyone has heard some character spoof the film with the line: “Badges? We don’t need no stinkin’ badges.” The line really is: “Badges? We ain’t got no badges. We don’t need no badges. I don’t have to show you any stinkin’ badges!” You’ve heard that line a thousand times. Now here’s your chance to put the film with the lines.
Treasure Of The Sierra Madre is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. The 1080p image is arrived at with a VC-1 codec at an average of 20 mbps. This film doesn’t have the subtle shadows of The Maltese Falcon. It is detail here that creates the most bang from your high-definition buck. The Mexican locations offer a very gritty and down-in-the-mud feel of the wilderness here. It puts these characters into a place where we can’t help but believe what we are seeing. The print is in remarkable shape. Black levels are sharp, and the contrast allows for subtle nuances in the black-and-white film.
The DTS-HD Master Audio Mono is again the correct choice here. There might not be the fullness you’ve come to expect from surround effects, but the sound presentation here is just as solid. When the prospectors are digging in the rock the sounds work, in spite of the film’s age. The sound is fairly clean of hiss or distortion.
John Huston – The Man, The Movies, The Maverick: (2:08:13) If you are a fan of Huston or his films, you will love this vintage look at both the man and the movies. It’s a detailed biography with plenty of participation from family, friends, and coworkers over the years. It explores the movies in precise detail and analysis the impact the filmmaker still has on the industry today.
8 Ball Bunny: (7:08): Bugs cartoon. A penguin is left behind when the Ice Follies leave town. Bugs ends up helpin’ the pesky bird.
Lux Radio Theater: (59:42) A radio play of the film featuring Bogart and his film cast mates.
I love my job. Certainly there are moments when a film moves so slowly that I can feel myself actually begin to age somewhere between the opening and end credits. But then there are times when I’m given the chance to see a film I had only heard of but never had the opportunity to watch. Sure, these can sometimes be the most disappointing, particularly when expectations are high. Then Warner comes along and digs into their classic library and releases films like this onto high definition Blu-ray. The two hours fly by as if no time had passed at all. Instead of feeling older, I actually pick up a little energy and can’t wait to get to my computer and share what I just saw with you, my gentle reader. This is one of those times. Did I mention that I love my job? “Here’s a sight if there ever was one.”