38 – The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)

Howard: We’ve wounded this mountain. It’s our duty to close her wounds. It’s the least we can do to show our gratitude for all the wealth she’s given us. If you guys don’t want to help me, I’ll do it alone.
Curtin: You talk about that mountain like it was a real woman.
Dobbs: She’s been a lot better to me than any woman I ever knew. Keep your shirt on, old-timer. Sure, I’ll help ya.
Seen before?

F: No.

R: Nope.

Thoughts?

F: This is the first film on the list back after a bit of a break. Have to say I wasn’t particularly excited about it but it won me round!

R: For 1947 it’s a pretty sophisticated film. The plot kept me guessing and the way all the strands are pulled together at the end is really satisfying. Where it does show its age is in the pacing, and I think with some creative editing you could probably shave 10-15 minutes off the running time without doing too much harm to the story or the atmosphere.

F: It was definitely too long. There was too much before they got to the mountain to dig for gold. Which meant by the time we got to the final act it felt like it was dragging a bit. But there was plenty to make this not feel boring. For starters, Humphrey Bogart does a really great job of someone who descends into paranoia.

R: Bogart is great in this, although I did think some of the gold-fever stuff was a bit unbelievable. Why don’t Howard or Curtin call Dobbs out when he’s saying $25,000 each isn’t enough? Surely they would at least try quoting his own words back at him to make him realise his greed is out of control?

F: I guess it’s meant to show how people change when there’s wealth and power available. He’s very sure at the beginning that he won’t be corrupted by it. It’s different to Curtin who the film makes you believe is going to succumb but he goes through a turning point in the mine shaft where he realises that the gold is not worth giving up his humanity. Dobbs never goes through something similar.

R: I don’t disagree with anything you’ve said there, I just think Dobbs’ corruption feels a bit abrupt. I understand the film is fairly faithful to the 1935 novel, and no doubt there you’d get more internal monologue to help you understand his motivations. I’m left quite tempted to read the book, which I suppose you could say is a sign of a successful adaptation.

F: I didn’t realise this was based on a book but I agree it will be an interesting read. Back to Bogart for a moment, whether or not we think the descent into madness is too abrupt, this is truly one of the great performances on the list. There is nothing to redeem this character but I did find myself feeling an element of pity for him.

R: How does he rank against the other all time great antiheroes on the list? I’ll grant that Bogart’s performance is magnificent, but I’m not sure the character is quite as interesting as either Travis Bickle or Henry Hill. I really wanted a more compelling reason for Dobbs to act the way he does than just, “because gold”.

F: Would we call him an antihero though? I’m not sure of the dictionary definition but he does nothing heroic unlike those two you mention above. To me he’s more in the vein of a Michael Corleone (soon to be seen on the list) as someone who’s corrupted by the power/wealth they suddenly find themselves with. As Bogart said about this character “I play the worst shit you ever saw!” The fact he’s so unlikeable makes him interesting!

R: For me an antihero is just a lead character who doesn’t have traditionally heroic traits. Often they do end up doing good accidentally or for the wrong reasons, but I don’t think that’s a necessary part of the definition. You’re right though that it’s unusual that Dobbs here has almost no redeeming features, but is still so very compelling to watch.

F: Is there anything else you don’t like here? For me there were the scenes in Spanish which were lost on me. The moments where the Americans are present I get since they don’t understand so neither do we. But there scenes where I think subtitles would have really helped. Maybe it was just our dodgy dvd copy though!

R: I like a little restraint when it comes to foreign language subtitles – it annoys me in TV and movies when you get a subtitle for a Spanish character saying “sí” and nodding. But agree here they could probably have done more to help out the likes of us who know very little Spanish. Overall though I’ve got to say this is yet another western that’s exceeded my expectations.

Is it worthy of the top 100?

F: Yes – great film topped off by a magnificent Bogart performance.

R: There are other films that I think have gone on to tell the “man corrupted by greed” story better, but you can’t ignore this was made in 1948. It’s aged so gracefully I think I have to give it a yes.

Up Next:
37 – The Best Years of our Lives (1946)
Previously:
39 – Dr. Strangelove (1964)

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