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The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)


Tim Holt, Humphrey Bogart and Walter Huston
Tim Holt, Humphrey Bogart and Walter Huston



'The Treasure of the Sierra Madre' is an American adventure film made in 1948, directed by John Huston and starring Humphrey Bogart, Tim Holt and Walter Huston, the director's father.

Although Jack Warner, head of Warner Brothers, initially detested the film, it brought his studio, not only a a box-office smash hit, but triumphs at the Academy Awards. John Huston won Oscars for Best Director and Best Screenplay, while his father picked up the Best Supporting Actor Oscar. It was the first and so far only time a father and son team had won at the Awards. The film was also nominated for the Best Picture award, but lost to Laurence Olivier's 'Hamlet'.

The film is generally regarded as a classic and is considered by many to be Huston's best film. In 2008 it was voted at number 38 in the American Film Institute's list of 100 Best Movies and in 1990, it was one of the first batch of films to be selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.

The failed quest, fueled by ambition and frustrated by greed and internal dissension, was John Huston's favorite plot, appealing to the mixture of romantic and cynic that made up his character. From 'The Maltese Falcon' in 1941 to 'The Man Who would Be King' in 1975 he played repeated variations on this theme - but 'The Treasure of the Sierra Madre' presents it in something close to its purest form.

Plot

Three ill-assorted American drifters in Mexico in 1925 join forces to prospect for gold, find it, and inevitably in the end, snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and lose it again. They have to fight off a band of Mexican bandits and in the end they discover what is truly important in life.

Huston, always a great adaptor of literature for the screen, drew his story from a novel by the mysterious and reclusive writer B. Traven and, as ever, treated his source material with respect and affection, preserving much of Traven's laconic dialogue and sardonic outlook.

The theme of the movie is how people react under pressure. Whereas the old prospector, played by Walter Huston and the naive youngster, played by cowboy movie actor Tim Holt, hang on to their principles in the face of adversity and the temptation of gold, the paranoid Fred C. Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart in one of his most memorably unsettling roles) cracks up and succumbs. There is a wonderful final scene with the youngster and the old-timer laughing when they discover that after all their effort the gold they found has blown back to the place where they found it.

Production

Warner Bros. bought the rights to B. Traven's 1935 novel, 'The Treasure of the Sierra Madre' in 1941 as a vehicle for their brilliant young writer/director John Huston. The project was put on hold during Huston's service filming documentaries in World War II and when he returned in 1946, Huston wrote a script and sent it to the book's author who lived in Mexico. He never met B.Traven but was able to meet and discuss the story with an associate of the author, a translator called Hal Craven. Huston suspected that Craven and Traven were one and the same person but was never able to prove it.
Casting
Warner Bros. initially considered George Raft for the role of Fred C. Dobbs, but Huston had no doubts that Humphrey Bogart was the ideal actor to play the paranoid prospector. Huston also was anxious for his father, Walter, to play the grizzled old prospector, Howard.He persuaded the initially reluctant elder Huston, who still considered himself leading man material, to play the part without his false teeth. The result was a triumph.

Ronald Reagan was briefly considered for the part of Curtin and both John Garfield and Zachary Scott were looked at for the role of Cody.

Location
Despite the studio's opposition - because location filming, at least for A-list Hollywood productions, was rare in those days - Huston insisted on shooting almost all the outdoor scenes entirely on location in Mexico, around the village of Jungapeo, some 140 miles north of the capital. His intransigence paid off. The film's texture exudes the dusty aridity of the Mexican landscape, so that watching it you can almost taste the grit between your teeth; and the actors, exiled from the comfortable environment of the studio and having to contend with the elements, were pushed into giving taut edgy performances.

Filming in all took five and a half months to complete, including five days for the cantina fight scene alone. The howling dust storm at the end of the movie was created by using some borrowed jet engines from the Mexican Air Force.

Walter Huston had to speak in Spanish to the Mexican villagers and he learned his Spanish lines phonetically as he did not know the language.

Main Cast

Humphrey Bogart ... Fred C.Dobbs
Walter Huston ... Howard
Tim Holt ... Bob Curtin
Bruce Bennett ... James Cody
Barton MacLane ... Pat McCormick
Alfonso Bedoya ... Gold Hat
Arturo Soto Rangel ... El Presidente
Manuel Dondé ... El Jefe
José Torvay ... Pablo
Margarito Luna ... Pancho

Credits

Director ... John Huston
Producer ... Henry Blanke
Screenplay ... John Huston from novel by B. Traven
Music ... Max Steiner
Cinematography ... Ted D. McCord
Distribution Co. ... Warner Bros.
Release date ... January 6, 1948
Format ... B&W
Running time ... 126 minutes

Academy Awards

3 Wins:
Best Director ... John Huston
Best Supporting Actor ... Walter Huston
Screenplay ... John Huston
1 Unsuccessful Nomination:
Best Picture ... Warner Bros.