Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Day Thirty-Nine: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

Ranking on IMDb Top 250: #66
Year: 1948
Director: John Huston
Starring: Humphrey Bogart and Walter Huston

Ah, the backend of a two-part post. You'd better believe this movie is unfairly going to get the shaft. I'll give it my best shot to do it just a little bit of justice. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, like part one of today's double post, is a study of the effect of the gold rush on men's souls. Unlike that earlier film, though, it's a very serious treatment of the topic, and it doesn't shy away from some of the more grim realities of prospecting, including but not limited to murder. The movie follows three gringos living in Mexico – played wonderfully by Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston, and Tim Holt – who set off into the mountains to strike it rich as prospectors. Once they find a little bit of gold, they all start to get paranoid that the other guys will take their share. Living in fear of each other and the countless banditos that patrol the area, they are effectively driven mad by the gold.

Then there's the stinking badges, which the banditos don't need. There is possibly no line in movie history that has been paid homage to, parodied, stolen, copied, aped, plagiarized, and lampooned more than "Badges? We ain't got no badges. We don't need no badges! I don't have to show you any stinking badges!", spoken by the Alfonso Bedoya when Bogart asks him where his badges are if he is indeed with the police. The line has become so ingrained in the national subconscious that any ten-year old kid who has never so much as heard of this movie would recognize it in a cold screening. The delivery of the actual line in its actual intended context, of course, is superb. Despite its decades of misuse, the source still holds up remarkably well, and that's a credit to Mr. Bedoya's performance.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is a Western in a very general sense, but it's not one that looks like a Leone or Eastwood or Peckinpah film. The landscape is mostly mountainous, there are no lawmen or bounty hunters or cowboys or Indians. But the Western atmosphere pervades just the same, and the same vibe is felt when watching. It's not terribly fair to judge it against other Westerns, though; it's a traditional Hollywood movie made in the classical tradition, and it's no wonder that Bogart made it in the same decade that he made The Maltese Falcon, Casablanca, and The Big Sleep. Even though those films are (presumably) very different, they (presumably) have a similar Golden Age of Hollywood feel about them, and it's best to think of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre in that context, not the context that Sergio Leone would establish fifteen years later. It's a great movie, even if some of that comes from the fact that it feels like it's supposed to be great.

The Good: There is a Wikipedia article entitled "Stinking badges." 'Nuff said.

The Bad: SPOILER ALERT: I didn't like seeing Bogey go. Even when he was devolving into a barely human greed machine, he was the most likable character.

The Skinny: #66 is really high for any movie and I'm not sure if I can totally get behind it here. If it was somewhere around #100 I would probably be a little more comfortable with its placement. Deserves to be on the list, though, without a doubt.


  1. This movie was a decent surprise. Before I had seen "Great American Westerns" as High Noon (crap) and The Searchers (better, but still overrated). This was better and far more interesting then any of the 2 I mentioned. Interesting story, finally, interesting character study (which is mentioned in the 2 other westerns, but is never to be found amusing by me) and good acting.
    Nice movie.
    Treasure of the Sierra Madre 8/10

  2. This is Mel Brook's favorite film, and one of mine as well.