blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948, John Huston)

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre often comes as a complete surprise, even though director Huston carefully foreshadows certain events. He’s playing with viewer expectations–both of having Humphrey Bogart as his lead and Walter Huston in a supporting role. Sierra Madre is a thriller, but a thriller set during an adventure movie.

Bogart and Tim Holt play a couple down on their luck Americans who manage to get out a little ahead and throw in with Huston to go gold prospecting. This development comes at the end of the first act–Huston’s very deliberate with the screenplay, very careful about how he positions the audience’s relationship with the characters. The audience isn’t along for the adventure, the audience is kept back a bit. Huston is also deliberate with the shot composition; he and cinematographer Ted D. McCord fill the first half of the film with these exceptional group shots of the actors.

All three are fantastic. Huston has what seems like it’s going to be the showiest role, but it calms down soon into the second act. Bogart’s a combination of against type and in exaggerated type. He’s got some amazing scenes. Holt’s something of the straight man; Huston gives him the quietest character development and, in some ways, the quietest arc.

Max Steiner’s music is also crucial. Huston uses it to help guide the audience’s relationship with the film.

Sierra Madre is small, contained, expansive, elaborate. Huston and his actors do some truly exceptional work in the film.

6 responses to “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948, John Huston)”

  1. The acting in this film is top-notch. These roles were brilliantly cast; in fact, I can’t take my eyes off Walter Huston when he’s on screen. Time to see this one again!

    1. Embarrassingly enough, I’d never seen it until now 🙂

      1. That’s not embarrassing at all! There are tons of classic films I haven’t seen. But that just means there are still lots of films to discover, no?

      2. An excellent point. There’s always something awesome to find!

  2. Loved Bugs Bunny cartoons as a kid and knew that one featured a cartoon Bogart asking Bugs for money. It wasn’t until a couple years ago when I watched Treasure of the Sierra Madre for the first time that I finally got the joke from that cartoon. Great movie!

    1. The badges thing was big for me 🙂 I’d never seen it outside BLAZING SADDLES (and didn’t even remember where it came from)

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