Monday, January 17, 2011

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

What's interesting to me about this film was how much it surprised me with Humphrey Bogart's character. I thought it would be a fairly standard if well made old fashioned adventure movie, with him and a couple other guys seeking gold in a foreign land. Early scenes had a bit of an edge, as he and another man who were swindled out of proper pay for some work they did beat the cash out of the guy who cheated them. But he still seemed like his usual self with the rough charm and everything, and as the plot really got going, I saw no reason to change my mind. But very slowly, the movie reveals how much of a dick he really is under that likable exterior, and after a while, he's basically playing the villain. The pacing of the transition is really great, as he gradually transforms from a guy eager to make a fortune, to one a little too defensive of the money he's made, to a completely delusional, paranoid and basically crazy son of a bitch. His companions see the warning signs but aren't quite prepared for what he ends up doing, and the movie ends up a lot darker than what I thought I was going to see.

And it's a better film for it, I think. I was certainly enjoying it up to the point where things start changing, with the three main actors developing an interesting little community together and a script totally rife with snappy dialogue. It's known for one of the most famous misquoted lines in history involving stinking badges, but there's a whole lot of talking the whole movie through, and there's no shortage of nice bits. I also liked how the Spanish dialogue wasn't subtitled at all, either letting characters translate it for their monolingual cohorts or just making you figure out what's happening in a scene through action and context. I'd generally expect movies from this era to just have Mexican characters always speaking English, and it really helped add to the authenticity of a fairly gritty tale. The acting is solid, and although I wasn't sure about Walter Huston winning an Oscar for his work, there's something really likable about the old guy. And all of that would have made for a solid movie, but the way things turn bad as it goes on are what really make it the classic it's considered today. It's not quite one of my favorites of the era, but it's hard to deny that it's a really good one.

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