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The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)

If people these days were to go pick one movie that talked about how gold (or money) can corrupt good souls and make monsters, most would probably lean towards The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (the first one). I would go one better, and turn towards John Huston’s classic The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

Set in 1925 Mexico, we meet (the now famous fictional character) Fred C. Dobbs. Played by Hollywood Legend Humphrey Bogart, Dobbs is a man of bad luck. He asks around “to spare a fellow American for a meal”, and winds up hearing of gold in the mountains by an old timer named Howard (Walter Huston, the director’s father). Dobbs agrees and goes on the trip with new friend Bob Curtin (Tim Holt).

At the time the movie was made (shortly after WW2), it was one of the first American movies to be made outside of the United States (Huston and Bogart would do the same later for The African Queen). This gives the movie the feel it exerts on us that we are with these guys through the sweat and pain and dirt. One of the movies main highlights is Walter Huston. He would die two years later, but leave a performance that shows what supporting acting is all about (he won one of the films three Oscars). Dobbs and Curtin feel that they just need Howard for knowledge of how to get the gold, but soon realize that they need him to survive. Howard never ceases to have an answer for every possible outcome, and he gives it at rapid speed (it is as if Walter Huston drank coffee before every take). It is a superb performance.

Bogart, as always, is excellent. It is one of the few roles I have seen him in where he does not have to act opposite a woman. We believe every thing he says and does, and, towards the end, has one heck of a laugh you will never forget. Holt is also wonderful as the fellow helper Curtin.

What happens to the characters? Do they find gold? I would be ashamed of myself to tell you the answer without you figuring it out for yourself.

Parents, there is nothing wrong with this movie. Anyone can see it (although real little ones may not get it).

Movies like this, ironically, are like gold. You dig for them in video stores or libraries (or Netflix), trying to see which will shine for a long time, and which are just dirt. This film will shine for as long as we have movie screens, be they at the theater, at home, or on a handheld device.

Overall: Five Stars *****

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