(Spoilers follow. If you haven’t watched the movie yet, well, you should.)
From director John Huston, based on the novel of the same name, written by B. Traven comes a tale quite unlike any I’ve seen today (Hollywood Remake Alert). A tale that is simply based on one thing: avarice.
Of course, it doesn’t quite begin like that. Human greed never does. It begins with two Americans, Fred C. Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart) and Bob Curtin (Tim Holt), down on their luck, in the streets of Tampico, Mexico, looking to do anything to make ends meet. When cheated out of payment for a job, they team up with Howard (Walter Huston), an old man (equally down on his luck) they meet at a dormitory, in an attempt to cash in on the gold rush and become potential prospectors and make enough money to live comfortably.
What follows is two hours of storytelling that is simply muy bien.
We watch our leads as they each deal with the prospect of getting rich. Ol’ Dobbsie starts off as a good man, beating up the man who cheated him out of their pay but only taking how much money he needed. “I’d take only what I set out to get,” he proclaims. But while both Curtin and old man Howard are fine with, oh, say, $30,000 worth of gold, Dobbs has his heart set on $75,000, at least. Over the course of the movie, he goes from good guy to straight-up paranoid psychopath, confident that everyone is out to get him and his gold. And yes, they find gold and plenty of it. It leads to him shooting Curtin and leaving him for dead, only for that decision to come back and cost him his life.
Curtin, on the other hand, is a straight arrow, managing to keep his cool and his moral compass intact throughout the movie. From offering a third of the money to a widow he didn’t know (because of the man, Cody, died fighting with them), to protecting Howard’s share when he isn’t around, Curtin is the man you want watching your back, should you ever get into a bar brawl.
Howard, on the other, other hand, is a man of his word. With the way he behaves in the beginning, I was confident that he was up to something, that it was all some large, elaborate plan to get all the gold for himself, but nay, this is simply a story about three human beings and the way that greed is capable of reducing us to animals.
All of this, coupled with action-packed shootouts, Bandidos, and Federales make for a damn fine movie.
Fun fact: The American Film Institute ranked this as the #38 Greatest Movie of All Time.
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), rating: