Tuesday, August 30, 2011

New to the Collection: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

Every time Saucy adds a new DVD to his increasingly mammoth film collection, he will take the time to provide five indelible scenes that convinced him to spend his hard-earned sheckles on something he could have gotten for free with a DVD burner and a Netflix subscription. This installment discusses The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, the 1948 film starring a deliciously crazed Humphrey Bogart and directed by that manliest of men's directors, John Huston.

1) "Can you stake a fellow American to a meal?"
Three times, Bogart's Fred C. Dobbs hits up the same unfortunate fellow (Huston, in a memorable cameo) for money to get himself something to eat. However, despite the fact that the benefactor agrees to give Dobbs not only three donations, but a fourth to simply leave him alone, Bogart's character never manages to buy that promised meal. Either he's hitting a bar or luxuriating for a nice shave and haircut. In the first ten minutes, the scene not only entertains, but shows Dobbs' hunger, his greed, and his basic immorality, all of which will lead him toward madness as he hunts for gold flakes later in the picture.

2) Beatdown in the Bar
After Dobbs meets a friend in fellow down-on-his-lucker Bob Curtin (Tim Holt), the two fellows decide to take an assignment as construction workers for building magnate, Pat McCormick. Only when it comes time to pay, the guy stiffs Dobbs and Curtin rather than pay them up for an honest day's work. Big mistake. The fellows spot McCormick and, after he attempts to continue the swindle via a couple of free drinks, they pummel the guy, taking all they are owed. The fight between the three men is a marvel for 1948 cinema. In a time where film tended to veer toward the overly dramatic, the fight is harshly choreographed. It is sloppy. It is particularly violent, including bottles smashed over heads and fallen men kicked in the face. Huston takes such pains to wallow in the beating that men who are clearly stuntmen are seen in vivid medium close-up. The fight seems to goes on a beat too long as if Huston doesn't want the viewer to be able to look away. It goes a long way toward showing the ferocity that the men (especially Dobbs) will be capable of as the film moves along.

3) Old Man Howard Finds the Gold
After Dobbs' lucky lottery ticket allows the two men to purchase supplies, they team up with Howard (the director's father, Walter Huston), an old timer with experience, to head out to the mountains and hunt for gold. When their search fails to turn up treasure, the two novices are ready to fold up their tents and head back for civilization. So little do they know about gold that they don't even know how rich they have struck it when they are standing on the stuff with their own booted feet. Fortunately, they have Howard there to tell them what they have fallen into, and he does so with an exuberant jig that encapsulates the charm and energy with which Huston fills his Oscar-winning performance.

4) Dividing Up the Treasure
Bogart, who is probably more known for even-handed, confident performances in films like The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca, really earns his stripes in this scene where the trio begins discussing how they will divvy up their findings. Dobbs, who becomes obsessed with his riches and slowly descends into a flurry of obsession and distrust, suggests that they divide up the findings at the end of each day so they can hold onto it themselves. That, of course, would make it all the more difficult for his partner's to rip him off. Before long, Bogart morphs into a delusional, paranoid psychotic, talking to himself, balling up fists at anyone who looks at him the wrong way, and bugging out his eyes in a wacked-out manner that completely explains why filmmaker Stanley Kubrick called this his No. 4 movie of all time. Bogart's performance is perfectly over-the-top, unhinged, and totally entrancing. One of the best in a luminous career.

5)"Badges? We ain't got no badges. We don't need no badges. I don't have to show you any stinking badges!"
One of the greatest line readings ever by some dude I've never heard of (Alfonso Bedoya, the dude in the picture above).

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