A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

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

I love Turner Classic Movies -- obviously, because it's where I see so many of the films I comment on here. But I don't always love the introductory segments they do for some of their films. It can be a real irritant when they bring on a celebrity as a "guest programmer." Some of them are excellent: Sally Field displays real knowledge and insight about the films she introduces. But The Treasure of the Sierra Madre was introduced by Candice Bergen, who is normally a witty and charming person, but seemed to have no idea about the movie she was showcasing. She admitted to interviewer Robert Osborne that she hadn't seen it for 35 years, and that she recalled it as this "little" movie that she surmised had been filmed on a small budget in locations maybe 20 minutes from the studio. To Osborne's discredit, he made no attempt to correct her: Warner Bros. gave it what was a generous budget for the time of $3 million, and it was mostly filmed on location -- a rarity for the time -- in the state of Durango and the town of Tampico, Mexico. (Some scenes had to be shot in the studio, of course, and it's easy to spot the artificial lighting and hear the sound stage echoes in these, which don't match up to the ones Ted McCord filmed on location.) It's hardly a "little" movie, either: It has a generosity of characterization in both the screenplay by Huston from B. Traven's novel and in the performances of Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston, and Tim Holt. It's always shocking to realize that Bogart failed to be nominated for an Oscar for his performance as the bitter, paranoid Fred C. Dobbs. I mean, who today remembers some of the performances that were nominated instead: Lew Ayres in Johnny Belinda (Jean Negulesco)? Dan Dailey in When My Baby Smiles at Me (Walter Lang)? Clifton Webb in Sitting Pretty (Lang)? To the Academy's credit, Huston won as both director and screenwriter, and his father, Walter, won the supporting actor Oscar -- the first instance of someone directing his own father to an Academy Award for acting, which Walter Huston's smartly delineated old coot certainly deserved. But let's also put in a word for Tim Holt, who had one of the odder careers of a potential Hollywood star: He gave good performances in some of the best movies to come out of the studios in the 1940s, including The Magnificent Ambersons (Orson Welles, 1942) and My Darling Clementine (John Ford, 1946), and was a handsome and capable presence in them. But even after working for Welles, Ford, and Huston, after The Treasure of the Sierra Madre he went back to performing in B-movie Westerns, which had been the stock in trade of his father, Jack Holt (who has a small part as a flophouse bum in this film). His heart seemed not to be in the movie business, and he retired to his ranch, making only a few appearances after 1952.