A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

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.