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The Treasure of Sierra Madre

Warner Bros./Warner Home Video . R4 . B&W . 120 mins . PG . PAL

  Feature
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When The Treasure of Sierra Madre was released in 1948, it was an immediate critical success. And it garnered three Oscars - two going to John Huston in his dual role as screenwriter and director, and one to his dad Walter Huston as 'Best Supporting Actor'.

Yet it was only moderately successful at the box office. By 1948 people had become used to Humphrey Bogart the laid-back hero, whether as Rick, Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe. They weren't ready to return to Bogart the loser - the paranoiac anti-hero at the heart of this movie.

The years have proved that on this occasion the critics - and the Oscar judges - were right. The film has grown in stature with each passing decade, and now stands as one of the finest achievements in the Bogart canon.

Bogart is the star, but only in billing. This is most definitely an ensemble piece, with all three lead actors contributing to the strong drama. And, if anything, the film is stolen by Walter Huston - some might argue that his is in fact the lead role.

The movie, most of which was filmed on arduous location in Mexico, is set in the 1920s, when Americans drifted to Mexico in search of quick wealth from gold, oil or crime. Or they just drifted there to escape whatever demons were pursuing them - this was a human jungle of bandits, drifters, outcasts and opportunists.

We meet our trio in the Mexican town of Tampico. Fred C. Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart) and another American down-and-out, Bob Curtin (Tim Holt) have heard old-timer Howard (Walter Huston) telling fellow flop-house inmates that there's gold in them thar hills. Dobbs and Curtin have just enough cash left after shaking down a dishonest employer, as well as from a fortuitous lottery win, to head for them thar hills themselves, to dig for gold in partnership with old Howard.

But there are bandits to contend with. And would-be claim-jumpers. And worst of all is the growing paranoia of Fred Dobbs, in a performance which prefigures Bogart's great performance in the film made towards the close of his career, The Caine Mutiny.

And that's enough of the plot. Suffice to say that this is a satisfyingly realistic and gritty movie, with great performances from the central trio, but also from lesser cast members, including a wonderful turn from Alfonso Bedoya as the bandit Gold Hat. And watch for the uncredited performance early in the movie from John Huston himself as a tall, dapper white-suited American whom Fred Dobbs keeps hitting on for ready cash.

While Bogie's role is decidedly downbeat, the film itself has a very quirky upbeat ending, in a way which is satisfying while at the same time not resorting to any 'happy ending' trickery. This film was made without compromise, and its quality still shines through today.

  Video
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This recently restored movie has been transferred to DVD with stunning effect.

Yes, it's a vintage black and white full screen movie, but it glows with luscious colours and lights. The blacks are full and rich, while details such as the glints on a character's oiled black hair are rendered with a rich and luminuous sheen. This transfer is fully the equal of the restoration job done recently on the classic Casablanca; it's a joy to behold. The very occasional fleck or light spot are just enough to remind us of the film's origin - this is Celluloid Heaven.

  Audio
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The two-channel mono sound is full and clear, with no trace of distortion or hiss. Dialogue is always fully projected with great clarity, and the fine Max Steiner score is also heard to maximum advantage.

Yes, this is a mono soundtrack almost 60 years old, but there is absolutely nothing here to hinder full enjoyment of this classic movie.

  Extras
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The main extra feature is a fascinating 50-minute 'making of' documentary, The Story of the Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

I shuddered when onto the screen came the increasingly ubiquitous and always boring Martin Scorsese, but fortunately his usually lengthy and prosaic ramblings were curtailed on this occasion.

What we got instead of Scorsese's waffle (yes, he can make movies, but as a film commentator he strikes out...) was a fact-filled account of the genesis of the movie, of the mysterious writer of the novel it's drawn from, (a B. Traven), and how this project landed in John Huston's lap. Film historians Rudy Behlmer, Robert Osborne and John Stone contribute, along with the very familiar critic Leonard Maltin, and John Huston's then-wife Evelyn Keyes.

After that documentary, the audio commentary by Bogart biographer Eric Lax seems pretty superfluous. It certainly gives you just about everything there is to know about Bogart, Huston and the movie, but it's very dry and is not matched at all well to what's happening on screen. It would have been far better to have had it as a printed essay.

There's a cast & crew section which lists who's in the movie (I guess this is for people who don't want to pay attention to the movie credits), and also a text-based awards section detailing the honours the movie received. And, finally, there's a beautifully restored original theatre preview, another great Warners trailer from a studio which really knew how to promote its wares.

However, this is all small-beer compared to what's available on the American Region 1 two-disc 'Special Edition'. I don't have the Region 1 release, but a look at Region 1 Internet sites shows we're missing a raft of special features, among them a two-hour documentary on the life and career of John Huston, and a complete (hour-long) 1949 Lux Radio Theatre presentation of the story. This Region 1 release really does sound the stuff of dreams, to quote from an earlier Huston/Bogart collaboration.

  Overall  
Contract

This is one of the strongest movies in the Bogart Collection Volume Two, second only to the classic The Big Sleep. It's definitely one to keep in your collection, and this release as part of the collection is the only way to gain it locally - it's not on separate sale. Fanatical Bogart/Huston devotees should, however, consider getting the Region 1 'Special Edition', for its feast of special features.


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      And I quote...
    "For Fred Dobbs, finding gold was easy. Keeping it was the hard part..."
    - Anthony Clarke
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