Bogie has come through again in another Brattle resurrection. And he doesn't go it alone for once, but has a distinguished cast, excellent direction and photography with him. Walter Huston matches him every step of the way in skill at just the right amount of ham before the cameras, never ceasing to be delightful and convincing. Tim Holt plays well in his comparatively undemanding "straight" role.
This modern-day morality tale of three men down and out in Mexico searching for gold in the remotest hinterlands might be classified as picaresque and episodic, because it depends on external events and travel through the desert to give unity to the human drama which is at the center. Director John Huston creates a marvelously realistic atmosphere. His Mexican lore is superb, every minor detail of dress and speech and technique rings true without the costumed grandiosity that Hollywood usually purveys as local color. He does not give us pale demigods or villains with waxed black mustaches; the three men he presents us with are for the most part fully believable in a believable if distant situation. One of the three, tough guy Bogart, illustrates the motif of the film, that "gold can destroy men's souls," his degeneration coming almost in retribution for his claim that he is immune to the poison of the yellow dust. The other two seem ready to yield also, but they do not, and we are left with the feeling that it is somewhat gratuitous that they did not. Sometimes empathy with Bogart's characterization is difficult, but in the end Director John Huston gets his point across.
His direction is in the old epicstyle, much like the famous fist-flinging style of Bogart himself. After Bogart shoots his buddy, he sits by the fire and wonders if he has a conscience, and the camera pans down and the flames fill the whole screen. There is a goodly quantity of classic cowboy-and-Indian manuevers and physical violence but never does it seem like plot filler. Also greatly contributing is Max Steiner's fine, taut, musical score.
But the finest thing about the movie remains in its mastery of the crafts of acting and skillful directing. Actors Huston and Bogart turn in classic performances always given with tongue in cheek and that sense of humor that only a great actor can get away with. The direction and photography give focus to their performance.
A most unusual movie, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre proves that the melodramaticgenre need not follow a pattern--there is scarcely a woman in the movie, and one is slightly uncertain if there is a hero--and that it can have a considerable intellectual as well as emotional impact.