Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston, Tim Holt
Director: John Huston
Running Time: 126 mins
The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre is an American film about two poor Americans looking for work in Mexico who convince an old prospector to journey with them up into the mountains of the Sierra Madre in search of gold.
A stark tale of greed, paranoia and selfishness, The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre strikes a fascinating tone throughout, as well as providing a surprisingly different break from the norm for lead Humphrey Bogart, taking us to a much darker and more shady side of the actor’s range, as well as making a wider comment on the nature of greed that proves enthralling from beginning to end.
All in all, it’s a simple premise. Three men go up into the mountains to look for gold where nobody has before, and yet despite their agreement to share the findings fairly come the end of their expedition, the natural lust for wealth soon creeps in, and the three suddenly see themselves pit against one another to prevent the others from getting all of the bounty for themselves.
It’s a story I’m sure you’ve seen before, but what makes it work so well in this context is the surprisingly dark and intense atmosphere that comes over the film as a whole, with the isolated setting of the Mexican mountains – in bandit country just after the turn of the 20th Century no less – providing a strong sense of peril that adds significantly to the film’s drama.
In that, we see the pure animalistic elements of our characters come to the fore, as they become increasingly paranoid that the others are thinking of pulling a fast one and making off with more than their fair share of the loot, with Humphrey Bogart’s character in particular going through a dramatic descent into almost insanity as he tries to safeguard his share, and take away from those who he fears are plotting to wrong him.
That analysis and portrayal of how the purest elements of humanity come out in times of crisis is by far the film’s most interesting piece, and what’s even more impressive is just how far the film is willing to go to show you what normal, sane people can turn into when driven by passionate emotions of greed or fear, taking some genuinely dark and even gruesome turns that weren’t all that common in major Hollywood films of the era, yet proves a thoroughly impressive part of this film.
Where the film falls down for me, however, is that there isn’t quite enough to really engross you in the people in this very story. The premise is great, and the central theme is fascinating, but I was enthralled by the film in a more general manner, as a result feeling a little disappointed that I couldn’t get to grips with more of the characters than just their raw emotions, or even more of the time setting and location than is presented on screen.
Of course, not every film has to be a simple narrative drama, and where this film really hammers its central theme home, it proves a fascinating watch, but there are moments throughout where the dramatic power is somewhat weakened by that somewhat less-than-solid connection you feel to the individuals caught up in the situation at hand, which was a shame for me.
With that said, The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre is still an impressive watch, featuring a riveting central theme and a refreshing break from the norm of both Humphrey Bogart’s typical roles and the Hollywood style at the time, taking some genuinely dark and disturbing turns that give the film an impressive intensity, even though there isn’t quite enough to thoroughly pull you into the very story that you’re watching on screen, which is why I’m giving it a 7.4 overall.