Film Review: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)

Release Date: January 14th, 1948 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: John Huston
Written by: John Huston
Based on: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre by B. Traven
Music by: Max Steiner
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston, Tim Holt, Bruce Bennett, Robert Blake (uncredited), John Huston (uncredited)

Warner Bros., 126 Minutes

Review:

“Ah, as long as there’s no find, the noble brotherhood will last but when the piles of gold begin to grow… that’s when the trouble starts.” – Howard

As big of a fan of Humphrey Bogart as I am, I hadn’t seen The Treasure of the Sierra Madre in probably two decades. A friend I suggested it to was talking to me about it after he had watched it and I realized that some of the details were gone from my brain. So, I had to revisit it immediately, as it’s a picture I loved growing up.

Seeing it now, I have an even deeper appreciation for it. While I’m not the best pre-spaghetti era western aficionado, I now realize the impact this must have had, as it’s so realistic and gritty that it has a much harder edge than the typical westerns that predate it. Sure, John Wayne movies had grit and balls but the earliest ones were still kind of clean, crisp and for lack of a better word: staged.

Part of me thinks that if I were a kid in the late ’40s, this would’ve been my favorite movie, as it had legit chutzpah.

Being that Bogart is in this, great acting should be expected. However, it goes beyond Bogart and this gave me a real appreciation for Tim Holt and Walter Huston, who is actually the father of this film’s director, the legendary John Huston.

I also love that Bogart plays a really complex character, especially for this time in cinema’s history. He’s not some overly heroic archetype. Instead, he’s a severely flawed character, as are the other core players. In fact, this movie shows how these guys are sort of at odds throughout the film, as mistrust develops on top of individual greed.

Ultimately, they get in over their head and have bigger problems than each other. I don’t want to ruin the end but each of the three primary characters have wonderful character arcs from start-to-finish.

Additionally, this is a beautiful looking picture that has incredible scope. The wilderness is vast and this movie capitalizes off of that by giving us great shots and sequences that showcase how big the wide open west was.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is an all-time classic in the long history of motion pictures. It’s one of the best films of its decade, one of Bogart’s best and it further cemented John Huston as one of the greatest American directors that ever lived.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other Humphrey Bogart movies of the ’40s and ’50s but also adventure films and westerns of the era.

Film Review: Sudden Fear (1952)

Release Date: August 7th, 1952 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: David Miller
Written by: Lenore J. Coffee, Robert Smith
Based on: Sudden Fear by Edna Sherry
Music by: Elmer Bernstein
Cast: Joan Crawford, Jack Palance, Gloria Grahame, Bruce Bennett, Virginia Huston, Mike Connors

Joseph Kaufman Productions, RKO Radio Pictures, 110 Minutes

Review:

“I was just wondering what I’d done to deserve you.” – Myra Hudson

It wasn’t until recently that I knew there was a film where Joan Crawford starred opposite of Jack Palance. That thought alone is kind of chilling, just thinking of how intense a film might be with both of them sharing the screen. Add in the always stupendous Gloria Grahame and I knew that I had to check this out.

What we ended up getting is a really well acted and fairly compelling classic film-noir. However, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I was a bit underwhelmed by it.

What’s strange, is that it is hard to peg exactly why this didn’t resonate with me more. But I think that comes down to two things.

One, the film is slow. I feel as if they could’ve lobbed off twenty minutes and fine tuned the script quite a bit more but Crawford really liked to draw out her scenes when she was turning the drama up to 11. And she does that quite a bit in this movie but who am I to say it’s too much, as she got another Academy Award nomination for this.

Side note: Jack Palance was also nominated for Best Supporting Actor.

The second thing that effected this picture was the story. It’s a pretty basic noir plot. Woman marries man, woman is rich, man wants money, man plans to kill woman all while his other woman is assisting him in his heinous plot. And like a proper film-noir, the film has twists. In this one, Crawford finds out about the plot and decides to turn the tables. Ultimately, every main character is a shitty person.

Now this did have serious strengths.

Crawford, Palance and Grahame were all solid, even if I thought Crawford could’ve spent more time getting to the point, as opposed to clocking in more screen time for a visual reaction.

Also, this is meticulously shot with an interesting visual flair to it. One shot that really stood out was a simple one where the camera was inside a closet looking out at the characters. The shot was framed by the clothes and interior walls of the closet, making the characters feel confined and trapped. I’m assuming that was intentional but either way, it added serious weight to that scene.

Overall, this isn’t on par with something as great as Joan Crawford’s Mildred Pierce but it still showcases her skills and allowed audiences to experience her and Palance as an item on the silver screen, which is cool no matter how you want to slice it up.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other classic film-noir, especially those featuring Joan Crawford.

Film Review: Nora Prentiss (1947)

Also known as: The Sentence (working title)
Release Date: February 7th, 1947 (Philadelphia premiere)
Directed by: Vincent Sherman
Written by: N. Richard Nash, Paul Webster, Jack Sobell
Music by: Franz Waxman
Cast: Ann Sheridan, Kent Smith, Bruce Bennett, Robert Alda

Warner Bros., 111 Minutes

Review:

“I’m writing a paper on ailments of the heart.” – Doctor Richard Talbot, “A paper? I could write a book!” – Nora Prentiss

This is a classic film-noir that has been on my list for a long time. I had never seen it because it has never streamed anywhere that I’m aware of and I subscribe to a ton of these services. But it was finally featured on TCM’s Noir Alley, which seems long overdue, based off of all the great things I’ve heard about this movie from noir experts.

I’d have to say that it pretty much lived up to the hype. It’s not one of my all-time favorites but it was a well-crafted story with one of those really dark endings that sort of makes your heart sink.

Sure, the main guy, Kent Smith’s Talbot, is a bit of a shithead, as he fakes his own death to escape his wife and children so that he can run off with Nora, but by the end of the journey, you feel his remorse and his shame and when he makes the decision to be executed, to save his family from even more pain, it’s some pretty heavy stuff.

Additionally, all the emotion throughout this film is built up so well because of how convincing Ann Sheridan and Kent Smith were. They had solid chemistry, felt like genuine characters and this movie feels a bit ahead of its time, as these characters don’t come across as typical archetypes. Nora Prentiss may be a mistress but she’s not a femme fatale causing wreckage for her own personal gain. She’s a woman, caught up in emotion that ends up experiencing a great loss as the result of her and Talbot’s careless and selfish actions.

The film was directed by Vincent Sherman, who also directed other classic film-noirs: The Unfaithful, Backfire, The Damned Don’t Cry, Harriet Craig, Affair In Trinidad and The Garment Jungle. But he’s also the director of one of my favorite Errol Flynn swashbuckling pictures: Adventures of Don Juan.

If anything, this film has made me want to go down the rabbit hole of Sherman’s oeuvre. It was carefully crafted, well executed and had more dramatic flair and heart than a typical noir movie.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: other film-noir pictures like The Unfaithful, The Breaking Point and Backfire.

Film Review: The Alligator People (1959)

Release Date: July 16th, 1959
Directed by: Roy Del Ruth
Written by: Orville H. Hampton, Charles O’Neal, Robert M. Fresco (uncredited)
Music by: Irving Getz
Cast: Beverly Garland, Bruce Bennett, Lon Chaney Jr.

Associated Producers, 20th Century Fox, 74 Minutes

Review:

“I’ll kill you Alligator Man! Just like I’d kill any four-legged gator!” – Manon

This was a film that I first discovered around six years-old, watching it on the floor in my grandmum’s living room. I loved the big finale and the design of the Alligator Man at the end. It inspired me to draw a picture book about the Alligator Man, which was really my first attempt at a comic book, before I really even got into the comic medium. Years later, I wrote a three-part script outline for a Skunk Ape movie trilogy featuring very similar Gator Men. Needless to say, this movie had a strong grip on my imagination at a very early age. But I actually hadn’t seen this picture in over a decade, so I wanted to revisit it.

I still love it. It’s certainly a film with a plethora of flaws and really bad science when it comes to swamp life but it’s entertaining nonetheless and it’s a real treat for fans of cheesy ’50s sci-fi about genetic science run amok.

Lon Chaney Jr. is in this as a total bastard but he was so good at those roles. Here, he’s a total bastard that yells at alligators because he’s pissed off that one ate his hand years earlier. At one point he tries to run an alligator over and at another point he’s drunk, shooting aimlessly at them but doesn’t even come close to actually hitting any.

What’s really surprising is that this film does use a lot of real alligators. Granted, most of them are pretty small and of a manageable size but I was surprised to see the lead actress, Beverly Garland, running through fake swamps with actual alligators and snakes around her. Maybe they were safely behind glass but the shots came off really well and it created legitimate tension. But at one point, Chaney actually runs out to save her and wrangles an actual snake. It looked to be a non-venomous indigo snake but it was effective and looked so much better than an actor wrangling a fake rubber snake.

The movie does drag in certain points but the story is well-crafted and you care about the good characters. You’ll want to see Chaney get his comeuppance though, especially after he attempts to rape Beverly Garland.

This is a solid movie for it’s genre. It seems to be somewhat forgotten, even in old school horror circles, but it’s definitely a worthwhile picture and much better than the standard for the time.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: Man-Made Monster, the Creature From the Black Lagoon trilogy and The She-Creature.

Film Review: Dark Passage (1947)

Release Date: September 5th, 1947 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Delmer Daves
Written by: Delmer Daves, David Goodis
Music by: Franz Waxman
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Bruce Bennett, Agnes Moorehead

Warner Bros., 106 Minutes

Review:

“I’ve cried myself to sleep at night because of you. She’s got you now. She wants you very badly doesn’t she? She’s willing to run away with you and keep on running and ruin everything for herself. But she wouldn’t care because she’d be with you and that’s what she wants. Well she doesn’t have you now. She’ll never have you. Nobody will ever have you! And that’s the way I want it! You’re nothing but an escaped convict. Nobody knows what you wrote down. They’ll believe me! They’ll believe me!” – Madge Rapf

All of the films that star both Bogart and Bacall are damn good but this may be the best of the four. In my opinion, and I really love Key Largo, this is the cream of the crop.

Dark Passage is a spectacular film and one of the greatest film-noir pictures I have ever seen. I had seen it before but it’s been quite awhile and when I did, I didn’t have the broader understanding of the cinematic style that I have now. Looking at it within the context of the other top noir films, this movie is pretty close to the top of the heap and I should probably adjust my Top 100 Film-Noir list after revisiting this.

What’s surprising about this film is that the first act is played from a first person point-of-view, as we never get to see Bogart’s face. We get his voice and follow him as he escapes prison and tries to get to San Francisco and we see his first meeting with Bacall through his eyes. Then in the second act of the film, we lose the first person perspective and see Bogart with his head wrapped up, as his character has gotten a surgery to change his physical appearance. This almost has an Invisible Man vibe to it. It isn’t until we get to the second half of the film, leading into the third act, that we get to see Bogart’s actual face. It was incredibly rare for a major studio to allow a top star like Bogart to have their visage obscured for such a big chunk of a movie.

Bogart plays Vincent Parry, a man who was convicted of murdering his wife. He escapes prison in an effort to prove his innocence and meets Bacall’s Irene Jansen, who wants to help him set the record straight.

As I point out in almost every review of every classic noir I cover, this thing has a lot of twists and turns. It’s typical of the style but this is hardly anything derivative, even if the premise sounds recycled. You’re never really sure why Irene sought out Vincent and why she wants to help him. There are some revelations, as the film rolls on, but this is a real rollercoaster.

Not to spoil anything, but there is a really brutal scene where a woman gets tossed out a window. It isn’t very violent, as this is a film from 1947, but it had a surprising harshness to it that is shocking for a film from this era. It totally catches you off guard and the camera actually gives you a good bird’s-eye-view shot of her body plummeting towards the sidewalk below.

Bogart and Bacall were both at the top of their game in this movie. Their chemistry was definitely apparent and unparalleled when compared to their work with any other actors. Not to say that Bogey and Bacall weren’t always on their A game, they were. There is just something extra magical about them being together on the screen though.

I absolutely love this movie. Dark Passage should be one of those silver screen classics that gets a nice theatrical re-release. Get on it Flashback Cinema or Fathom Events!

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: The other films that pair Bogart and Bacall: To Have and to Have NotThe Big Sleep and Key Largo. Also, The Maltese Falcon.

Film Review: Mystery Street (1950)

Also known as: Murder at Harvard (working title)
Release Date: June 23rd, 1950 (Denver & Detroit premieres)
Directed by: John Sturges
Written by: Sydney Boehm, Richard Brooks, Leonard Spigelgass
Music by: Rudolph G. Kopp
Cast: Ricardo Montalban, Sally Forrest, Bruce Bennett, Elsa Lanchester

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 93 Minutes

Review:

“Know her? Sure, I knew her. I was never close enough to smell her perfume, but I knew her!” – Jim Black, tattooist

If you’re a classic Star Trek fan, it’s hard not to have a love for Ricardo Montalban. So since I also have a love of old school film-noir, I’d definitely want to check one out that starred the man who would later become the most famous Trek villain of all-time, Khan Noonien Singh.

Also, this film features one of my favorite ladies of her day, Elsa Lanchester. She will always be most known for playing the Bride in The Bride of Frankenstein. Here she plays a sort of kooky but fun character.

While this picture is considered film-noir and very much is, it is more of a police procedural in a time when the genre was really in its infancy. Procedurals were born out of film-noir and this isn’t the first but it helped to popularize the style.

Like other early procedurals, this was filmed in a semi-documentary style. It had some good location shooting throughout Boston that added a strong sense of realism to a film that was made when Hollywood still preferred shooting in their studios and on lots.

The film boasts striking cinematography that adds to the sense of realism and enhances the picture’s organic grittiness. John Alton handled the cinematography work, which was fitting as he also worked on T-Men, a similar film in style, as well as other noirs Raw DealBorder Incident and The Crooked Way.

Mystery Street is a motion picture that showcases real cinematic craftsmanship in the way that it was directed, shot and in how well the performers handled the material. While not Montalban’s greatest role, it did show that he was a star in the making, on the verge of greater heights. It’s also nice to travel back this far in time and see him as a more capable actor than a stereotypical Latin heartthrob or as a blockbuster villain.

This is a solid picture, through and through. It’s far from the best noir I’ve ever seen but it is much better than average and helped pave the way for a new form of storytelling on the big and small screens.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: Other film-noir police procedurals: The Naked CityT-Men and He Walked by Night.