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: The Shanghai Gesture (1941)

Release Date: December 25th, 1941 (New York City)
Directed by: Josef von Sternberg
Written by: Josef von Sternberg, Geza Herczeg, Jules Furthman
Based on: The Shanghai Gesture play by John Colton
Music by: Richard Hageman
Cast: Gene Tierney, Walter Huston, Victor Mature, Ona Munson

Arnold Pressburger Films, United Artists, 99 Minutes

Review:

“The other places are like kindergardens compared with this. It smells so incredibly evil! I didn’t think such a place existed except in my own imagination. It has a ghastly familiarity like a half-remembered dream. Anything… could happen here… any moment…” – Poppy

The Shanghai Gesture is a very early film-noir, as it came out the same year the genre was considered to be born: 1941. The same year that the world got to experience Citizen Kane and The Maltese Falcon for the first time. This isn’t as good as those motion pictures but it is still enjoyable enough.

Now a lot of critics and fans of noir hold this in pretty high regard. While I like the film, I don’t really think of it as a classic in the style.

It’s a slightly better than average romantic drama with some mystery and an exotic location thrown in. It also stars Gene Tierney, a few years before capturing the hearts of men in Laura. With Tierney in the forefront, there is a certain level of legitimacy added to this picture, due to her talent.

The technical side of this film is pretty impressive. The casino, where a big chunk of the film is set, was designed to resemble Dante’s Inferno – sort of mirroring the fall of man and in many cases with this film, the fall of woman. The other sets and the costumes also have a real opulence about them.

Additionally, the film is well shot. It doesn’t quite have the stark chiaroscuro cinematography that would become the norm in film-noir but it had a similar tone without strictly adhering to what most associate with the genre’s visual style.

Gene Tierney put in a solid performance as a young rich girl who arrives in Shanghai and quickly falls from grace thanks to becoming an alcoholic. She had help in her fall from Ona Munson’s “Mother” Gin Sling, who wanted to ruin the girl as part of a revenge plot against the girl’s father, an ex-lover.

Ultimately, this is a morality tale but what wasn’t back in the 1940s?

The Shanghai Gesture is a pretty picture and it has some good acting, a visual elegance and nice cinematography but I did find it to be fairly boring. It’s a good technical achievement for the time and it advanced the career of Tierney but I just didn’t find a lot to get excited about.

Rating: 6/10