Tag Archives: John Huston

I Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Film School: ‘The Treasure of the Sierra Madre’

Welcome to I Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Film School, my weekly article to prove that I have it in me to go from movie buff to film critic.  With each column I try to better understand the art of filmmaking.  As these can be longish discussions, spoilers follow.  For more from me, check out the rest of Defeating Boredom or follow me on Twitter, @Rob_Samuelson.

I think I’ll go to sleep and dream about piles of gold gettin’ bigger and bigger and bigger…” – Fred C. Dobbs, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

Tunnel vision rarely does a person good.  In director John Huston’s The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, the down-on-his-luck and single-minded Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart) chases wealth at all costs.  His growing desperation and greed lead him down a dark path, one that ends in violence, insanity, and death.

Beating a Huston-Bogart collaboration is hard to do.  The two did arguably their finest work together, including this film, The Maltese Falcon, and The African Queen, among others.

Huston’s taught script forms the backbone of a crackerjack story, but it is Bogart and costars Tim Holt and Walter Huston (the director’s father) who drive home the themes.

Bogart in particular plays a character unlike any other in his oeuvre, a shaggy, miserable, and altogether desperate human being without many redeeming qualities.  Gone from his performance is the breezy romanticism of his star making turn as Rick Blaine in Casablanca, and Treasure benefits all the more for it.  Never mind the jaded seen-it-all-ism of Sam Spade; Dobbs has had it all done to him and he’s perpetually on the lookout for an escape from his troubles, however weaselly they may be.

Holt’s practical Curtin likes the money, but does not succumb to greed and violence like his friend.  At times, he even appears to enjoy the work.  This is not a life to hate; it may not be perfect, but he makes a lot of money doing something he doesn’t find so bad.  Dobbs would be well served to take a look at his buddy.

Walter Huston’s Howard has reached the point of his life when he’s done railing against injustice.  He could not care less about the money, but a chance for adventure?  He needs something to live for, and finding action meets that need.  The joy on Howard’s face at life itself gnaws at Dobbs, triggering his jealousy and desire to grab everything for himself.

John Huston’s abilities as a writer-director were already prodigious by the time he made Treasure.  His debut film, The Maltese Falcon, is rightly considered one of the finest film noirs ever made, but it rarely finds itself in the open air.  That film’s hotel rooms and offices create a sense of claustrophobia that makes a viewer worry about the key players’ safety.  After The Maltese Falcon, he spent time making documentaries on the battlefields of World War II, which points toward the opening up of his style in Treasure, a moment that solidifies him as a great.

For a film made in 1948, that openness is striking.  Location shooting, natural light, and local flavor are everywhere in the movie.  While still utilizing multiple sets, Huston’s incorporation of real life elements shows an aesthetic that indicates the direction Hollywood would soon take with their trend of epics in the 1950s and ‘60s.

But those are just wonderfully rendered trappings.  The film would be nothing without displaying Dobbs’s greed, that sniveling selfishness wholly absent from Bogart’s other work.  The story works because of these characters and their slowly deteriorating relationships; a microcosm of human nature’s worst elements.


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BFI’s Greatest Films of All Time 2012 List Revealed; I Feel Like a Know-Nothing

If you consider yourself a movie buff like I do, you probably make an effort to see the films noted by critics and filmmakers as the best.  In the last few years, I’ve made great strides in expanding my horizons in that regard.  As of my most recent count, I’ve seen 248 of the 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die (albeit the now slightly outdated 2005 edition), and I feel like I’m relatively educated on the subject of cinema.

That is, of course, until I saw the British Film Institute released their once-a-decade Top 50 Greatest Films of All Time list yesterday.  Looking at the top 10, I felt I’d done pretty well.  I’ve seen Vertigo, Citizen Kane, La Regle du jeu (The Rules of the Game), 2001: A Space Odyssey, and 8 1/2.  Quibbles about the worth of La Regle aside (Maybe I’m a dumb American for not appreciating it, but I think Robert Altman did a far more interesting version of the rich-people-and-their-servants-stuck-together-in-a-big-house story with Gosford Park — “BLASPHEMY!” I can hear you all yelling at me), I felt pretty good about myself.  Then I read choices 11 through 50.  In total, I’ve seen a meager 16 films on the list, and haven’t even heard of a large portion of the entries.  Once again, I’m humbled, and for the umpteenth time in my life, I feel this is appropriate.

What should you take away from this?  I guess it would be the un-profound, “Don’t be a know-it-all, because you don’t.”

And now, I’m left wondering what my own top 10 would be.  I’m too indecisive to rank them by worth, so it will have to be of the “in no particular order” variety.  This is something that could change by the hour, and some of these don’t necessarily reflect my feelings on the “best” cinema has to offer; rather, they are the ones I most enjoy and can watch multiple times.  Entertainment value plays a huge role.  So, here is my list of favorite movies (Thank you, Josh, for the formatting idea).

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb – dir. Stanley Kubrick.  I could really go with 2001, The Killing, Paths of Glory, or The Shining here, but this one is the funniest, so it makes the cut today.

Boogie Nights – dir. Paul Thomas Anderson.  This is the movie that made me say, “I want to make those.”

Ghostbusters – dir. Ivan Reitman.  It’s both sentimental — when I was a toddler, it served as my babysitter while my mom took care of my little sister — and still really funny.

Raiders of the Lost Ark – dir. Steven Spielberg.  This week, it edges Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  Ask me again next week and it’ll probably be the opposite.

Ran – dir. Akira Kurosawa.  This is the newest addition, as I only saw it a week and a half ago; see what I mean by the evolving nature of this list?

Goodfellas – dir. Martin Scorsese.  Like Kubrick and Spielberg, this could be any number of Scorsese’s films, particularly Taxi Driver and Raging Bull.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre – dir. John Huston.  Bogart goes unhinged and gets desperate while Huston explores the depths of human greed without neglecting entertainment.

Bronson – dir. Nicolas Winding Refn.  This is my generation’s (improvement on (here come the “BLASPHEMY!” charges again)) A Clockwork Orange and features Tom Hardy’s portrayal of an earthquake of a character.  Perhaps the finest film of the last five years.

Chinatown – dir. Roman Polanski.  A movie without fault.  Its story, characters, and themes create one of the greatest stories ever put to celluloid.

Fargo – dir. Joel and Ethan Coen.  In this, the Coens show a rare affinity for a character — Marge — and play with noir conventions in an Elmore Leonard way.  I watch it every six months or so, which is what helps place it above Miller’s Crossing and Barton Fink on my list.

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