THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
"THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE"
Whenever critics or film experts compile a list of the best films ever made, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre almost always pops up on it. An example of a lot of talented people working at the absolute top of their game, it is rightfully a classic, one that any genuine film buff ought to be required to see. And since it's hitting Blu-Ray for the first time, newly remastered, this is as excellent a chance as you're going to get to discover it, or discover it all over again.
Humphrey Bogart plays Fred C. Dobbs, a drifter who, along with fellow drifter Curtain (Tim Holt), heads into the hills of Mexico to prospect for gold. Their sole companion is an old prospector named Howard (Walter Huston) who warns them about the way sudden riches can rob men of their morals. Dobbs doesn't trust the old man, especially after they do indeed find gold. (He should have listened to the advice.) Getting the gold back to town is infinitely more complicated than finding it, as there are bandits roaming around, as well as an intruder (Bruce Bennett) who wants in on the action. Eventually, greed and paranoia begin to overtake Dobbs, leading to one of the most surprising finales in movie history.
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre was written and directed by John Huston, who coaxed a career-best performance out of Bogart and also gave his father Walter the kind of meaty supporting role a great actor can really run with. Part of what makes the movie so enduring is that it pays equal attention to character and plot. The "drifters looking for treasure" story is engrossing enough to hold viewers' interest, yet also packed with deep character details that make the stakes feel much higher.
Many iconic things can be found in the picture: Bogart's eerie portrayal of a descent into madness, Huston's joyful jig when the men find gold, and of course, the immortal line, "I don't have to show you any stinkin' badges!" It is not difficult to see why The Treasure of the Sierra Madre has stood the test of time. They got everything right: the smart screenplay, the nuanced performances, the expertly-paced direction. This truly is a shining example of the magic of movies.
I am always amazed at how good old movies can look on Blu-Ray. The Warner Home Video release of Sierra Madre makes it look like it was produced yesterday rather than in 1948. Even though high definition cameras didn't exist back then, you can see incredible detail in the film's images. This is likely as pristine a version of the film as you will ever find.
The bonus features are just as excellent as the main attraction. There is an audio commentary by Bogart biographer Eric Lax, as well as a two-hour documentary about director John Huston that comes complete with testimonials from those who knew and/or worked with him. The classic Bugs Bunny cartoon "8 Ball Bunny" is here because it features several references to The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, with an animated Bogey repeatedly popping in to ask Bugs for a handout, just as he does in the early scenes of the film. As an audio-only bonus, you can listen to a radio show adaptation that features the original stars.
My favorite bonus feature is "Discovering Treasure: The Story of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre." This 47-minute feature, produced by Turner Movie Classics, looks at the making of the film. Among the most fascinating tidbits is that no one knows the true identity of the author who wrote the book on which the movie is based. In order to get the screen rights, clandestine meetings between Huston and a "representative" were held. We also learn that studio head Jack Warner raged over budgets and Huston's insistence in filming on location. There was even tension on the set, when Bogart wanted to take a leave for a yachting event and Huston refused to grant it. "Discovering Treasure" is a fun and fascinating look at how a cinema classic was created.
Last - and certainly not least - the Blu-Ray comes in the much-beloved "Warner Night at the Movies" format. If you choose, you can recreate the vintage days of moviegoing by watching a 1948 shorts gallery before the main feature. Included are a newsreel, the Joe McDoakes comedy short "So You Want to Be a Detective," the cartoon "Hot Cross Bunny," plus trailers for this movie and Key Largo.
This is a great package, for sure. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is available by itself or as part of Humphrey Bogart: The Essential Collection, a 12-disc set containing 24 of his most famous films. Read my review of that disc here.
( out of four)
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre - Own it on Blu-Ray Oct. 5.