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The Treasure of the Sierra Madre(1948)
Drifters Fred C Dobbs and Curtin share a cheap flophouse and meet Howard, a seemingly crazy old man who regales them with stories about prospecting for gold. Dobbs and Curtin cobble together what cash they can get a hold of, and along with Howard, plan a prospecting expedition. Dobbs promises that anything they dig up will be split three ways, but Howard doesn't believe them. As the gold is mined the men become increasingly distrustful, and soon turn against one other.
For more about The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and the The Treasure of the Sierra Madre Blu-ray release, see the The Treasure of the Sierra Madre Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on September 29, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston, Tim Holt, Bruce Bennett, Barton MacLane, Alfonso Bedoya
Director: John Huston
» See full cast & crew
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre Blu-ray Review
Is there honor among thieves?
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, September 29, 2010
If you were to quiz your basic film fan about who the greatest director of all time was, you'd probably get a pretty broad spectrum of answers. Griffith. Chaplin. De Mille (yes, De Mille). Wyler. Hawks. Hitchcock. Kazan. But my hunch is very few would think of John Huston. Why is that? Huston's oeuvre is certainly filled with as many classics as all of those other names: The Maltese Falcon, Key Largo, The Asphalt Jungle, The African Queen, Moby Dick, The Night of the Iguana, The Man Who Would Be King. Sure, there are misfires and less than outright classics, but Huston's achievement is completely singular and idiosyncratic. So why is Huston not really thought of as at least one of the greats, if not the greatest? Variety. No, not the showbiz bible, but that ability to work in a vast array of genres and still bring a level of artistic integrity and coherence to each project, no matter how disparate the subject matter between projects might be. While variety is a commendable quality to an unschooled audience, who frankly probably couldn't care less who's directing any given film, it defies pigeonholing, that favorite sport of cineastes, who want everyone categorized in their own easily identified compartments. That attempt is fated to fail with someone like John Huston. Can you think of another director, for just one example, who could segue so effortlessly from the roiling depths of Freud to the parlor game tricks of The List of Adrian Messenger in little more than a year? When you consider that Huston managed to also write a good many of the films he directed, acting in several of them (as well as a laundry list of other directors' films), his accomplishments seem all the more daunting. As is mentioned in the interesting prelude voiced by Burgess Meredith in the fascinating two hour documentary about Huston included on this Blu-ray, an early misdiagnosis about his impending mortality as a very young boy led Huston to live for today, and more often than not a today filled with risky adventure. That led to a life of protean accomplishment, as well as a certain pathway strewn with the debris of failed relationships, including five marriages and too many affairs and dalliances to easily count. Atop this mountain of a man's life, teetering ever so cynically as so many of Huston's own characters did, is a film that took decades to make it from the page to the screen and remains one of the greatest classics from the ebbing years of Hollywood's Golden Era, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.
Location shooting was still a novelty when Huston trundled his cast and crew off to Tampico, Mexico, to shoot large swaths of the film. (Other scenes were shot in Durango, with a smattering done back on the Warner lot, as well as one brief sequence on a lot leased from Columbia). Right off the bat, that gives The Treasure of Sierra Madre a patently different feel than the bulk of films being released during this period. While a lot of people credit Huston with jumpstarting the film noir genre with 1941's The Maltese Falcon, and the postwar period is rife with those literally and figuratively dark and depressing films of wounded anti-heroes and femmes fatales, the fact is the bulk of Hollywood product in the late 1940s was still glossy, picture perfect films that attempted to restore a sense of normalcy to an American consciousness still dealing with the after effects of the horrors of World War II. Huston, as mentioned above, brought a certain cynicism to his films as early as The Maltese Falcon, and that cynicism is on full display throughout The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.
The film ostensibly takes place in the 1920s, with Mexican banditos and Federales (the police) shooting it out in attempts to maintain control over what might almost be thought of as tribal villages. Into the fray walks Fred C. Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart), a down on his luck vagabond who lives by scrounging (including off of Huston himself in some funny cameos in the film's opening moments). Dobbs soon partners with the young and na´ve Bob Curtin (Tim Holt) and a wizened old prospector type, Howard (Walter Huston, John's father, in his Academy Award winning role). The three set out toward the distant Sierra Madre mountains to attempt to find gold. While this setup might be seen as placing this film squarely in what has been called Huston's "quest" pictures, Sierra Madre, much like many (if not most) of Huston's films, defies easy categorization. In fact, the chase after the gold may be the analogous "MacGuffin" to the jewel encrusted bird I discussed in my recent review of Huston's The Maltese Falcon. What really matters here is the interior world of our anti-heroic trio, especially Dobbs, whose increasing paranoia propels the film forward toward its simultaneously tragic but nonetheless somehow humorous denouement.
While this film does find Bogart relying at least a time or two on his patented schtick like the quickly pursed lips, many Bogart fans rate his performance in Sierra Madre either at or near the top of his long and distinguished career. Bogart was obviously never the matinee idol type to begin with, and he utilizes that haggard and even unseemly aspect of his persona to brilliant ends here, making Dobbs' decent into madness visceral and very frightening. Tim Holt makes for a decent and honorable anchor against Dobbs' craziness and Howard's own irascibility, but the role is more of a cipher than either of its bookends, and is easily the relatively most forgettable character in the film. (It's perhaps fitting to note that Ronald Reagan was initially considered for the role, an apt casting for the sort of beige blandness of the character). As Eric Lax quite rightly states in his commentary, this film belongs lock, stock, and barrel to Walter Huston, who simply grabs hold of the viewer and never lets go with his portrayal of a man who senses the danger he's walking into, but goes along, perhaps if for no other reason than to help keep the two other "fools" with whom he's allied himself safe.
Despite the challenges of filming on location, and intercutting studio shots afterward, there is a gorgeous fluidity to this film which presents Huston at the absolute apex of his powers. Characterizations are sharp and brilliantly contrasted, and the entire film bristles with an intelligence and thoughtfulness that explores the festering effects of greed upon those unable to cope with the prospect of immense wealth. While the father-son duo of the Hustons captures most of the attention in this film, it's worth noting that Tim Holt's father, onetime western star Jack Holt, appears in a cameo in the bar scene early in the film. It's also worth noting that despite some common scuttlebutt, and even Lax's commentary, that is most definitely not Ann Sheridan in a cameo as a comely lass walking by Bogart on the streets of Tampico. While Sheridan evidently agreed to play the part, and may have even filmed the one or two second cameo as a favor to Bogart and Huston, somewhere along the line the scene was reshot with an extra, a decidedly more Hispanic looking woman with a much flatter and broader nose than Sheridan's.
Huston and Bogart were in some ways peas in a pod, men's men who saw filmmaking as at least a potential adventure, and not just a job. That daring spirit finds full flower in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, a film at times more viscerally insightful than either Falcon or The African Queen. If as the Bible proclaims, the love of money is indeed the root of all evil, no more Biblical presentation of this idea (not even in Huston's own The Bible) has ever made it to the screen, and audiences over 60 years later can still reap the rewards. Just don't get greedy.
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre Blu-ray, Video Quality
Editor's Note: the Blu-ray release of 'The Treasure of the Sierra Madre' is presented at its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1. The images included in this review are not representative of the disc's quality.
Now, this is what a classic Warner black and white Blu-ray should look like! I'm still preparing for brickbats to come my way over some qualms I had with The Maltese Falcon's image quality, but I'm more convinced than ever that my assessment of that film isn't completely crazy after having seen the spectacular results of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre's VC-1 encoded 1080p 1.37:1 image. Yes, of course Sierra Madre is seven years newer than Falcon, but that alone can't completely account for the wonderfully sharp image we're presented here. There's none of the even minor softness I discussed in my Falcon review. Instead, we are greeted with impeccable levels of detail, and rich and almost palpable contrast, with deep, inky blacks and beautiful gray shades that bring out every nuance of Ted McCord's luscious cinematography. The dusty scenes in the desert never devolve into digital noise, and the set-bound pieces are rich with shadow detail. Grain is completely natural looking, giving the film a beautifully rich texture. Even usually tricky items like herringbone patterns on some men's suitjackets don't lead to any artifacting.
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is presented on Blu-ray with a very clean and crisp sounding lossless DTS-HD Master Audio mono mix. While the soundfield is obviously very narrow, dialogue, sound effects (especially some nice wind effects) and Max Steiner's glorious score are all perfectly balanced. Madre suffers from the same age-related hiss that Falcon does, though in this case it's a bit more negligible. That said, some extreme highs are slightly tinny sounding here, probably more the result of the original recording techniques than anything else. All in all, though, this is a problem free soundtrack when taking its age into consideration.
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
While Sierra Madre may not have the sheer number of extras included on The Maltese Falcon, there's quality here galore:
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
No finer portrait of the dissolution of a partnership as greed and paranoia take over has ever made it to the screen. With sterling work by Walter Huston and Bogart, wonderfully evocative location photography, and one of the more penetrating screenplays of its era, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre "don't need no stinkin' badges" to prove its worth. It's an undeniable all time classic, and it's received a wonderful upgrade on the Blu-ray. Highly recommended.
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre: Other Editions
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