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Treasure of the Sierra Madre (Blu-ray Review)

25 Oct, 2010 By: Mike Clark

$24.98 Blu-ray
Not rated.
Stars Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston, Tim Holt.

Bing Crosby once said something to the effect that Louis Armstrong was the best of all singers because when Louis was happy, his singing made you happy — and vice versa. By this standard, Walter Huston must have been the best dancer — because the jig he performs telling his fellow gold prospectors how dumb they are never fails to give me a widescreen grin.

Huston got the supporting Oscar here for one of those performances whose perfection is so slam-dunk obvious from the second it’s first shown that you go, “let’s just have the Oscarcast now because this race is over.” The actor’s own son (John) directed his way to an Oscar as well, and there’s also great work by Humphrey Bogart (as the progressively unstable Fred C. Dobbs) and very sturdy contribution by co-star Tim Holt (mostly known as a B-Western star but also a fairly key component in Orson Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons). Not bad: Neither Gene Autry nor Roy Rogers could lay claim to having been in two of the greatest of all Hollywood movies. Or one.

The Blu-ray replicates the content of the 2003 Treasure DVD, which was one of those whoop-de-doo affairs of a classic title that Warner brings out a few times a year. This means the new release also includes an excellent Huston documentary (running over two hours, which befits a subject who lived the equivalent of maybe fives lives). It also has a 49-minute grabber about the movie’s production, part of which explores the life of eponymous source novel author B. Traven — elusively mysterious and at least as much of a character as the grizzled old-timer the elder Huston lays here. All this plus Leonard Maltin, Warner Bros. cartoons and a bushel of other goodies.

Like Warner’s Blu-ray of Casablanca (and I’m told, the new one of The Maltese Falcon, which I haven’t seen yet), this release brings archival standards to your home as you reach for some wine. I can tell you, categorically: Even when I was programming the American Film Institute Theater, you just weren’t going to see too many prints of an old movie that looked like this. Sensually, you feel the desert heat and all but get a whiff of what must have been the entire cast’s on-location B.O. — with bandit chief Alfonso Bedoya’s stench likely strong enough to threaten the wipe-out of a city with the finesse of that mysterious radioactive man in Monster A-Go Go. You never hear the name of Treasure’s Ted McCord too much when discussing the great Hollywood cinematographers, but this release gives you the chance to see some of his best small-screen black-and-white finesse for juxtaposition purposes with his color work in CinemaScope (East of Eden) and TODD-AO (The Sound of Music, coming to Blu-ray next week).

I hadn’t seen Treasure in way too many years, but so much of it came back to me. Huston’s madcap dance, of course, but also the scene where the increasingly greedy (and bonkers) Bogart accuses of Holt of trying to steal his stash from under a rock — when, in fact, Holt is merely trying to kill a gila monster that has situated itself atop a couple bags of gold dust.    

There’s also the telling tip-off to Bogart’s character early in the film, when he throws water in the face of the street kid (played by Bobby Blake, who later evolved into Robert) who is merely trying to sell him a lottery ticket. How Huston is at first treated as an entertaining crackpot who’s been in the sun too long — yet turns out to be a fluent Spanish-speaking healer of dignity when asks to perform a medical procedure for the movie’s “good” Mexicans (as opposed to Bedoya’s crew). Then there’s Bedoya’s “stinkin’ badges” line to describe what he doesn’t need — which has been a catchphrase in regular conversation for more than 60 years now. Plus the degree to which Bogart pulls off all the dialogue where he talks to himself in the midst of going crazy (even when I was a kid, I knew this was tough for an actor to do without looking foolish). And, of course, how much of a transparently huge influence Treasure was on Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch.

Despite all these memories, seeing this staple of American cinema on Blu-ray is like seeing it for the first time — which is, come to think, the illusion that Blu-ray at its best is designed to give. And just to think that Treasure came out the same year as Red River, The Red Shoes and Fort Apache — none of which got the year’s bet picture Oscar (that would be Olivier’s Hamlet). All are wonderful memories — and all are sustainers in a week of slogging, finally trying to get through Steve Carell and Tina Fey in Date Night.

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