For Reel

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
January 31, 2016, 11:25 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: John Huston
5 Stars
The Treasure of the Sierra MadreArticulating the experience of watching The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is a faulty endeavor, so intoxicating it is as a piece of narrative fiction that it all but eschews the need for critical analysis. Many who write about the film discuss it in similar terms. In his glowing review for The Nation, James Agee praised John Huston as, along with Charlie Chaplin, the most talented man working in American film, insisting that The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is a towering achievement that rises to the level of “folk art.” What Agee gets at, and what the film’s legacy insists, is that Huston was remarkably gifted at making films that have near-universal appeal due to his gifts as a storyteller and, specifically, his insistence on character. The action scenes all function as a means of advancing certain character traits–when the three prospectors (Walter Huston, Humphrey Bogart, and Tim Holt) plot to kill a man that has come across their enterprise, the scene works not only as a means of creating suspense, but as a cataloging of the mental states of the characters. In fact, Huston throughout creates a delicate balance between how much is revealed and how much is temporarily obscured as it relates to the characters’ motivations, necessitating these moments wherein action determines how deteriorated their morality has become. The final act of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre exists as sublime poetry, and those who have seen the film will know that the best way to respond to any bad turn of fate is simply to laugh, having been made newly aware of their cosmic insignificance.

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