Wednesday, July 7, 2010

DVD Review: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre: Two-Disc Special Edition

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre: Two-Disc Special Edition

(Released: 2003 by Warner Home Video)

Another Looong DVD Review by Joe Torcivia.

Hey Mister, can you stake a fellow American to a meal?” – Humphrey Bogart as Fred C. Dobbs, in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), directed by John Huston.

I’m not very well versed in what some call “old movies” and others call “The Golden Age of Hollywood”, but I do enjoy the films of Humphrey Bogart and, with the very notable exception of “Casablanca”, Bogie’s best moments seem to be when he is directed by John Huston.

“The Treasure of the Sierra Madre”, adapted from the book by the mysterious and reclusive author “B. Traven”, is a masterpiece of both characterization and action and, in its gripping drama, superbly illustrates how greed (In this case, the lust for gold!) is the downfall of many a man.

Bogart’s Dobbs is joined on the quest for riches by his more idealistic partner “Curtin”, played by B-movie western actor Tim Holt, and grizzled (yet surprisingly spry) prospector “Howard” masterfully portrayed by Walter Huston – the father of director John Huston. Indeed, Walter Huston actually steals the show from Bogie – no mean feat, that!

I’ll not spoil the picture for anyone who has not yet managed to see it, but I will plainly make the statement that NO ONE should let his or her time on this Earth expire without seeing this cinematic classic at least once!

As is our custom in these reviews, we’ll break it into CONS and PROS.

As incredible as it may seem to the regular readers of my DVD reviews, there are NO CONS to this wonderful set! From the film itself, to the extras, to the packaging and menu navigation, this just may be as perfect a set as can exist.

Let me count the ways…

The Film: Bogart, and the Hustons! ‘Nuff said!

But wait… There’s more! Drama, adventure, conflict. On-location shooting (in the "film" AND "ammunition" sense of the word) in Mexico… Not a common practice of the time. Stark and rugged desert terrain – enhanced by the black-and-white cinematography. Gold. Bandits. Gunfire. Fights. And, as one of the featured commentators put it, “…The metamorphosis of a down-and-out working man into an obsessive, greedy maniac.” It all plays out against the backdrop of Mexico, circa 1925.

It should also be noted that Bogart did not merely swing a pickaxe and unearth fully formed gold nuggets. Instead, John Huston got his characters into the dirty, gritty details of extracting gold from Mother Earth. A labor-intensive practice of separating one dust from another with a sluice was more the order for this trio. Clearly, I cannot vouch for the technical accuracy of the process as depicted but, with John Huston’s fabled adventurous background and eye for perfection, I can’t imagine he faked much of this.


Humphrey Bogart as “Fred C. Dobbs”.
Walter Huston as “Howard”.
Tim Holt as “Curtin”.
Bruce Bennett as the unfortunate interloper “Cody”.
Barton McLane (“The Maltese Falcon”, “I Dream of Jeannie”) as “Boss McCormick”.

Alfonso Bedoya as the bandit “Gold Hat” – who achieves pop-cultural immortality by uttering the iconic “Stinkin’ Badges” line!

Cameos: Warner Bros. hottie Ann Sheridan (uncredited) as something they couldn’t say, given the Production Code standards of the day… but let’s just say she “walks” past Dobbs on the “street” and leave it at that. Robert Blake (also uncredited) as the young boy who gets a face-full of water for pestering Dobbs over lottery tickets. John Huston also gets into the anonymous act by portraying the well-to-do American that Bogie repeatedly puts the bite on, with the famous “fellow American” line quoted above.

And, the ultimate “PRO” for The Treasure of the Sierra Madre: Two-Disc Special Edition

Extra Features:
Full-length commentary on the film by Bogart biographer Eric Lax. (2:06) Far from the sort of commentary that is augmented with periods of laughter and/or stretches of silence, Lax fills the time from end to end with background information on Bogart, the Hustons, the other cast members, the mystery of author “B. Traven”, the genesis and production of the film, Jack Warner’s apprehensions, and more fascinating and relevant information than one could ever hope for. By 2003, it was not quite 60 years since the making of “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre”, but so much of what is revealed seems as if it’s from a “lost era” that it is important such information is chronicled by Lax and persons like him.

Warner Night at the Movies. Speaking of a “lost era”, Warner expertly reconstructs the movie-going experience of the day as a viewing option for “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre”. The film may be viewed as part of the entire program, on its own, or the viewer may pick and choose among the included items. There is also an optional introduction to the program by film historian Leonard Maltin, offering welcome background and perspective to those (like me) who have never experienced such a grand entertainment experience. The program consists of:

· A theatrical trailer for the Humphrey Bogart / Lauren Bacall / Edward G. Robinson / Lionel Barrymore / John Huston film “Key Largo”.

· A Newsreel narrated by announcer Ed Herlihy.

· “So You Want to be a Private Eye”, a “Joe McDokes” comedy short – starring George O’Hanlon (The Jetsons) and announcer Art Gilmore. This short demonstrates the same sensibilities of humor as might be found in such Daffy Duck cartoons as “The Great Piggy Bank Robbery” and “Boston Quackie”.

· A Bugs Bunny cartoon “Hot Cross Bunny” directed by Robert McKimson and written by Warren Foster.

· The film itself. (In all its 2 hours and 6 minutes of glory!) What an experience that must have been! (Sigh!)

Humphrey Bogart Trailer Gallery. Theatrical trailers for the Warner Bros. films of Humphrey Bogart: (Collect ‘em all, folks!)

“The Petrified Forest” (1936)
“Angels with Dirty Faces” (1938)
“The Roaring Twenties” (1939)
“They Drive by Night” (1940)
“High Sierra” (1941)
“The Maltese Falcon” (1941)
“Casablanca” (1942)
“To Have and Have Not” (1944)
“The Big Sleep” (1946)
“Dark Passage” (1947)
“The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” (1948)
“Key Largo” (1948)

Documentary: “Discovering Treasure: The Story of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” (2003. Length: 49:56) A fine “Making Of” piece, detailing the journey from a book by an author self-shrouded in mystery, to the production itself. Contributors include Martin Scorsese, Leonard Maltin, Robert Osborne, the aforementioned Eric Lax, and Evelyn Keyes (wife of John Huston during the making of “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre”).

Documentary: “John Huston: The Man, the Movies, the Maverick” (1988 – clocks in at a whopping 2:08 – longer than “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre”! Hosted by Robert Mitchum, with opening text read by Burgess Meredith. The “larger-than-life” life of John Huston, with contributions by Paul Newman, Lauren Bacall (actress and wife of Humphrey Bogart), Evelyn Keyes (actress and then wife of John Huston), Arthur Miller, Michael Caine, Anjelica Huston, and Danny Huston. We get lots of John Huston “…in his own words”. Oddly, he sounds like a cross between columnist George Will and Leonard Nimoy!

Lux Radio Theatre broadcast of April 18, 1949: An audio adaptation of “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre”, with Humphrey Bogart and Walter Huston reprising their roles.

“8 Ball Bunny”: A (1950) Bugs Bunny cartoon directed by Chuck Jones and written by Michael Maltese. The classic short in which Bugs Bunny tries to return a lost little penguin to the South Pole – only to find he’s from Hoboken, New Jersey. This cartoon may be best known for its appearances by an animated version of Humphrey Bogart, repeatedly asking Bugs “Pardon me, but could you help out a fellow American who’s down on his luck?”

Chances are, if you were a young ‘un in the sixties or beyond, you knew this cartoon BEFORE knowing of “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre”! I certainly did. I can guess that Bogart’s ACTUAL line from the film (about “staking a fellow American to a meal”) was not used in the cartoon in order to set up Bugs’ wild-eyed retort to Bogart at the end (“…Can YOU help a fellow American who’s down on HIS luck?”), resulting in the irony of the animated Bogie’s variant line being perhaps better known than the “real” Bogie’s “honest-to-Huston” line.

Additional Extras: Cast and Crew credits. Awards received by the film (lead by three 1948 Oscars!) Photos. Storyboards. Publicity materials and more.

I’m not at all sure how Warner could possibly improve on this set, short of resurrecting Bogart himself to provide a commentary track. If I had TEN THUMBS to turn up and ONE HUNDRED STARS to issue, I’d still be doing scant justice to this magnificent effort.

Just get a copy and enjoy!


Jeff Overturf said...

It's had a place of honor in my library since it was first released.

Awesome recomendation!

Joe Torcivia said...

Thanks, Jeff!

It’s certainly one of the all time greats!

And this is one of the all time greatest packaging efforts I’ve seen in my years of DVD collection!

More reviews, including more such movies along with the usual animation and sci-fi, to come in July! It’s “DVD Month” at TIAH Blog! Got six more of ‘em written, that I’ll try to parse out over the month.

Remarkably few “CONS” in all of these reviews – except for one set. You’ll see…

Reel Popcorn Junkie said...

Great film, but Tim Holt and Bruce Bennett just don't stand up well next to Bogart and Walter Houston.