Case Number 19884: Small Claims Court


Warner Bros. // 1948 // 126 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // October 11th, 2010

The Charge

They sold their souls for...

The Case

During World War II, director John Huston was employed by the Army as a filmmaker. It's a bit of an odd move, to hire a director with only one film under his belt as a propagandist, but I can see how The Maltese Falcon might have swayed the Army brass. In the end, Bogart's decision to put his feelings aside and follow the rules with Brigid must have looked good. The gamble didn't pay off: Huston made three films for the Army, and none of them were acceptable as Huston directed them. They had to be either re-edited, censored, or in one case, simply banned. I'm willing to bet that if the military could have seen Huston's first postwar picture, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, they would not have been so eager to hire the hotshot director. The thin cracks of weary cynicism in Bogart's portrayal of Sam Spade blossomed into full-blown canyons in the bleak outlook of Sierra Madre, a film where human nature is revealed to be base. In an ironic twist, this film that demonstrates the ultimate folly of all human endeavors is a crackling, lively piece of cinematic art that resulted in Oscars for John Huston and his father, Walter. Making its debut on Blu-ray after a strong special edition, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is an essential piece of film history, and there's no better way to experience it than this disc.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is story of Fred C. Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart, The Maltese Falcon), an American down on his luck in a tiny Mexican town. He meets up with another drifter Curtin (Tim Holt, Stagecoach), and the pair decide to pool their resources to hunt for gold in the mountains of Mexico. They enlist the aid of old-timer Howard (Walter Huston, The Furies), and the trio sets out to prospect. They soon find a suitable claim and begin mining the gold. As their successes mount, jealousy, suspicion, and greed drive them apart until violence brings their partnership to an end.

When The Treasure of the Sierra Madre arrived at my doorstep I slipped it into the player "just to check the transfer" since I'd heard early reports that The Maltese Falcon's Blu-ray didn't look that great. Very soon, my desire to "just check the transfer" was swept aside as I got wrapped up in a movie I've seen several times already. That's the kind of film Sierra Madre

I'll admit, at first viewing I wasn't entirely impressed with The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. The story of three guys slowly losing it in the mountains was entertaining enough, but didn't seem to earn the "classic" status the film was famous for. On subsequent viewings, I've revised my initial impression. On second and third viewings, the film's allegory become more and more apparent. This isn't just a story about three guys in the mountains, but a fable or myth about humanity. Three different generations of men fighting nature and themselves in the wild has all kinds of resonance. For all that, this story is also tight as a drum. Every single moment of the film is essential and moves the suspenseful plot along. Only on during repeated viewings did it become completely obvious just how much the film's end is connected to the beginning.

That plot, for all its machinations, would be useless without the cast Huston assembled for his picture. His father Walter got the Oscar nod for his portrayal of the old timer, and he plays exactly the kind of vital, wise old man that cinema seems to have forgotten about in the last few years. Bogart, though, provides the film's real central performance. He doesn't get the chance to play unsympathetic characters often so he really sinks his teeth into Dobbs. Compared to the titanic Bogey and Huston, Tim Holt would be easy to overlook, and rather than trying to upstage his co-stars, Holt opts for a quiet dignity that's mesmerizing.

On Blu-ray, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is near-flawless. The 1.37:1 VC-1 encoded transfer is everything fans could hope for. Detail is strong throughout, contrast is consistent, and grain appropriate. The source isn't without some scratches and flicker, but overall this is a strong transfer of an important film. The audio isn't quite as impressive, but considering the source it's as good as can be. The track is a DTS-HD Master Audio mono track, and the quality is limited much more by the recording techniques of the Forties than by anything on this disc. Distortion isn't a problem, dialogue is clear, but there's not a lot of width to the soundfield, making Max Steiner's score sound busier than it is.

Extras have been brought over from the 2003 DVD edition, and they're fantastic. Things start out with an informative commentary from Eric Lax, a Bogart biographer. The disc also includes a pair of documentaries, one about John Huston and the other about Treasure in particular. Sure, there's some overlap, but the material is interesting enough to make that easy to overlook. "Warner Night At the Movies" provides fans a peek at what attending the movies years ago was like, offering an introduction, cartoons, a short, and trailers from the period. Finally, we get a radio version of the story with the original cast.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is a classic bit of Hollywood cinema, and really belongs in any complete collection of films. So far, this is the definitive way to own the film, with a fantastic audiovisual presentation and a load of extras that put the film in context. For fans who already own the 2003 DVD, this upgrade isn't essential but is certainly recommended.

The Verdict

They may have sold their souls, but everyone involved in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is not guilty.

Review content copyright © 2010 Gordon Sullivan; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Judgment: 97

Perp Profile
Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
* Full Frame (1080p)

Audio Formats:
* DTS HD 1.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Spanish)

* English (SDH)
* French
* Spanish

Running Time: 126 Minutes
Release Year: 1948
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks
* Night at the Movies
* Commentary
* Featurettes
* Radio Play

* IMDb