Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (dir by John Huston)


Last night, for the first time, I watched the 1948 Best Picture nominee, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

Directed by the legendary John Huston and featuring a wonderful performance from the equally legendary Humphrey Bogart, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre has a reputation for being one of the greatest films ever made.  It’s a reputation that is more than deserved.  That makes the film a pleasure to watch but, unfortunately, it also makes it somewhat intimidating to write about.

(In the past, Leonard and I have discussed how it’s so much more difficult to write a review of a good film than it is to write a review of a bad film.  Sad to say, it’s often easier to be negative than it is to be positive.  Writing a review of a bad film only requires the ability to be snarky.  Writing a review of a good, much less a great film, is far more difficult.  It’s one thing to realize a film is good.  It’s another thing to try to explain why.)

The Treasure of Sierra Madre tells the story of three Americans in Mexico, drifters living on the edge of society.  Fred C. Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart) and Bob Curtin (Tim Holt) spend their days begging for spare change and taking whatever work they can find.  When they meet an eccentric but wise prospector named Howard (Walter Huston), the three of them end up going on a quest for gold.  It’s not a spoiler to tell you that the three men find their gold, though Dobbs is shocked to discover that gold dust can easily be mistaken for sand and doesn’t naturally shine in the sun.  Just as Howard warned would happen, the three men start to grow paranoid about their newfound wealth.  Meanwhile, others — including a pushy American named Cody (Bruce Bennett) and an outlaw known as Gold Hat (Alfonso Bedoya) — show up near the camp, leaving the men to wonder how far each of them will go to protect their shares of the treasure.

When the three of them first meet in a dirty flophouse, Howard warns Dobbs and Curtin that gold will drive a man to insanity.  Howard says that he knows because it’s happened to him more than once.  Still, as we watch the three prospectors descend further into paranoia with each new bag they fill with gold dust, we can’t help but wonder if the gold is driving them crazy or if it’s just causing them to reveal their true selves.  From the minute we first see Dobbs on a street in a Mexican city, begging for money and snarling at a child (played, incidentally, by a very young Robert Blake) who tries to sell him a lottery ticket, it’s obvious that Dobbs is desperate, angry, and resentful.  Finding the gold doesn’t do anything to alleviate the anger that Dobbs feels towards the world as much as it just gives him an excuse to indulge in it fully.  Whereas, in the past, Dobbs always had to hold back his anger in hope of getting another handout, the gold allows him to fully embrace his seething resentment.  Compared to Dobbs, Howard and Curtin don’t seem to change quite as much.  Of course, it should be remembered that Howard is an old man who knows that he doesn’t have much time left.  Meanwhile, Curtin is often too busy reacting to Dobbs’s anger to truly indulge in his own.  Watching the film, you have to wonder how things would have gone if Dobbs hadn’t been there.  Without the distracting of Dobbs’s growing instability, would Curtin have remained the sane member of the group?  The scene where Curtin first meets Cody suggests that, on his own, Curtin is just as capable of being as paranoid as Dobbs.

Indeed, though greed is certainly a motivating force in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, it’s not the film’s main subject.  Instead, this film is a study of men living on the fringes of society.  We learn surprisingly little about how Dobbs and Curtin came to be two beggars living in Mexico.  We learn a bit more about Howard’s background, largely because Howard likes to talk.  But again, we don’t really learn that much about who Howard was before he became a prospector.  Howard, Curtin and Dobbs are forgotten men, without any real friends or family.  They’ve got each other, though that bond doesn’t always appear to be a particularly strong one.  Howard and Curtin have managed to find some sort of peace with their existence.  Dobbs has not.  While the film may partially be a portrait of the corrosive effects of greed, it’s also a character study of three men who have been forgotten and abandoned and how they deal with living outside of the world that everyone else takes for granted.

There’s much to love in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, from John Huston’s powerful direction to the dark humor that runs through some of the film’s best moments.  Houston fills the film with little details that make it feel authentic.  (My favorite little moment came towards the end when a man facing a firing squad makes sure that he’s wearing his hat before he’s shot.)  Walter Huston, Tim Holt, Bruce Bennett and Alfonso Bedoya all give strong performances, though the film is dominated by Humphrey Bogart.  Walter Huston won a (deserved) Academy Award for his performance but one of Bogart’s best performances somehow went unnominated.  Bogart gives a ferocious and never less than compelling performance as Dobbs.  At his worst, Dobbs is almost like a trapped animal, roaming the cage of his existence and snapping at anyone who gets too close.  At the same time, Dobbs’s naked desperation makes it impossible not to feel some sympathy for him.  Bogart was never more vulnerable than when Dobbs was begging for money and never more frightening than after he got it.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is a classic, one that has been endlessly imitated but which will probably never be equaled.  Nominated for four Oscars, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre won three (for John Huston’s direction and screenplay and for Walter Huston’s performance as Howard) but it lost best picture to Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet.  As much as I like Hamlet, this is a case where the Academy made a mistake.

4 Shots From 4 Films: Special Humphrey Bogart Edition


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking.

Today is not just Christmas!  It is also Humphrey Bogart’s birthday!  Bogart was born 121 years ago, today!  And that means that it’s time for….

4 Shots From 4 Films

Dead End (1937, dir by William Wyler)

Casablanca (1943, dir by Michael Curtiz)

The Big Sleep (1946, dir by Howard Hawks)

The African Queen (1951, dir by John Huston)

Escape to Victory (1981, directed by John Huston)


In 1942, during the height of World War II, Nazi Major Karl von Steiner (Max von Sydow) is surprised to discover that professional English footballer John Colby (Michael Caine) is a prisoner of war in France and that he has formed his own soccer league with his fellow POWs.  Seeing a chance for a propaganda coup, von Steiner arranges for a team led by Colby to be travel to occupied Pairs where they will play a match against the German national team.

Colby agrees, on the condition that it be a real game and that the teams not just be made up of officers.  At the insistence of his senior officers, Colby also allows an American prisoner named Robert Hatch (Sylvester Stallone) to serve as the team’s trainer.  Hatch is plotting to use the match as a cover for his own escape.  When it appears that there’s a chance for the entire team to escape during the match, Colby and his team are forced to choose between defeating the German team or making a run for freedom.

I think that, for most people, that wouldn’t be too difficult of a decision to make.  If I have to choose between escaping a POW camp or winning a match, I’m going to go down the tunnel and do what I have to do to make it across the English channel.  In the movie, though, it’s a matter of pride and I think Michael Caine is probably the only actor who could make such a conflict feel credible.  Though Stallone got both top billing and a romantic subplot with a member of the Resistance, it’s Michael Caine’s movie all the way through.  From the minute he demands to know “what the bloody hell” is going on, Michael Caine owns Escape to Victory.

Escape to Victory is an old-fashioned war film.  Think of it as being The Great Escape with tons of soccer kicked in.  Fans of the game will probably enjoy seeing legendary players like Pele and Bobby Moore cast as the POWs who make up Colby’s team.  The movie has some slow spots but it’s ultimately a rousing adventure, featuring good performances from Caine, von Sydow, and Sylvester Stallone.  It’s interesting to see Stallone cast as someone who isn’t automatically the best player on the field.

The film is based on a true story, one that sadly did not share this film’s happy ending.  In 1942, a group of Ukrainian POWs played an exhibition match against their German captors.  When the POWs won the match, the Germans responded by executing the majority of the players.  The true story of the Death Match (as it was later called) was told in 1962, in a Hungarian film called Two Half Times In Hell.

4 Shots From 4 Bloody Films: Special Michael Caine Edition


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!

Today is the 87th birthday of the great actor and icon of all things British, Michael Caine!

Caine is famously prolific and, when it comes to picking shots from his films, it’s hard to narrow them down to just four.  At a certain point in his career, the big joke about Michael Caine was that he would appear in literally everything.  He even missed accepting his first Oscar in person because he was busy filming Jaws: The Revenge.  Not surprisingly, it was after Jaws: The Revenge that Caine started to become more discriminating when it came to picking his films.

Despite the fact that he’s now a bit more careful about picking roles that allow him to show off his considerable talent as opposed to just supplying him with an easy paycheck, Caine remains a busy actor.  In his autobiography, Blowing the Bloody Doors Off, Caine wrote that he plans to keep acting as long as he is physically and mentally able to do so.  I look forward to seeing what future, great performances Michael Caine is going to give us.

For now, here are:

4 Shots From 4 Films

Get Carter (1971, directed by Mike Hodges)

The Man Who Would Be King (1975, directed by John Huston)

A Shock to the System (1990, directed by Jan Egleson)

The Dark Knight Rises (2012, directed by Christopher Nolan)

 

THE MALTESE FALCON is the Stuff Film Noir Dreams Are Made Of (Warner Brothers 1941)


cracked rear viewer

1941’s THE MALTESE FALCON may not be the first film noir (most people agree that honor goes to 1940’s STRANGER ON THE THIRD FLOOR ). It’s not even the first version of Dashiell Hammett’s 1930 detective story – there was a Pre Code film with Ricardo Cortez as Sam Spade that’s pretty good, and a 1936 remake titled SATAN MET A LADY with Warren William that’s not. But first-time director John Huston’s seminal shamus tale (Huston also wrote the amazingly intricate screenplay) virtually created many of the tropes that have become so familiar to fans of this dark stylistic genre:

THE HARD-BOILED DETECTIVE – Private investigators had been around since the dawn of cinema, from Sherlock Holmes to Philo Vance to Charlie Chan, but none quite like Humphrey Bogart’s Sam Spade. Both Cortez and William played the character as flippant skirt-chasers, but in Bogie’s hands, Sam Spade is a harder…

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What A Long, Strange Trip It’s Been: Orson Welles’ THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND (Netflix 2018)


cracked rear viewer

The day has finally arrived. November 2, 2018. I ordered a free trial of Netflix specifically so I could watch the completed version of Orson Welles’ final film, THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND . Welles worked on this project for over a decade, and the footage sat for decades more before finally being restored and re-edited. A film buff’s dream come true – perhaps. There were questions I needed answered. Was there enough salvageable material to make a coherent movie? Does it follow Welles’ vision? Would it live up to the hype? Was it worth the wait?

The answer: OH, HELL YEAH!!

Welles shot over ten hours of film, utilizing different film stocks (Super 8, 16mm, 35mm), switching back and forth from color to classic black and white, to create his movie, which is a documentary about the movie-within-the-movie’s director – a movie-within-a-movie-within-a-movie. It took six years (from 1970-76)…

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Italian Horror Showcase: Tentacles (dir by Ovidio G. Assonitis)


Okay, tell me if this sounds familiar.

There’s a beachside resort town, one whose survival is pretty much dependent upon tourists and big business.  If you give the tourists a reason to not show up, the town dies.  If you give big business a reason to build their factories and their underground tunnels somewhere else, the town dies.

Unfortunately, something bad is happening in this little town.  People are going in the water and they’re never returning.  It appears that they’re being killed by some sort of giant sea monster, even though the authorities swear that it’s simply impossible.  The town’s leaders are putting pressure on the sheriff to cover up the crimes.  A scientist shows up and thinks that everyone he meets is an idiot.

It’s not safe to go in the water but people keep doing it!

Now, you may be thinking that it sounds like I’m describing the plot of Jaws but actually, I’m talking about an Italian film called Tentacles.  Released in 1977, Tentacles was one of the many films that was directly inspired by the success of Spielberg’s film.  Jaws was such a phenomenal success that it was ripped off by filmmakers across the world.  That said, of all the people ripping off Spielberg’s film, the Italians brought an undeniable and frequently shameless flair to the Jaws knockoffs.

Tentacles is a bit different from other Italian Jaws films in that, this time, the threat does not come from a shark.  Instead, it comes from a giant octopus!  That’s actually a pretty good twist because, in real life, an octopus is actually more dangerous than a shark.  Not only are they bigger and considerably smarter than most sharks but if they get enough of their eight arms around you, they can literally squeeze you to death!  I mean …. agck!  Say what you will about sharks, I imagine getting eaten by one would suck but at least it wouldn’t take long to die.  Whereas if an octopus gets you, you would actually be aware of it squeezing you to death and oh my God, I’m never getting in the water.

Anyway, in Tentacles, the octopus is snatching babies off of piers and sailors off of boats and it’s using its octopus powers to rip their skin from their bones.  It also attack scuba divers by firing ink at them.  The sheriff (Claude Akins) says that it’s nothing to worry about but Ned Turner (John Huston), a hard-boiled reporter, thinks that there’s a story here.  Ned’s in town visiting his sister (Shelley Winters).  She has a ten year-old son who enjoys sailing.  Uh-oh….

Henry Fonda shows up for a few very brief scenes, playing the head of a company that built the underwater tunnel that somehow mutated the octopus.  Fonda looks incredibly frail in his scenes (and apparently, he filmed his part while recovering from heart surgery) but his performance in Tentacles still isn’t as cringe-inducing as his performance in The Swarm.

Also showing up is a marine biologist named Will Gleason (Bo Hokpkins).  Fortunately, Gleason owns two killer whales so, after the octopus kills his wife, Gleason sends out the orcas to track it down.  Before doing so, he gives them a pep talk.  Apparently, killer whales respond to positive reinforcement.

Tentacles is unique in that it’s an Italian production that managed to rope in a few well-known American actors.  It’s an odd film to watch because, on the one hand, the film is full of risible dialogue and it’s painfully slow whenever the octopus isn’t attacking anyone and no one really seems to be that invested in any of their characters.  (When the octopus kills a baby, the actress playing the baby’s mother underacts to such an extent that the scene becomes almost surreal.)  This isn’t like Jaws, where you actually care about Brody, Quint, Hooper, and the Kintner boy.  On the other hand, the octopus itself is actually kind of frightening so, on that very basic level, the film works.

In the end, Tentacles is one of the lesser Jaws rip-offs but you’ll never forget that octopus.

 

Here’s The Trailer for Orson Welles’s The Other Side of The Wind!


Listen, I know that some people are excited about the new Predator film.

And some people can’t wait to see If Beale Street Could Talk.

And a few of you are going crazy over the remake of Suspiria.

But, for me, the movie that I’m most looking forward to seeing is Orson Welles’s The Other Side of the Wind!

That’s right.  After a 40-year production period that saw the death of almost everyone involved with the film (including director Orson Welles and star John Huston), The Other Side of the Wind is finally going to be released!  It’ll be premiering on Netflix on November 2nd and it better get a helluva an Oscar campaign.

Before seeing the film, I recommend reading a book about the making of it, Orson Welles’s Last Movie.  It’s a book that Gary reviewed a few months ago…

Way back in 2010, I listed The Other Side of the Wind as one of ten movies that I hoped to see before dying.

Here’s the trailer.

 

4 Shots From 4 Marilyn Monroe Films: All About Eve, Don’t Bother To Knock, Bus Stop, The Misfits


4 Shots from 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots from 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!

If only she hadn’t been destroyed by the Kennedys, Marilyn Monroe would be 92 years old today.  Though Marilyn died in 1962, her performances will live forever.  This is…

4 Shots From 4 Marilyn Monroe Films

All About Eve (1950, dir by Joseph L. Mankiewicz)

Don’t Bother To Knock (1952, dir by Roy Ward Baker)

Bus Stop (1956, dir by Joshua Logan)

The Misfits (1961, dir by John Huston)

Lisa’s Way Too Early Oscar Predictions for April


Hi, everyone!

Well, it’s that time again!  It’s time for me to post my very early Oscar predictions.  I do this on a monthly basis.  I always make it a point to acknowledge that, this early in the year, this is something of a pointless exercise.  We’re still not far into 2018 and but, surprisingly, several excellent films have already been released.  Who knows what the rest of the year will be like!

So, as always, the predictions below are a combination of instinct and random guesses.  This month, I’ve kind of let my imagination run wild.  And you know what?  That’s the way it should be.  What’s the point of trying to predict stuff if you can’t have fun?

So, without further ado, here are my predictions for April!

(Click to see my predictions for January, February, and March!)

Best Picture

Annihilation

Black Panther

Boy Erased

First Man

The Happytime Murders

If Beale Street Could Talk

Mary, Queen of Scots

The Other Side of the Wind

A Quiet Place

Widows

Best Director

Ryan Coogler for Black Panther

Barry Jenkins for If Beale Street Could Talk

John Krasinski for A Quiet Place

Steve McQueen for Widows

Orson Welles for The Other Side of the Wind

Best Actor

Steve Carell in Beautiful Boy

Willem DaFoe in At Eternity’s Gate

Matt Dillon in The House That Jack Built

Ryan Gosling in First Man

John Huston in The Other Side of the Wind

Best Actress

Cate Blanchett in Where’d You Go, Bernadette?

Viola Davis in Widows

Melissa McCarthy in Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Saoirse Ronan in Mary, Queen of Scots

Kristin Stewart in JT LeRoy

Best Supporting Actor

Peter Bogdanovich in The Other Side of the Wind

Russell Crowe in Boy Erased

Michael B. Jordan in Black Panther

David Tennant in Mary, Queen of Scots

Forest Whitaker in Burden

Best Supporting Actress

Laura Dern in JT Leroy

Claire Foy in First Man

Nicole Kidman in Boy Erases

Regina King in If Beale Street Could Talk

Margot Robie in Mary, Queen of Scots