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.

Horror On The Lens: The Yesterday Machine (dir by Russ Marker)


For today’s horror on the lens, how about 1963’s The Yesterday Machine?  This film opens with some impressive baton twirling and then segues into telling a story about time travel, mad scientists, and …. well, that’s about it.  Still, what else do you need?  Have you ever wondered what would happen if a sane scientist discovered time travel?  For some reason, it’s always the insane ones who figure it out.

This film was shot in North Texas!  That’s right, this is one of those low-budget regional productions, the one’s where the film might not be great but you kind of have to admire the determination of the filmmakers to try to make a real movie.  Even if you didn’t recognize the landscape, the accents of the actors would have given it away immediately.  Russ Marker was an independent filmmaker, based in Texas.  The Yesterday Machine is one of two films that Marker directed.  He also had an uncredited role as a bank guard in 1967’s Bonnie and Clyde.

Finally, the film stars Tim Holt who also appeared in The Magnificent Ambersons and Treasure of the Sierra Madre.  How Does The Yesterday Machine rank when compared to those two films?  Watch and find out!  (And, after you watch it, read my review from last year.)

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: The Yesterday Machine (dir by Russ Marker)


The 1965 film The Yesterday Machine opens with dancing!

Well, okay, actually, it opens with two college students out in the middle of nowhere, listening to an old radio.  Howie Ellison (Jay Ramsey) is working on his car, trying to get the engine to work again.  Margie de Mar (Linda Jenkins) is working on her baton twirling, as one tends to due when stuck out in the middle of nowhere.

As soon as the film started and I got one look at the barren landscape, I knew that it had to have been filmed in my part of the world.  The whole thing just screamed Texas/Oklahoma border.  Then I saw Margie’s boots and then I heard Howie and Margie’s accents and I yelled, “OH MY GOD, THEY FILMED THIS IN TEXAS!”

And, indeed, they did.  The Yesterday Machine is a regional production, through and through.  Nearly everyone in the film has a strong accent and the North Texas landscape is notably flat.  (The film’s harsh black-and-white cinematography actually gives it something of a apocalyptic feel.)  After I watched this film, I did some research and I discovered that this film was shot in Dallas.  Director Russ Marker was a Texas filmmaker and actor.  He apparently directed two films over the course of his short career, this and The Demon From Devil’s Lake.  He also had an uncredited role as a bank guard in Bonnie and Clyde.

(There were actually quite a few low-budget filmmakers working in Texas in the 60s.  The best-known, of course, would probably be Larry Buchanan.  But, at the same time that Russ Marker was shooting this film, Hal Warren was filming Manos: The Hands of Fear.)

Anyway, Howie and Margie are supposed to be heading to a college football game but it turns out that Howie is totally useless when it comes to fixing cars.  So, instead, they leave the car and go looking for help.  After wandering around for a bit, they run into some soldiers who are dressed in Confederate army uniforms.

“Those are some crazy threads, Dad!” Howie says.

Having no respect for Howie’s beatnik ways, the soldiers shoot him and then kidnap Margie.

What’s going on, you may ask.  Well, fear not!  Lt. Partane (Tim Holt) is on the case!  And yes, classic film fans, you read that actor’s name correctly.  Tim Holt, star of both The Magnificent Ambersons and Treasure of the Sierra Madre, lends his gravitas to The Yesterday Machine!  According to the imdb, Holt grew disillusioned with Hollywood in the 50s and gave up the movies, retiring to his ranch in Oklahoma.  He only came out of retirement to play Lt. Partane in this film and Agent Clark in Herschell Gordon Lewis’s moonshiner epic, This Stuff’ll Kill You.  According to imdb, Holt only came out of retirement as a “favor for his friends.”  So, in other words, Tim Holt probably did this movie to be nice.

Helping out Lt. Partane is a reporter named Jim Crandall (James Britton) and Margie’s sister, a singer named Sandy (Ann Pelligrino).  Working together, they investigate why Confederate soldiers are wandering around North Texas and what they discover is that it’s because a fugitive Nazi scientist, Dr. Blake (Charles Young), has built a time machine!  He’s planning on using it to go to the past and help Hitler win World War II!

However, before he does that, he wants to make sure that everyone knows how time travel works.  This leads to a — I kid you not, dear readers — TEN MINUTE LECTURE IN FRONT OF A BLACKBOARD, during which Dr. Blake goes into meticulous detail about how he can travel in time!  It’s interesting because you can tell that the filmmakers actually did go to the trouble of researching all of the theories about how time works and how man might be able to travel into the past and it’s also obvious that they really wanted to show off what they had learned.

But, here’s the thing.  It’s totally unnecessary.  We’ve already seen the Confederate soldiers.  If we’re still watching the film by the time that Dr. Blake shows up then it’s safe to assume that we’ve suspended our disbelief enough to accept that time travel is possible.  There’s no need to convince us.  And, since Young wasn’t exactly the best actor in Texas, having him spend ten minutes madly lecturing the audience wasn’t exactly going to convince anyone that time travel was a plausible reality.  Instead, it just brings the entire film to a halt and kills the small amount of narrative momentum that it had going for it.

Anyway, once Dr. Blake finally shuts up, it’s time to stop his nefarious plans and hopefully make the world safe for college football games.

The Yesterday Machine is a really bad movie but I have to admit that I always kind of enjoy watching these regional oddities.  There’s something touching about everyone’s attempt to turn The Yesterday Machine into a “real” movie and, at its best, the film features the type of enthusiasm that you can only get from a low-budget amateur production.  If nothing else, this movie about time travel is a real time capsule.  Movies like this are about as close to real time machine as we’ll ever get.

Creature Double Feature 3: THE MONSTER THAT CHALLENGED THE WORLD (UA 1957) & THE GIANT CLAW (Columbia 1957)


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Welcome to another exciting edition of Creature Double Feature, a fond look back at the type of weird and wonderful monster movies that used to be broadcast Saturday afternoons on Boston’s WLVI-TV 56. Today we’ve got twin terrors from 1957, one beneath the sea, the other above the skies. Let’s dive right in with THE MONSTER THAT CHALLENGED THE WORLD, a soggy saga starring former cowboy star Tim Holt and a monstrous giant sea slug!

An earthquake has released the beast in California’s Salton Sea, and when a Navy parachutist and a rescue crew goes missing, Commander “Twill” Twillinger (Holt) investigates. A mysterious, sticky white goo is found on board (no “money shot” cracks, please!), and a sample is taken to the lab of Dr. Rogers (Hans Conreid). Rogers analyzes the substance, a “simple marine secretion” (again, no wisecracks!), later discovered to be radioactive.

Rogers’ secretary Gail (Audrey Dalton) and Twill get off…

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Tall (Tales) in the Saddle: THE LAW WEST OF TOMBSTONE (RKO 1938)


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Cowboy star Harry Carey had been around since motion pictures were knee-high to a cactus. He made his first film in 1908, working with pioneer director D.W. Griffith. He was already one of silent film’s biggest sagebrush stars by the time he made 1918’s STRAIGHT SHOOTER, the directorial debut of John Ford. When the  talkies rolled around, Carey was over fifty and his leading man days were behind him. He transitioned into a fine character actor, and his talents are given a good showcase in the low-budget Western THE LAW WEST OF TOMBSTONE.

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Carey is champion liar Bill Barker, a charming rascal who spins tall tales of his bravery fighting bloodthirsty Indians. The old windbag gets himself thrown out of New York circa 1881 when he tries to run a con on Wall Street tycoon Sam Kent. Not even his ex, a former saloon girl now passing herself off as continental singing…

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Pounded to Death by Gorillas: HIS KIND OF WOMAN (RKO 1951)


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People don’t go to the movies to see how miserable the world is; they go there to eat popcorn, be happy“- Wynton (Jim Backus) in HIS KIND OF WOMAN

Right you are, Mr. Howell, err Backus. There’s an abundance of fun to be had in HIS KIND OF WOMAN, the quintessential RKO/Robert Mitchum movie. Big Bob costars with sexy Jane Russell in a convoluted tale that’s part film noir, part Monty Python, with an outstanding all-star cast led by Vincent Price serving up big slices of ham as a self-obsessed movie star. And the backstory behind HIS KIND OF WOMAN is as entertaining as the picture itself!

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But we’ll go behind the scenes later. First, let’s look at the movie’s plot. We meet down on his luck gambler Dan Milner (Mitchum) in a bar…. drinking milk! Dan just got done doing a 30 day stretch in a Palm Springs jail…

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