The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)

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The nearer they get to their treasure, the farther they get from the law.

Perhaps the best film Bogart and Huston ever made, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre recently was released on blu ray, in conjunction with our previously reviewed The Maltese Falcon. And, as good as Falcon is, Madre is that much better, in many ways.

Surely the plot is known to all who read this blog, given your predispositions, but suffice to say the film is the story of two down and out Americans in mid 1920s Tampico (played by Bogart and Tim Holt). After a bit of bumbling around panhandling for food and shelter they link up with a gregarious old time prospector, Howard – played by Walter Huston. Together they go out on a search for gold and along the way we see what greed does to otherwise normal and upstanding folks. Enough said about the plot. I try to keep spoilers to a minimum.

In addition to the great star performances we also get a few strong cameos, namely from director John Huston himself and a young Robert Blake.  John Huston plays the wealthy American who Bogart “puts the bite on” several times at the beginning of the picture while Blake, who of course then [as perhaps now, depending on your perspective] was a nobody.  Here he plays the young, presumably Mexican child, hawking lottery ticket among the downtrodden in Tampico.

Bogart is his usual commanding self, but Walter Huston really steals the picture – perhaps unintentionally so but again, his son was the director. Bogart’s rare turn as perhaps less than the ideal ‘good guy’ is more than offset than Walter’s gregarious humor. Especially noteworthy is his jig, which we are treated to on two occasions.

Madre won three Academy Awards, all for Huston. But not the same Huston. Walter won for Best Supporting Actor and son John won for Director and Screenplay. Really well deserved in all areas. A bit of trivia is that this marked the first time that father and son both won academy awards on the same evening.

The film has been released previously on standard DVD and, to be honest, I was quite pleased with that release. If memory serves it was released concurrently with Errol Flynn’s The Adventures of Robin Hood and marked the introduction of the Warner Night at the Movies format. Surely you know but if not this encompasses an attempt to recreate the way the film would have been seen during its initial release.

The Warner Night at the Movies includes usually a newsreel, an animated short, a comedy short, and perhaps a few trailers. Also on most discs (although of course not available at the time of original release) is an introduction by critic Leonard Maltin. Thankfully this material, along with most all of the preexisting supplemental content from the previous DVD release, has been ported over to the new blu ray release.

But ultimately, is the new blu ray release worth you time – and perhaps more importantly- your money? If you don’t have this yet on DVD, the answer is yes. But again, if you don’t….the answer is also yes. As much as I liked the recent (concurrent with this release) of The Maltese Falcon in blu ray, that title had some challenges in softness of the picture and maintaining black levels.

Madre however, is light years ahead, if such a thing is possible. The picture is sharp, clear, and engaging- buliding both the visual texture and the overall atmosphere of the picture. The sound quality is strong for the era, but of course doesn’t compare with contemporary releases. However, it is a good mix and Max Steiner’s score comes to the fore at the right moments without drowning out the dialogue.

This is, without a doubt, the way in which a classic film should look on blu ray.

This film marks a required spot on your shelf. Here you have John Huston at perhaps his best – and that says quite a bit when you realize his filmography includes The Maltese Falcon, Night of the Iguana, and The African Queen. But on top of that you also get Humphrey Bogart at the top of his game, which again says quite a bit. Plus you get stalwart Walter Huston, perhaps a bit beyond his prime, but still in one of his best performances.

Of course your usual retailers will carry this or you could get it from The WB Shop.

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