The quintessential “Cowboys and Indians” child? I’m afraid not . . . my childhood definitions of rough ‘n’ tough would probably involve Bette Midler defeating any cowboy or Indian with one boa tied behind her back. While other boys were playing with their toy guns and lighting small fires around the neighborhood, I was pretending my horse on a stick was Maleficent’s magic staff from Sleeping Beauty (1959). John Wayne was nothing more to me than the actor whose footprints Lucy stole from Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. Being that type of “man boy” required too much of a dedicated effort, and I was already exhausted from traditional childhood activities such as broomstick maintenance and tending to my flying monkeys.
Yes I can see now that scattered are the days when I turn my wheel towards films that involve horses, deserts, chase scenes, and shoot-outs. But in my 31 years it’s time I learned never to say never . . . when Humphrey Bogart mines for gold (armed with a gun and a touch of the “crazy”), I seized that stinking wheel with both hands. Adapted from B. Traven’s novel and primarily filmed on location, John Huston’s The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) follows three men on their search for gold in the remote mountains of Mexico. We begin to second- and third-guess each member of the trio, unsure of alliances that could throw a potential wrench in the gears . . . or at someone’s head. Perhaps ill-gotten gold is no one’s gain, unless you bump off your partners before they can get to you.
Joining the infallible Humphrey Bogart on the hunt is Tim Holt and Walter Huston (the director’s father in a well-deserved, Oscar-winning role). Quite the jolly award season it was for the Huston family — the hunt for gold proved profitable, as John Huston walked away with two Academy Awards for this amazing venture (one for directing and one for his screenplay). Even if he had lost, why, oh why wasn’t Bogie nominated for this one? The greed of Bogart’s unseemly character moves him swiftly into a paranoid state; a hypnotic decent of which only Bogart seems capable. While many embraced it at the time, certain audience members were less than thrilled when Warner Bros. took “loveable” out the “loveable tough guy” Bogart formula. Aside from the gold itself, his character has no love interest to soften him, and both he and his storyline get dark and sinister as the film progresses. It’s a darkness that is more than Oscar-worthy, but I guess this is just one of life’s misfortunes that keep me awake at night.
Misquoted lines seem to follow Humphrey Bogart from screen to screen. Not only did that elbow-patched bozo sitting next to me during Casablanca at the Symphony refuse to keep quiet, but also he seemed determined to destroy each and every line of the script. It was a challenge deciding which was more bothersome, but luckily Mom shushed him a few times and settled the matter. When it comes to referencing “stinking badges” in popular culture, the occurrences are endless. Usually it’s a combination of Alfonso Bedoya’s original lines used to defy authority: “we don’t need no stinking badges” delivers a very specific punch to its recipients, yes, but line deserves revisiting . . . “Badges? We ain’t got no badges. We don’t need no badges! I don’t have to show you any stinkin’ badges!” Let’s remain faithful, shall we?
Whether you rode your stick horse properly or used it to cast spells, this is one for all to savor. Maybe they ain’t been around for millions of years, but there’s gold in them old movies, and trust me, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is more than worth its weight.