The Treasure of the Sierra Madre – Denny Ledger’s Take!

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*Denny Ledger is a film historian and critic and his new book “A Reasonable Amount of Trouble…” The Films of John Huston and Humphrey Bogart can be purchased here.

You have to wonder how this film ever got made. Then again, with John Huston involved, I’d believe anything.

It broke every rule that existed for a film. It was bleak, there was no genre, no love story, no women, no happy ending, but a downbeat one by all accounts. There were many Mexican actors, who spoke Spanish and not English; one of the main characters also speaks a fair deal of Spanish and there were to be no subtitles. The main star would look like an unshaven hobo.

Oh yes, and Huston wanted to shoot the film almost entirely on location in Mexico. But not a picture postcard Mexico, but a grim, unforgiving, desolate, dry, dusty landscape.

At the time, location shooting was highly irregular, and certainly not for the virtual entirety of a film. In the end, he got his way, and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre became one of the first American films to be shot almost entirely on location outside the U.S.

Jack Warner eventually agreed to all Huston’s demands, with the advertising department simply adding a woman to the adverts and playing up the ‘treasure’ aspect of the plot.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre was published in Germany in 1927, with publication in America coming in 1935. It was the third novel by the mysterious B. Traven, a man as elusive as the treasure itself, whose books sold 25 million copies in more than thirty languages.

It was a story of three prospectors who search for gold in 1920s Mexico. It was not a story about gold, but the pursuit of it, the exploitation and cupidity that comes with it, and ultimately, the dissatisfaction it brings.

Like High Sierra and The Maltese Falcon before it, Huston’s script was extremely faithful to the book, and would follow the common Huston themes. Here was again a group of people on a quest. Here, they achieve it, yet they are changed and it is their weaknesses and obsessions that destroy them, with Huston examining the disintegration and change within the characters as they come under increasing pressure, with many harsh lessons being learnt along the way; that man is greedy, and this greed leads to dissatisfaction and unhappiness, deception, murder, cynicism and eventually death.

For the lead role, Fred C. Dobbs, Huston again called his friend Bogie. Dobbs is the character who allows greed and paranoia to get the better of him and is eventually killed by it.

Dobbs was a classic Huston / Bogie character. He was a born loser who would never change, despite the chances for change presenting themselves, he would ignore them, growing increasingly mean- spirited, greed-obsessed, and would only spiral further into suspicion and madness.

He does not start out this way however, as he is initially generous with money and water, two themes that parallel his downfall, as his reactions to and treatment of, grows more hostile and savage.

It is with the Mexican bandit Gold Hat, wonderfully played by Alfonso Bedoya, that Dobbs’ character is thematically linked with, in both his demise and his fate, as the greed for gold and riches is the death of both men.

The character of Gold Hat appeared only once in the book and it was Huston who expanded the role and made the connections between Dobbs and the character. Early on in the film the train Dobbs, Curtin and Howard are travelling on is attacked by bandits. Dobbs shoots at Gold Hat and the two make eye contact, syncing the two men and bonding their eventual fate and destiny. In the end, Gold Hat retrieves his sombrero before standing before the firing squad, which blows away after his death, just like Dobbs’ gold.

Joining Dobbs in the quest for gold is Curtin, a young, impressionable, likeable chap who, unlike Dobbs, keeps his sanity, and following a brush with death at the end, at the hands of Dobbs no less, eventually finds life more important than the riches they seek.

The role went to B-western star Tim Holt, on loan from RKO, whose father, Jack Holt, was a star of silent and early sound westerns. He would play a small role as one of the many down-and-outers at the El Oso Negro flop house.

He was not the only father to be at El Oso Negro, but Huston’s father, Walter, who would also play the third of the trio, as the grizzled, wise old prospector Howard. The soul of the picture, Traven had wanted Howard to look over 70, so Huston made his father, 63 at the time, play the role minus his false teeth.

Howard is a fast-talking, hard-bitten, worldly old prospector who knows nothing lasts. Having spent long periods of his life in solitude, he has seen what the promises of riches ‘does to people’s souls’ as he says.

There was also a small role for Huston, his first role in one of his own films, as ‘the man in the white suit’, an American who Dobbs keeps asking for handouts, and obliges with pesos.

In the end, Howard and Curtin survive, and find purpose and direction through self-preservation. There is no gold for anyone at the end of the film, whereas in the book Howard and Curtain are left with two small bags. Howard ends as a medicine man and Curtin goes to find Cody’s widow (Cody being another potential prospector who tries to join them, but is killed in an attack by Gold Hat’s banditos) and son in Dallas in time for the fruit harvest.

Huston had wanted to work with Traven on the film, and arranged to meet him at a hotel in Mexico City before shooting. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he did not show. No one had ever met the man himself, and letters were addressed to him at a post office in Acapulco.

Then one morning Huston woke to find a shadowy figure by his bed. He handed him his card: ‘Hal Croves, Interpreter, Acapulco, San Antonio’, and a letter from Traven saying he was unable to attend but this man knew as much about his work than himself and would represent him in every way.

The idea occurred to Huston that this was in fact Traven. He also considered the possibility that Croves became Traven after Traven died or that Traven was in fact two men. During the shooting Huston decided it wasn’t Traven at all.

The truth, or variations of it, would continue until long after Traven’s death, over 20 years later.

Upon release the film received good reviews and did well at the box office. James Agee would say of the film, ‘The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is one of the best things Hollywood has done since it learned to talk.’

He wasn’t the only one to praise the film, with praise of the highest order coming from none other than Jack Warner himself, who said, ‘This is definitely the greatest motion picture we have ever made…’

It is a universal story that has not dated since its release. Walter deservedly won a Best Actor in a Supporting Role Academy Award for Howard, and Huston walked away with two awards, for Best Director and Best Screenplay.

For Bogie, it was another classic role and performance, perhaps unlucky not to be nominated himself, and albeit in a very different type of character he has played before, but with all the usual traits and mannerisms we come to expect and love from him.

Reports from Mexico City later found evidence that Hal Croves was in fact B. Traven.

*Take 2 is a recurring section of the Bogie Blog where guest writer’s get their chance to wax philosophic about about Hollywood’s greatest actor.  Denny Ledger is a film historian and critic and his new book “A Reasonable Amount of Trouble…” The Films of John Huston and Humphrey Bogart can be purchased here.

Barton MacLane

MacLane

Birth Name: Ernest Barton MacLane

Date of Birth: December 25, 1902

Date of Death: January 1, 1969

Number of Films Barton MacLane Made with Humphrey Bogart: 6

Barton MacLane is a memorable guy. Large, gruff, and generally projecting a face that makes you assume that his stomach has been sour for several hours, MacLane was a staple tough guy in Hollywood films and television for five decades.

While many recognize MacLane from his role as Lieutenant MacBride in the Torchy film series, or his extended run as General Peterson on I Dream of Jeannie, I would guess that most casual Classic Film fans know him from his work alongside of Bogart in The Maltese Falcon, High Sierra, and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

MacLane has been an actor that I’ve long planned on placing into The Usual Suspects. While most of his characters in Bogart films – either crooks or cops – tend to have the same gruff demeanor and bleak outlook on life, MacLane is one of those actors that made a long and successful career out of playing exactly the man you’d expect him to be based on his appearance.

That’s not to say that MacLane didn’t have a few surprises up his sleeve. Yes, he played college football, but did you also know that he could play the violin? Sure he played a cowboy for film and television and lived up to that Western persona as he worked his own cattle ranch in his down time, but did you know that he also attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, wrote and performed on Broadway, and was married to the talented and beautiful actress Charlotte Wynters?

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Regardless of how you might know Barton MacLane, the one thing I know for sure is that he was never miscast in a Bogie film. Gangster or Detective. Prison Guard or Conman. MacLane elevated every film he starred in with his commanding presence and his well-honed acting skills. (Plus, he and Bogart were both Christmas babies!) So today we welcome Barton MacLane into The Usual Suspects!

The Filmography

Bullets or Ballots – 1936

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MacLane plays racketeer Al Kruger, the man who tries to lure Edward G. Robinson into a life of crime after a scandalous dismissal from the police force. Despite the fact that the movie might not be the best, this is perhaps MacLane’s most likable role in a Bogart film. Playing “the thinking man’s gangster,” MacLane is able to elicit sympathy from both the film’s hero (Robinson) and the tough-guy gangster (Bogart) who tries so desperately to convince him that Robinson is a no good double dealer. If he’d only listened to Bogart! Why, Al, why? Definitely my favorite MacLane role on this list.

You can read my original post on the film here.

San Quentin – 1937

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MacLane plays prison guard Lieutenant Druggin who just wants to be the captain of the yard if not for Pat O’Brien’s meddling ways. MacLane’s Druggin wants hard-nosed justice. Prisoners should be put in their places, forcefully, the moment that they step out of line. O’Brien’s dashing prison captain believes in a much more subtle approach – respecting the prisoners as men in their own rights who deserve the benefit of the doubt. It’s a role that calls for the gruffest and sourest that MacLane has to offer, and he’s perfectly cast in the film.

You can read my original post on the film here.

High Sierra – 1941

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MacLane plays Jake, the right hand man to Donald MacBride who plays the ailing ringleader of Bogart’s robbery crew. The part is a bit smaller than the previous two in his Bogie filmography, but MacLane does well as he spends his time giving Bogart the suspicious eye while trying to muscle in on MacBride’s soon-to-be open position.

You can read my original post on the film here.

The Maltese Falcon – 1941

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MacLane plays Lieutenant of Detectives Dundy in a semi-friendly role to Bogart’s private detective, Sam Spade. Most of the film’s sparse comic relief comes from MacLane’s one-step-behind pursuit of Bogart, and both men seem to be enjoying their time on screen together as they appear to be on the verge of smiling at each other’s faux tough guy antics. Probably MacLane’s most well know Classic Film, his perfectly cast supporting role only adds to the iconic status of this movie.

You can read my original post on the film here.

All Through the Night – 1942

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MacLane plays Marty Callahan, one of Bogart’s rival gangsters that ends up coming to help when it’s time to punch some Nazis. MacLane’s best moments in this small role come when he has to deal with Bogart’s frazzled mother as she storms his nightclub looking for the murderer of a local baker. Again, not a huge role, but MacLane’s involvement is just another piece of this great ensemble cast that makes the film great.

You can read my original post on the film here.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre –1948

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MacLane plays McCormick, a less-than-reputable foreman who cheats Bogart and Tim Holt out of some very hard earned wages. It’s a chance for MacLane to be a bit more blowhard, and a bit less tough than how we usually see him in the rest of his Bogart filmography, and it all leads to a great great bar fight between MacLane, Bogart, and Holt that’s brutal, bloody, and incredibly satisfying when it comes to enacting revenge on the man who stole their paychecks!

You can read my original post on the film here.

*The Usual Suspects is an ongoing section of the blog where I highlight some of Bogart’s more regular collaborators. You can read the rest of the write ups here.*

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre – Ashley’s Take!

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*Bogie Film Blog: While I have my “Classic Bogie Moment” for each film, Ashley has her “Humphrey Bogart Eyes Moment.” I like it. I like it a lot. It’s one of those terms that once you hear it, you can never forget it. Now every time I watch a Bogie film, I’m picking out “eye” moments left and right. The man knew how to use the subtlest of facial expressions to hold the camera, and those eyes were powerful. So today, I drop you mid-post again, so make sure you click on over to Ashley’s blog to finish it, then check out her Twitter and Letterboxd profiles! The gal LOVES film, and she’s a great follow!*

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The Humphrey Bogart Eyes moment in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre came when Bogart’s Dobbs first sees the gold he and his team found. After struggling for so long, all Dobbs can think of is that he has asked a passersby for money for the last time. Dobbs is sure that he will never have to struggle again, as long as he can get home with his share. Almost simultaneously, Dobbs also becomes incredibly paranoid that his team is going to outwit him and crush the dreams he has for his fortune. The paranoia and euphoria captured on Dobbs’ face as the gold is weighed is the perfect Humphrey Bogart Eyes moment of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, as only Bogie could capture it.

Head on over to Ashley’s blog to read the rest here!

*Ashley’s Take is part of the Take 2 series here on The Bogie Film Blog where we have guest writers give us there take on a classic Bogie film! You can read the rest of the entries here.*

Ann Sheridan

Ann Sheridan It All Came True Pulbicity Shot

Birth Name: Clara Lou Sheridan

Birthdate: February 21, 1915

Date of Death: January 21, 1967

Number of Films Ann Sheridan made with Humphrey Bogart: 7

The Actress

The daughter of a Texas auto mechanic, Ann Sheridan grew up as a bit of an athlete and Tomboy who would later take a page out of her father’s handbook and develop a passion for restoring cars. On track to become a school teacher until her sister entered her in a “Search for Beauty” contest, Sheridan’s bathing suit picture was enough to win over the judges and earn her a bit part with Paramount Pictures.

Twenty-four films later, Sheridan made her way over to Warner Brothers where she would end up working alongside of Hollywood’s greatest legend, Humphrey Bogart. While Hollywood dubbed her the “Oomph Girl,” Sheridan reportedly hated the nickname, but her pin-up popularity and alluring film roles did nothing to dissuade the general public from picking up on the moniker and keeping it alive.

Full disclosure – I have a heavy, heavy, crush on Ann Sheridan, so any opinion I have on her movies is deeply colored by my adoration. Having made 7 films with Bogart, this post is late in coming to ‘The Usual Suspects’ portion of the blog.

Free tonight? Pop in It All Came True and try – just TRY – not to fall in love with this woman!

The Filmography

Black Legion – 1937Ann Sheridan Black Legion

Sheridan appears as Betty Grogan, the girl-next-door girlfriend to Bogart’s best friend in the film, Dick Foran. She’s sweet enough in the role but doesn’t get a lot to work with as she spends most of her time trying to be the good girl who reforms her beer drinking boyfriend into marriage material. You can find my original write up on the film here.

The Great O’Malley – 1937Ann Sheridan The Great O'Malley

Sheridan plays school teacher Judy Nolan, the woman that tames, teaches, and eventually falls for Pat O’Brien’s stuffy cop. It’s another underdeveloped role for Sheridan, but she’s just so doggone cute and charismatic that it’s clear she did the most she could with the script. It’s fun to watch her strut her stuff to the chagrin of O’Brien as she gets to play the street-smart gal to a man who expects all women to fall into a cookie-cutter housewife stereotype. You can read my original write up on the film here.

San Quentin – 1937San Quentin Sheridan

Sheridan gets a little more to work with here as the lounge singing May, girlfriend to Pat O’Brien’s prison warden. Suffering from a few character inconsistencies, Sheridan begins the film as a sultry nightclub act, only to switch over to the innocent girl-next-door type for the rest of the film. It certainly doesn’t ruin the film, but it might have been more interesting to see her with a bit of a darker character, especially since she’s playing the sister to Bogart’s small-time hood. This was also supposedly the film where Sheridan and Bogart became good friends off screen. You can read my original write up on the film here.

Angels with Dirty Faces – 1938Ann Sheridan Angels With Dirty Faces

Sheridan plays Laury Ferguson, and while she does the best she can here, she is severely underused in this film. There are a few moments of promise at the beginning when she starts a relationship with Cagney, but after that, Sheridan is relegated to occasionally popping up to fret over the men of the film and try not to look out of place even though she has little to do. Still, she does look great, and it’s fun to see her onscreen mixing it up with James Cagney and Pat O’Brien. You can read my original write up on the film here.

It All Came True – 1940 Sheridan It All Came TrueSheridan = perfection here. I know this isn’t a great film by any means, but her portrayal of the dancing and singing Sarah Jane Ryan goes toe-to-toe with Bogart’s dastardly gangster and she steals nearly every scene that she shares with Hollywood’s biggest legend. If any Bogart collaboration captures her spitfire personality, it’s this one. From her first entrance to her final song, she was amazing. You can read my original write up on the film here.

They Drive by Night – 1940They Drive by Night Sheridan

Sheridan plays truck stop waitress Cassie Hartley who falls for George Raft after he’s more than a little persistent. Sheridan does a good job of giving us the impression that she’s a good girl who’s perhaps done some dark things in her past, and she has some really nice scenes with Raft as they share a hotel room for a night before eventually falling in love and making a life together. I can’t get enough of Sheridan, and this is one of her most solid Bogart film appearances. You can read my original write up on the film here.

Thank Your Lucky Stars – 1943Sheridan TYLS

Sheridan plays herself in this star-studded wartime musical, although she doesn’t share any scenes with Bogart. Singing Love isn’t Born It’s Made, Sheridan teaches a group of young ladies who are pining over their singleness how to proactively search for love. Wearing a slinky, silky, white dress, Sheridan’s musical number is definitely one of the highlights of the film, even with the audio turned off! You can read my original write up on the film here.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre – 1948no Sheridan

It’s another Bogie Film Blog cameo that never was! While Sheridan is listed on IMDB with a cameo in the film as a pretty woman walking by a storefront, the woman in question is clearly not Sheridan. A few online sites say that there are test photos of Sheridan in the costume, so perhaps John Huston initially had her in the film and then decided the cameo was too distracting? Again, if anyone has any info on how this rumor got started, let me know. You can read my original write up on the film here.

* ‘The Usual Suspects’ is a regular feature on the blog where we highlight one of Bogart’s regular collaborators. Check out other posts here. *