Just when I wonder if Humphrey Bogart could be any better or cooler than his turn as ‘Rick’ in Casablanca, I give this DVD a spin and find a role which almost takes that hallowed top spot. I’ll say right out that I like the character of ‘Dobbs’ in a way that most people probably love ‘Darth Vader’ or ‘Dr. Jekyll/Mr Hyde’. Now, like those other two, ‘Dobbs’ isn’t all bad and he’s not even a villain but certain events continue to unfold before him and he choses to allow himself to slip so far from the proud man he once was. ‘Dobbs’ is nowhere as slick as the legendary ‘Rick Blaine’ but to me, he’s equally as intriguing and likable even if he is decidedly more delusional and paranoid as he becomes more vile and desperate.
As much as you want to root for the down on their luck duo and their new partner (the prospecting wise old-timer), this movie is a bit of a bumpy ride that may not go the way you want it to. Madre is a great example of how easily men can be swayed and the very best of intentions can be cast aside when one thinks he’s fighting for survival or something he values more than his own life. Sad really, but when it’s not completely depressing, and almost hopeless, it does make for some really great cinema.
I’m a fan of music scores and something about the composition of ‘Madre’ just won me over. Most movies are known for letting the music of the film enhance the mood and emotions. This film’s score did something very clever although it may come across amateur or even cliché. At the beginning of the film it’s the story of two strike it rich hopefuls and the music was introduced as a way to get you behind the characters, almost tailor-made ‘theme music’. As the story progresses, that sort of good-natured ‘theme music’ got less and less good-natured. At points where the characters were in trouble or facing danger or even victim of their own unraveling senses due to their greed, the music started to deteriorate almost in sequence with the events. It almost rivaled Bogart’s wild-eyed lust for his “goods” to the point the theme sounded like it was being played with out of tune instruments. I just found that a great way to get in tune (no pun intended) with the story and was impressed how well it all seemed to work. Plus I just love the sound of a film/studio orchestra that exists in older films like this one.
Not growing up in the 50’s I never got into westerns the way my dad and his generation did. So to me seeing a typical Cowboys and Indians “circling the wagons” scene never looked convincing or exciting to me. That said the two shoot out scenes in this were actually well done for a film that old and I got the slightest glimpse of what my dad might have found fun and fascinating while watching as a child. While I don’t know much about John Huston, this film is always a reminder to start checking out his other work but I still have yet to do so. This movie won him the Oscar for “Best Writing/Screenplay” and “Best Director”. I have heard that The Man Who Would Be King and The Red Badge of Courage are just exceptional and have been meaning to check them out. Maybe next year…
Sometimes, even as I call myself a self-proclaimed “cinema fan”, I don’t know how something make the rounds in cinema, or how long ago certain catch phrases/popular quotes were coined. Case in point. For years I have always heard people say “Badges? We don’t need no stinking badges” I always thought that was from Blazing Saddles. It was but, it turns out that it was in this little piece of Cinema history a full 30 years before this was in Mel Brooks’ famous Western spoof. Don’t believe me, then click this link and find out for yourself. A little film trivia can go a long way I guess.
One thing I always find as a little bonus when watching movies from long ago is how many times actors you may remember from other studios’ films that seem to pop us here and there. While Madre was no actor extravaganza, I greatly enjoy the performance of Huston’s own father Walter Huston as ‘Dr. Edward G. Armstrong’ from And Then There Were None. I always wanted to see him have a bigger role in that film (but it’s tough with so many characters) but to me, he just stole the show in Madre and was very deserving of the Supporting Actor Oscar he nabbed for this role.
Walter Huston’s first couple of lines in the beginning of the film describing (foreshadowing really) man’s greed when gold mining, are among my absolute favorite monologues of all time. Others being the Orson Wells’ “Ferris Wheel speech” in The Third Man and Sylvester Stallone’s “going the distance with Creed” speech in Rocky. Even so, I’m sure everyone had their eyes on Bogart in this film but as great as he is, in every viewing I find something more to love about Huston. Be it a look, the way a line is spoken or a small gesture, to me, the real “Treasure” of the Sierra Madre is ‘Howard’, the Prospector. Sorry Bogie, “We’ll always have Paris“.
Now, many people will claim, “oh I didn’t like the ending“. It is pretty bitter-sweet but you have to think of the movie as a whole and not just the ending. The entire movie was a slippery slope and for a movie with this kind of plot you have to realize pretty early on that it’s not going to end with a “rags to riches” finale. This movie was about man’s inner greed, his downfall due to corruption and how heavily it all can weigh. But like many movies in this era there is some sort of light at the end of the tunnel. To all you Madre fans, I hope I hit some of the points you like but if anyone reading this has never seen this absolute classic, I’d suggest checking it out. Further, for all you Bogie lovers, this fine film is no Casablanca but it is better than The Maltese Falcon. Take that for what it’s worth.
G-S-T Ruling – 5/5
G-S-T Seal of Approval: GRANTED