Friday, February 15, 2013

Penny Thoughts ’13—The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) ****

NR, 126 min.
Director: John Huston
Writers: John Huston, B. Traven (novel)
Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Tim Holt, Walter Huston, Bruce Bennett, Barton MacLane, Alfonso Bedoya, A. Soto Rangel, Manuel Donde, Jose Torvay, Margarito Luna

“Badges?! We don’t need no stinkin’ badges!”

…but, we do need to remember this movie, and that is not the line. How strange that a movie could be so good that it inspires a false line that everyone on the planet knows. Is Bugs Bunny to blame? Most likely.

Who’s to blame in this movie though? I suppose it isn’t really about blame. Certainly, Humphrey Bogart’s Dobbs doesn’t handle the prospect of wealth as well as his two partners, but the damage was done to Dobbs long before he journeyed out into the wilds of Mexico to find gold. The blame, I suppose, isn’t irrelevant today. The harsh economic times of the day are responsible. Everyone responds along his or her own personal degree of desperation. Dobbs is an extreme, but not one that we can’t imagine ourselves devolving to.

“The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” depicts three desperate workers, going off to find their riches in Mexican gold. One is young and impressionable, one is an old veteran, and then there’s Dobbs. We’d all like to think we’d be the kid who retains his morals and learns there are more important things in this world than wealth. We all fear we are more like Dobbs. Dobbs isn’t a bad guy. The Mexicans without the badges are. The con man who bilked them on a week’s pay for grueling work in the sun is. The sad economic state of the U.S. that sends them to Mexico in the first place is. But, once Dobbs realizes he really could turn his fortunes around, his paranoia gets the better of him. His dependency on the only thing he’s dedicated himself to obtaining gets the better of him. He can’t be satisfied with being comfortable, because he’s never been allowed to be.

In some ways, Dobbs reminds me of the argument for gun ownership in this country. So many people have sold themselves on the idea they need such open access to guns, they don’t know what to even do with the idea that they really don’t need such access. Perhaps, I’m stretching it with this comparison. It’s certainly more of a reach than relating the movie to our country’s current financial situation. The notion that anything is too bog to fail is certainly similar to Dobbs’ dilemma. His stake is more important than anything. It’s worth protecting at any cost. He’s willing to pay any price to keep it and in the end he loses it anyway, to the very people he’d fought off with the help of the men who helped him obtain his wealth. What does that say about too big to fail? Perhaps the rest of us should just seek out that orchard to farm. We don’t have to own it. Or we could use our specialized understanding of something we care about as a tool for a greater good. Of course, thanks to money, it isn’t usually that easy, is it?

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