The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and To Have and Have Not
Tonight was movie night at the Stanford Theatre for the first time in a long time. We went with Subrata and Susan, and they got to show off (to me, at least, as they gave me a lift) their new Toyota Prius. They'd been waiting for one for a while, and finally decided to forego waiting for a blue one and bought a red one instead. (Frankly, I think Prius blue is kind of ugly, so I think they made a good call there.)
After a trip to the Palo Alto Creamery, we went to the theatre. First up was The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), a film that I've wanted to see for a long time for the somewhat irrational reason that it was peripherally featured in a Batman comic book I enjoyed as a kid.
In the film, Fred C. Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart) and Bob Curtin (Tim Holt) are destitute Americans living in Mexico in 1925 who meet on a park bench. After getting scammed by a construction employer, the pair decide to become fold prospectors, and hook up with the experienced prospector Howard (Walter Huston). Dobbs and Curtin are far from prepared for the hard work of roughing it in the Mexican wasteland, but they eventually manage to strike paydirt in the mountains - although they're not prepared for how much work it is to extract the gold, either.
Dobbs gradually becomes greedier and more paranoid and wants to mine as much gold as they can handle, even while worrying that his partners are trying to scam him. The country becomes much less friendlier when they realize that others might find their camp and want a piece of the action, not to mention the looming threat of being attacked by bandits.
Directed by John Huston, Treasure features great performances by Holt, Huston and (especially) Bogart, but ultimately this felt like a rather "mechanical" movie: Lots about the nuts and bolts of prospecting in this era, and an intense look at what greed and money can do to a man (Dobbs, in this case), but without a whole lot of shading to his downfall. Overall it's an intense and fairly brutal film, but not one of Bogart's best unless all you're really looking for is a great acting job.
This film, by the way, is the source of the famous line "We don't need to stinking badges!", although that's not the exact quote.
The back end of the double feature was To Have and Have Not (1944), directed by Howard Hawks and based on Ernest Hemingway's novel.
Captain Harry Morgan (Humphrey Bogart) is an American who runs a fishing boat for hire on the French island of Martinique in the Caribbean, and helps take care of his alcoholic friend Eddie (Walter Breenan). This is in 1940, and France has recently fallen to the Nazis. Harry lately has been taking the wealthy Johnson (Walter Sande) out to fish, and they are about to settle up accounts.
At this time, two things happen: A beautiful young woman, 'Slim' Browning (Lauren Bacall) moves into the hotel room across the room from Harry, and the hotel owner Frenchy (Marcel Dalio) asks Harry if his friends in the French Resistance can hire his boat to bring a pair of passengers to the island. Harry and Slim fall in love, and Harry wrestles with his conscience regarding Frenchy's request, which he initially rejects outright. Meanwhile, the island is becoming more of a pressure-cooker for the freedom fighters, as the Gestapo are cracking down ever-harder.
This film feels almost like the anti-Casablanca, with Bogart playing a more heroic figure and without the unattainable romance that the earlier film presents. Balancing his pragmatic sense of survival against doing the right thing - especially when his own nation is not yet in the war - presents a real dilemma for Harry, particular since he counts Frenchy among his friends.
Harry's budding romance with Slim is a triumph because of the razor-sharp dialogue between the two, from her early dislike of him (and he's not too wild about her, either, as she's a skilled pickpocket) to their sincere feelings for each other and - briefly - her jealousy when he helps another attractive woman. The clear expression of the principals' emotions is what I enjoyed in a later Bogart film, The African Queen, and the clever and funny dialogue is just another layer to enjoy. I think Bacall overplays her role a bit as a femme fatale early on, but she settles in to a more sincere performance as the story progresses.
Bogart is almost as good here as he was in Treasure, but he's completely different; heck, I don't think I've seen him smile so much in any of his films! He overcomes the slight backstory for his character (What's he doing on Martinique? How does he know Eddie and why does Eddie drink so much?) and turns in one of his more entertaining performances.
I enjoyed this movie enough that I bought Hemingway's novel To Have and Have Not to see how it differs. My guess is that the film is only a slice of the larger novel, and it looks like I might be right.
No, it's not quite as good as Casablanca - not least because it fades out at the end with a feeling that the whole story hasn't been told - but it's still a must-see for Bogart fans.