Long before the Coen brothers garnered Oscars for their own pseudo-western masterpiece, screenwriter/director John Huston crafted the definitive tale of greed giving birth to violence amidst the barren landscapes of the southwest. That No Country for Old Men took place in Texas, and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is famous for it’s brilliant evocation of Mexico, makes little difference.
Each movie posits the wide-open austerity of all that sand, all that sun, and all those cacti as a sort of stand-in for Dante’s multi-tiered hell.
Huston’s trio of unlikely prospectors, seduced by the lure of gold, descend a dusty path into madness and violence. Humphrey Bogart gives what many consider the performance of a lifetime as the paranoid, pitiful, and vicious gold prospector Fred C. Dobbs and Walter Huston won a best supporting Oscar for his portrayal of Howard, a mad, grizzled prospector who attempts to warn the men, and the audience, that gold can be a thief of men’s souls. By the time the film was released, John Huston had classics behind him (The Maltese Falcon) and ahead of him (The African Queen, The Misfits), but The Treasure of the Sierra Madre’s singularity of purpose, it’s relentless portrayal of the depths to which men will sink for the sake of wealth, earns the film an outstanding place in his body of work.
The film unspools this Saturday at the Virginia Theatre (203 W. Park). Show times are 1 p.m. and 7 p.m.