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The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)

Actor Walter Huston had always told his son, John, that if he ever became a writer, he should create a good part for him. 75 years ago, John Huston did just that, though it wasn’t the part he’d originally intended. When he first encountered B. Traven’s novel, loosely inspired by “The Pardoner’s Tale” from Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, he had hoped to cast his father in the leading role. But that was in 1936, when John was just a screenwriter. By the time he’d established himself as a writer-director, World War II was underway. While Huston was off making films for the military, Warner Bros. producer Henry Blanke held the project for him. By war’s end, Walter was too old for the lead, so after much persuasion, he agreed to play the grizzled old prospector, Howard, with Humphrey Bogart cast in the lead.

Bogart is Fred C. Dobbs, an American drifter in Mexico with dreams of making it big. A lottery win and advice from Huston sends them, along with partner Tim Holt, into the Mexican wilderness in search of a legendary mountain of gold in the Sierra Madres. Once they find it, however, greed and suspicion divide the party as Bogart’s character begins to break down.

Bogart campaigned vigorously to play Dobbs, though he hadn’t reckoned on the harsh conditions of filming the picture almost entirely on location. That was a boon for Huston, however, with the remote shoot protecting him from too much studio interference, even as costs mounted, and the film went over schedule. It was worth it artistically, as all involved delivered some of the best work of their careers. The costs kept the film from turning a profit, however. At Oscar time, many were shocked that Bogart was not nominated for a performance still widely considered to be his best. Both Hustons won—Walter for Best Supporting Actor and John for both directing and writing—the first of only two times a father and son have won Oscars in the same year.

d. John Huston, 126 minutes, DCP

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Classics