Geoffrey Long
Tip of the Quill: Archives
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

Sierra MadreOne of my great long-running personal projects is to watch all 100 films on the AFI Top 100 list, a scheme greatly aided by my Netflix account. Today, while continuing the listmaking that I'd started in earnest yesterday, I watched The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, a 1948 John Huston film starring Humphrey Bogart. Bogart plays Fred C. Dobbs, an American down on his luck in Mexico who heads for the hills with his friend Bob Curton (Tim Holt) and the archetypal "crazy old prospector" Howard (Walter Huston) to seek their fortunes in gold. The film is often mentioned in the same breath with the Indiana Jones films, which makes sense – it's easy to see where Harrison Ford could have been studying Bogart for how to play the unshaven, rugged treasure seeker type. It doesn't have quite the same sense of sweeping cinematography, nor does it have quite the same sense of humor, but swap out bandits for Nazis and pans of gold for the Ark of the Covenant and yeah, sure – you can definitely sense the lineage there.

The Trasure of the Sierra Madre is one of those films that clues a modern viewer into where some of our contemporary cliches and references may have originated – the aforementioned "crazy prospector" is in full effect, complete with shuffling dance steps when he finds the treasure. Also present are the rotund, gap-toothed bandit whose wide sombrero brim takes a bullet (a classic Yosemite Sam gag), the shot where the main character is washing his face in the river when a villain's reflection appears beside his own, the character unhinged by greed who wavers between honor and treachery, and even the arrival of the calvary – in this case, the federales – to save the day. Oh, and this is pretty clearly where the line "Badges? We don't need no steenking badges!" came from, although to clear up any misconceptions, the line is actually, "Badges? We ain't got no badges. We don't need no badges! I don't need to show you any steenking badges!"

Heh. That's why I like this project – exploring the genealogy of cinematic cliches.

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