January 12, 1948 [The Treasure of the Sierra Madre]

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is a full-out Huston Movie: John directing and writing, Walter capering on the screen--venturing with Bogart and Tim Holt into a rock-and-scrub Heart of Darkness.

And while Bogart reaches back to his Petrified Forest days to play something more than the convenient heavy, but an Idea--here, of paranoid greed and sweat-stained narcissism--no, more than an Idea: a physical Thing: sweaty and tired, and dangerous as a diamondback rattler--and Walter Huston fills the frame with a strange and compelling performance of cool under fire and mad glee at the awfulness of things--it’s Tim Holt for me, his quiet, his eyes that remain calm even though he cannot believe what he’s seeing: a life more complicated than cowboying around and the girl he left behind. He’s tossed into this sand storm without ceremony, a witness to cruel--and in the end somehow hilarious--ironies he never deserved. It seems Huston has a sharp eye for this kind of thing: the experience of the deepest tragedy not stage-bound but strewn across an uncaring landscape. For his Sisyphus trio he finds in Mexico a literal mountain to climb--and to stand in for Fate, blind as Justice and twice as tough.

My youngest son could not bear the ending, all but ran out of the theater, as though the air had turned foul. He was seeing, I think for the first time, the arbitrariness of things--but is too young to know how one faces it--yes, as baffled as any of us; but at least grownups get to pretend they’re strong enough, or can distract themselves with things measured by clocks and calendars. I joined him outside and let him wipe away a stray tear for himself.


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