Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Douglas Gomery. Introduction. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. The University of Wisconsin Press. 1979.

Treasure and Falcon: Their Common Theme

The “Mystery” of Traven

  I was in my hotel room in Mexico City and I awoke early in the morning. I’m one of those people who never locks his door wherever he is. Standing at the foot of my bed was the shadowy figure of a man. He took a card out and gave it to me. I put on the light, it was still dark, and it said, Hal Croves, Inspector, Acapulco and San Antonio. I said, How do you do, Mr. Croves. Then he said, I have a letter for you from Mr. B. Traven, and he gave me the letter, which I read. It said that he himself was unable to appear but this man knew as much about his work as he himself did and knew as much about the circumstances and the country and he would repesent Traven in every way. We had conversations, Croves and I, for the few days I was in Mexico City. I gave him the script, he read it, liked what he read and said he was sure Traven would like it very much. (4)

Adapting the Novel to a Screenplay

Hollywood-Style Elements

One summer when I was a kid I worked as a picker in a peach harvest in the San Joaquin Valley. It sure was something. Hundreds of people – old and young – whole families working together. After the day’s work we used to build big bonfires and sit around ‘em and sing to guitar Music, till morning sometimes. You’d go to sleep, wake up and sing, and go to sleep again. Everybody had a wonderful time... (scene 47)

He can stay for ten years at the same place digging and digging, convinced that he is on the right spot... He is sure that some day he will make the big hit... I really feel sorry for that guy... But you can’t cure these fellers, and I suppose if somebody could cure them they wouldn’t like it. They prefer to stay this way. It’s their whole excuse for being alive. (8)

Know why? Because they’ve never been shown any. If our People in the States had lived in Poverty under all sorts of Tyrannies for hundreds of years they’d have bred a race of bandits too, every bit as cruel and bloodthirsty. Come right down to it we are bandits of a kind. What Right have we got to go looting their mountain anyway? About as much Right as the foreign companies that take their Oil without paying for it... and their Silver and their Copper. (scene 96)

I think you’re wise not to put things on a strictly Money basis, partner. Curtin might take it into his head he was a capitalist instead of a guy with a shovel and just sit back and take things easy and let you and me do all the work. He’d stand to realise a tidy sum on his Investment without so much as turning his hand over. If anybody’s to get more, I reckon it ought to be the one who does the most Work. (scene 47)

Elements Atypical of Hollywood

Howard (Walter Huston)

Houston the Director

  Bogart, the would-be tough guy, cocks one foot up on a rock and tries to look at the corpse as casually as if it were fresh-killed game. Tim Holt, the essentially decent young man, comes past behind him and, innocent and unaware of it, clasps his hands as he looks down, in the respectful manner of a boy who used to go to church. Walter Huston, the experienced old man, steps quietly behind both, leans to the dead man as professionally as a doctor to a patient and gently rifles him for papers. (12)

Other Roles

  My thanks to Rudy Behlmer for answering questions about Production of the film and to Lee Sterrenberg for talking with me about Traven’s work.

1.       See, for example, David Thomson’s A Biographical Dictionary of Film (New York: William Morrow, 1976), p. 497.
2.       Steven Marcus, Introduction to The Continental Op by Dashiell Hammett (New York: Random House, 1974), p. xxv.
3.       Gerald Pratley, The Cinema of John Huston (South Brunswick and New York: A.S. Barnes, 1977), p. 59. For further discussion of Traven and the film, see Stuart Kaminsky’s John Huston, Maker of Magic (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1978).
4.       Pratley, The Cinema of John Huston, p. 59.
5.       Life, February 12, 1948, p. 36.
6.       Pratley, The Cinema of John Huston, p. 61.
7.       Pratley, The Cinema of John Huston, p. 60.
8.       B. Traven, The Treasure of Sierra Madre (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1935), p. 214.
9.       See James Agee, Agee on Film, vol. 1 (New York: McDowell Obolensky, 1958), p. 399.
10.   Agee, Agee on Film, p. 293.
11.   Agee, Agee on Film, p. 293.
12.   Agee, Agee on Film, p. 329.
13.   Bosley Crowther, review in New York Times, January 24, 1948, p. 11.

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