The Treasure of the Sierra Pravda

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) John Huston. DVR.
Kino-Pravda (1924-25) Dziga Vertov.  MOMA.

The writer Fran Lebowitz, in Public Speaking (2010, Martin Scorsese), explains the crux of American consciousness as respectful of money and distrusting of brains.  Smart people are ogled with suspicion as the rich are gawked at with envy. A bio-bibliographer might want to know if Fran Lebowitz was a fan of the writer B. Traven, who wrote The Treasure of Sierra Madre, which novel portrays the harrowing American drama of mind versus gold in lawless post-revolutionary Mexico. John Huston adapts the ideas with Humphrey Bogart as the main character, Fred C. Dobbs, a tramp in the Roaring Twenties when the rest of America is flush.

Dobbs lives on the bum in Mexico but still runs across rich Yankees, whom he begs for change. When he comes across an old man, Howard, talking about gold in the mountains, Dobbs is hooked by the prospect, but is paranoid and threatened by the challenge required to find it, which experience Howard is long a veteran.  The search and the dig take brains, and Howard knows how to own the gold without the gold owning him.
Dobbs fits the archetype of the all-American creep.  He is a beggar, a paranoiac, a simp, a reject, and knows no self-reliance.  Dobbs mistakes luck as if it is something he earned.  He funds the golddigging expedition with money won from a lottery ticket he was violently opposed to purchasing, but a young Robert Blake finally convinces him otherwise.  Curtin is reluctant to accept Dobbs' staking him for the dig, and Dobbs indulges a feeling of palsy-walsy generosity.  But soon Dobbs is whining and shouting about the other guys trying to screw him out of his own fair shake.  

The kid bugs Dobbs with a lottery ticket.
The old man, Howard, is practical, seasoned, shrewd, humorous and tough. Howard wants gold but can laugh when the plan amounts to naught and nine months worth of hard work is blown away with the desert wind. Otherwise, gold wins, and you destroy yourself from the inside out. Curtin stands between Bogey and Old Man Huston.  He is smart but not without greed.  When the group votes on killing Cody, Curtin votes to kill, and it is a classic American vote.  But Curtin suffers guilt and is given a second chance. 

The events in Sierra Madre take place at the time Russian filmmaker Dziga Vertov was crafting his Kino-Pravda nos. 18-22 (1924-25).  These avant-collage shorts screened as propaganda for Leninist Russia, where the Worker is sublimated as the backbone of the revolution and the Peasant will soon learn to operate machines of the future.

Dziga Vertov's workers and peasants are depicted as if Fred C. Dobbs could number among them.

Yet Dobbs is an unskilled laborer, and when he gets hired to man the derrick to "rig a camp" in the jungle, he is too fazed by the illusion of quick money to realize that he is getting conned by the gringo work-boss, who absconds with the workers' pay.  Like Russia, Mexico is also in the throes of post-revolution, but the people are not lining up at the Palace to view the body of Emiliano Zapata.

Like the Cahulawassee River in Deliverance (1972, John Boorman), the Sierra Madre doesn't let you take from it without taking something from you.  The mountain conspires to pull Howard away from the gold's curse, saving him, as it likewise sends Curtin to his reckoning, survived, scarred, but hopeful.  Dobbs has little use for his brains, which only sabotage him, so the mountain takes Dobbs' mind from him, and the Mexican bandits make off with his head.

Rebellion of the Hanged, by B. Traven.
The mountain takes note of Howard's respect of It, and saves Howard from suffering as Dobbs is not saved.  Howard is consecrated a god by the people of the mountain, after saving a sick child using frontier first-aid.  It is a miracle for the Indians.  Howard is smart enough to know that when he is ultimately tricked by Nature - a sick deranged paterfamilias - and the exhibition of the absolute folly of human action is brash and ineluctable, all you can do is sanely cackle like a drunk ranch-hand.

Howard does a jig and reminds the boys how dumb they are.

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