Panning for gold

I watched the old classic Treasure of the Sierra Madre last night. I'd heard a great deal about it, but didn't get around to buying it until very recently.

It's very much a morality tale about the dangers of greed and excessive money. It starts with Humphrey Bogart, broke in Tampico, Mexico, begging for money from Americans. It progresses with him getting a short-term job and then getting swindled by the guy who hired him. He does meet another broke American, Curtin, while working, and they become companions for a bit.

While laying out in a flophouse, they hear an old prospector talk about looking for gold, and how no amount is ever enough. He caps it off by saying something like, "Never heard of a gold digger that died rich". Curtin and Dobbs (Bogart) talk about how it wouldn't change them, but move on.

A couple of days later, they run into the guy that swindled them, and he offers them a drink, saying that he still can't pay them as he hasn't been paid. A fight breaks out, where Dobbs and Curtin manage to knock out the swindler. We see that they're basically honest men, as they only take from him what is owed, even though the man had more.

But then they find the old prospector, pool their money, and agree to outfit themselves and go searching in the mountains.

As could be predicted, based on the initial conversation with the prospector, things head south pretty seriously as soon as they find gold. Paranoia sets in with the younger men (particularly with Dobbs), and they start fighting each other (verbally, mostly).

Eventually, after being found by others, they decide that they've made enough money, and can head home. On the way, some Indians come to them, asking for help with a little boy who drowned (they think). The old prospector agrees to help, and catches up the next day after saving the boy. The Indians return soon after, saying they must thank the prospector, and insisting that he return with them. He reluctantly agrees, leaving the other two with all of the money (he will join them later). After he goes, things really break down between Curtin and Dobbs, as Dobbs' paranoia reaches new heights.

He eventually shoots Curtin, and keeps going. Soon, almost back to civilization, he is caught by a couple of bandits that he's seen before. After some back and forth, they end up killing him. Not recognizing the gold as such (it was basically dust, and easy to mistake for sand, as was pointed out earlier in the movie), they dump it on the ground. When they get to town, the burros are recognized, leading to the bandits being recognized and killed by authorities.

Meanwhile, Curtin was not killed, and managed to find his way to the indians. He was mostly healed by the old man (who had become the medicine man for the tribe), and they set out (with Indians) to find Dobbs. Obviously, they didn't make it in time, but showed up in town just after the bandits were killed. They were given the rest of their stuff, but went back to find the gold. A huge wind storm came up as they got close, though, and blew the gold away. They realized that soon, and made their plans for the future.

It was a very well-acted movie, with outstanding performances by all three of the principals. Walter Huston (father of the director, John Huston) won a well-deserved Best Supporting Actor award for his performance.

One thing I found very interesting is that there were a number of conflicts, and despite having weapons at hand for most of them, they didn't always devolve into gun fights. As a contrast with many modern movies, there was one point where they were going to shoot the Indians, but realized that the rest of the tribe would quickly kill them if they did.

Another point that was interesting was the appearance of the gold. It put me in mind of reading Collapse, by Jared Diamond, which opens by talking about the environmental damage done in Montana by gold mines. I guess there were several differences: the scale of the minds, and final processing. Perhaps the steps that turned the dust in the movie into blocks of pure gold were what did all that environmental damage. In fact, thinking about it, there was actually a nod to environmentalism w/r/t the mine in the movie. That can't have been a popular viewpoint back then.

Anyway, the movie was an interesting view on how money can work on people. It gives an idea of the sort of thing that frequently happens with, for instance, winners of big lottery prizes. But what really got me thinking was when, in the movie, they started speculating on what they'd do with the money, that maybe gives a bit of insight. That is, they were seeing themselves as being changed, as evidenced by their plans (and, not coincidentally, I think, Dobbs was changed the most), and I wonder if that, in and of itself, is actually the biggest danger. Plus, of course, once you have something to lose, you become afraid of losing it.

I don't really know that there's a recipe for not losing yourself, although I wonder if not planning on any major changes would be a bigger first step than ever occurred to me before.

I will have to give this a bit more thought...

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