A Real Treasure

The Treasure of the Sierra MadreTonight was movie night. The window was open and Joey popped in so we cranked up the bed and watched Humphrey Bogart in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. It was very good. I didn’t lay a hand on Joey. I’m pure and innocent.

The discussion that followed the movie, which obviated the need for animalistic rutting under the Bart Simpson sheets, centered around the differences between the movie and the original novel. How well did the adaptation work? Bottom line, the movie followed the book almost perfectly. But there were a few differences.

First, and this is often a valuable change the movies make, there was a great deal of simplification of complexities found in the book. Simply stated: if the partners were discussing alternate plans, for instance, the movie simplified the discussion by presenting two or three plans while the book went on and on with variations. Simplification is often good. But there were some instances when the simplification altered the narrative.

An obvious difference is the treatment of the character called Lacaud (Cody in the movie). Since Lacaud was an interloper, the partners considered killing him to avoid further problems. Fortuitously in the movie, Lacaud is killed when the bandits attack. Furthermore, investigation of his belongings adds a letter from him wife which is non-existent in the book. In the book, when the partners break down the mine and head for home, Lacaud is left on the mountain to continue his own quest for gold. This also means that Curtin is not sentimentally concerned about Lacaud’s child and widow since they are referenced only in the movie.

Another change was to eliminate the various stories and myths interspersed throughout the text. These stories tended to have one of two purposes: to provide further background information on Mexico, prospecting, etc. and often to suggest the future dangers that the partners might encounter. The most obvious was a story Howard told to emphasize that the gold was not really theirs unless they got it back home to be deposited in their name in a bank. Finding the gold was hard but keeping it might be even harder.

By leaving out some of these suggests of future problems, the movie compensated by suggesting that Dobbs was having the paranoia of gold warp his mind rather early on. In the book, Dobbs really doesn’t snap until end. I also thought that the movie softened the personal horror Dobbs was facing by showing Curtin’s rescue unnecessarily early. Dobbs was in a panic and imagining one problem after another: should he bury the body or leave it to the desert animals; should he worry about buzzards or will a lion find the body first; and after a long lists of fears, did a lion drag the body off or was Curtin not really dead?

badgesWhen Dobbs stops to cool off just outside of town he is set upon by three of the same bandits that we had seen earlier. In the book, these are just random men living in squalor and although they might have been bandits it is never clear. Certainly they are not identified. In my mind, the bandits catching up with Dobbs is far less frightening than his being killed by random strangers … beheaded for his boots and pants.

In conclusion, most all of the changes made in the movie are understandable and the film moves forward with less complexity and confusion. Some of the changes, however, did alter the impact of the film. My appraisal stands: a great movie and a better book … both should be enjoyed.

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