How to describe this movie. It’s an adventure film. It’s a drama. It’s a Western (or neo-Western). It is also a classic film and, as it happens, one of the first Hollywood movies to be shot on location outside the US (in Mexico).
The story in a nutshell revolves around two unemployed Americans down on their luck (I can’t write that without thinking about Bugs Bunny) who run into a third guy—a grizzled prospector named Howard, who convinces the other two men to search for gold with him.
Now, even though one of the two men is Fred C. Dobbs, Mr. Bottom Line (played by the formidable Humphrey Bogart) and the other is the slightly-less-greedy Bob Curtin (played by Tim Holt), it is the third man (no, not Orson Welles! 🙂 ) who makes this film appropriate for the O Canada! Blogathon.
While Humphrey Bogart may get to deliver a most disturbing and powerful performance as a man blinded by the lure of gold to the point of reaching extreme paranoia about his partners, it is Walter Huston who serves in the audience’s stead as a (mostly) rational observer and giver of advice.
Born in Toronto, Ontario, on April 5, 1883, his birth name was Walter Thomas Houghston. Good call on the spelling change, dude. Huston began as a stage actor and established a Broadway career, but switched to movie roles after talkies came into vogue. His acting was critically acclaimed, but it wouldn’t be until later that he’d land the role he’d be most remembered for.
As it happens, Walter Huston has roles in two of my favorite films: Howard, in this one, and (the uncredited) Captain Jacoby in The Maltese Falcon. Both films directed by his son, John, no less.
I could write a review filled with references to the onset and growth of Fred C. Dobbs’ madness (“Nobody puts one over on Fred C. Dobbs.”), the encounter with the Mexican bandits (“We don’t need no stinking badges!”), and the tension and suspense Dobbs’ paranoia creates among the three men.
But to focus on the Man from Canada, Walter Huston absolutely shines in his role as 1) the inciting force that sets off the adventure; 2) the wise mentor (let’s just say he knows his gold from his fool’s gold); 3) keen observer of human nature (it is Howard who predicts disaster even before they’ve hit the road, let alone when Dobbs starts going off the rails); and 4) comic relief.
Because this makes me laugh every time.
Apparently, the Motion Picture Academy agreed with me. Huston received the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for this role, as well as a Golden Globe.
As a side note, John Huston won Best Director for the movie, making them the first father and son to win at the same ceremony.
Have I mentioned that Huston was also a singer? Well … he was. 🙂
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