Hearts at Work
—A Column by Jim Tipton
“The years thunder by, the dreams of our youth grow dim….”
I have talked with many people in Western Mexico in recent months who have told me that much, and in a few cases most, of their (usually) modest wealth, in only a few hair-raising months, has vanished.
Most of us remember The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)--directed by that same John Huston who directed The Night of the Iguana (1964), filmed just south of Puerto Vallarta. The story: in the 1920s Mexico, three miners—Dobbs (played by Humphrey Bogart), Howard, the Old Timer…and the toughest (played by Walter Huston), and Curtin (played by Tim Holt) team up to seek their treasure in the Sierra Madre.
After months of hard labor, their future lives are secured, but through a series of unfortunate events that follow a bandit attack, they lose their treasure. When they return to the scene they discover only a few empty bags. The gold dust has blown away in the high winds. Howard’s (Walter Huston’s) response is to just sit down and have a good laugh.
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre—a remarkable film about paranoia and greed—was one of the first Hollywood films to be shot largely on a location outside of the US (the state of Durango, and street scenes in Tampico). At the Oscars, Walter Huston took Best Supporting Actor and his father John Huston got Best Director and Best Screenplay. Stanley Kubrick listed it as one of his top ten favorite films.
Kubrick’s first classic was a fine crime-noir film and also about paranoia and greed: The Killing (1956). In this film the gains are ill-gotten. Johnny Clay (played by Sterling Hayden) and his associates successfully heist $2,000,000 from the counting room of a racetrack. But things begin to go wrong…the $2,000,000 secret is whispered to the wrong woman. Still, when Johnny stuffs the cash into a used suitcase and races off to catch a plane we think he has it made. The suitcase being carried across the tarmac on a baggage cart falls off, breaks open, and as in The Treasurer of the Sierra Madre, a high wind sweeps up and carries off the money.
Stanley Kubrick, incidentally, cast Sterling Hayden as the deranged and renegade U.S.A.F. general, Jack D. Ripper, in Dr. Strangelove (1964), and John Huston cast Hayden as Dix, the Irish-American hooligan in another heist movie, Asphalt Jungle (1950).
Hayden, himself, was a fascinating story…to be told another time. His agent said Hayden “should have been a sea captain in the 1800s.” In his autobiography, Wanderer, Hayden writes: “To be truly challenging, a voyage, like a life, must rest on a firm foundation of financial unrest. Otherwise you are doomed to a routine traverse, the kind known to yachtsmen who play with their boats at sea…cruising, it is called.
“‘I’ve always wanted to sail to the south seas but I can’t afford it.’ What these men can’t afford is not to go. They are enmeshed in the cancerous discipline of security. What does a man need—really need? A few pounds of food each day, heat and shelter, six feet to lie down in—and some form of working activity that will yield a sense of accomplishment.
“That’s all—in the material sense—and we know it. But we are brainwashed by our economic system until we end up in a tomb beneath a pyramid of time payments, mortgages, preposterous gadgetry, playthings that divert our attention for the sheer idiocy of the charade. The years thunder by, the dreams of our youth grow dim where they lie caked in dust on shelves of patience. Before we know it, the tomb is sealed. Where, then, lies the answer? In choice. Which shall it be: bankruptcy of purse or bankruptcy of life?”