Scripter Herb Robins infuses this legiter with a few rambling philosophical elements from the 1936 novel by reclusive writer B. Traven (1890-1969), but mainly follows the lean plotline developed by John Houston for his 1948 Academy Award-winning screenplay adaptation of “The Treasure of Sierra Madre.” In an overly solicitous nod to the novelist, helmer Joseph Culliton makes a heavy-handed attempt to underscore every salient line of Traven’s classic treatise on the dehumanizing nature of greed. His clunky efforts are further undermined by a woefully uneven ensemble and substandard production values that reduce this staging to the level of community theater fare.
The plot involves a trio of ragged souls striving to stay alive in Depression-era Tampico, Mexico. Encouraged by tales of untapped gold in the nearby Sierra Madre Mountains, two American day laborers — bitter Fred C. Dobbs (Ed Baccari) and the more youthfully optimistic Curtin (Colin Forman) — pool their meager earnings for a gold-prospecting expedition with Howard (Morton Lewis), a grizzled but philosophical old prospector who is certain they all will become rich. When after months of toil they do garner a small fortune in gold dust, the play evolves into an observant study of the corruption of the human soul.
Utilizing a disconcertingly designed, deeply raked stage and simple set pieces to house all the environments, Culliton makes sure the audience understands the storyline is dealing with the timeless themes of greed and moral corruption in the pursuit of wealth. All the lines are delivered with self-conscious clarity, but there is limited sense that the ensemble members are truly inhabiting their characters.
Baccari certainly manages to be fiercely intense as Dobbs grows increasingly paranoid and violent. Baccari gets his lines out, but projects little essence that a real human being is living within Dobbs’ self-annihilating soul.
Lewis offers a compelling contrast as Howard, a weathered miner who’s seen how gold can turn men into monsters. It is Howard who is the conveyor of much of Traven’s philosophical musings about mankind’s oneness with nature and the need to observe nature’s laws over any greed-driven human agenda. Lewis gives a nicely wrought portrayal of this quirky character but needs to spend a lot more time with his lines. Quite often the character disappears within Lewis’ efforts to deliver his parts of the script.
On the plus side, Forman is actually endearing as callow prospector Curtin, who serves as a social mediator between Dobbs and Howard. Forman adeptly handles Curtin’s evolution from a wide-eyed youth to a hard-eyed realist who comes to realize how life can degrade good men and turn them evil.
The most rewarding aspect of this production is the performance of Dave Silva as jovial but ferocious Mexican bandit Gold Hat. He delivers one of filmdom’s most famous lines (“I don’t have to show you any stinking badges”) with the conversational veracity of a wily hunter attempting to outwit his prey.
“The Treasure of Sierra Madre” could quite possibly have a life as a legiter but needs a serious production rethink before it has legs to move beyond this adaptation.