When people who aren’t used to watching old movies ask me for recommendations, I turn to a pair of classics from the 40s that deal in the kind of cynicism that still seems modern today.
“The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” is an exceptional movie written and directed by John Huston. Humphrey Bogart plays an American named Fred C. Dobbs who’s down on his luck and scraping by in Mexico. He decides to throw in with another Yank, played by Tim Holt, and go prospecting for gold with an old coot played by Walter Huston. This leads the uneasy trio on a series of adventures that test their mettle, their trust in one other, and their overriding greed. John Huston won Oscars for writing and directing this hard-boiled and constantly surprising film, shot on location South of the border, and his father Walter won an Oscar for his unforgettable performance in a role tailor-made for him by his son.
“Double Indemnity” is widely admired as the quintessential film noir. Billy Wilder and the great Raymond Chandler adapted James M. Cain’s novel about a patsy—perfectly played by Fred MacMurray—who tries to sell insurance to a femme fatale—Barbara Stanwyck—and winds up embroiled in a plot to murder her husband instead. The location filming in Los Angeles heightens the drama, and the dialogue crackles every time these two characters face off onscreen. Edward G. Robinson costars as MacMurray’s vigilant boss in a film that sizzles with sexual tension, from a time when filmmakers couldn’t say or show very much without bucking the censors. That didn’t stop Billy Wilder, as you’ll see.
These films may be decades old but they still tantalize and entertain. If you’ve never seen them you owe yourself that treat.
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