When I was a kid I would sometimes set the tape recorder next to the TV and record favorite bits from movies — a Marx Brothers routine, the song from High Noon. I got a lot of stuff from The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, a movie that would regularly come up thanks to Channel 13′s weekend-afternoon “Humphrey Bogart Theater.” Along with the picture’s adult worldview and hard-bitten characters, its dialogue is musical in its tough cadences. (True of a lot of John Huston movies.) Each of the players is fine in a different way: Bogart’s skillful changes (“When are we gonna start dividing up the goods?”), Walter Huston’s actorly completeness mixed with his ineffable life force, Tim Holt’s stubborn ordinariness, Alfonso Bedoya’s almost prehistoric line-readings. And the first time I saw that cloud of dust huff silently from the mouth of the gold mine, something lit up about movies in general: Authenticity and magic could be the same thing.
The ten best movies of 1948:
1. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (John Huston)
2. Red River (Howard Hawks)
3. Letter from an Unknown Woman (Max Ophuls)
4. The Fallen Idol (Carol Reed)
5. The Lady from Shanghai (Orson Welles)
6. The Red Shoes (Michael Powell/Emeric Pressburger)
7. Bicycle Thieves (Vittorio de Sica)
8. They Live by Night (Nicholas Ray)
9. Fort Apache (John Ford)
10. A Foreign Affair (Billy Wilder)
Incredible to me that Red River wouldn’t be a #1, but that’s the luck of the chronological draw, folks. A Foreign Affair might’ve been displaced by a second Welles film, Macbeth, which is much better in its full-length version; but the Wilder movie is just so damned peculiar. Lady from Shanghai and They Live by Night will stand for a great year in film noir (among the misses: Raw Deal and Force of Evil), Fallen Idol and Red Shoes indicate the blossoming of British film after the war (David Lean had Oliver Twist this year, too), and Bicycle Thieves represents the Italians. An unusual moment in time, it must have been: think about the endings of most of those movies, including Treasure, and how many of them finish on a note of loss, surrender, defeat.
Next week: 1975.