“Treasure of the Sierra Madre”

As the current economic uncertainty continues, many people are scared, frozen, and full of fear. Sometimes the best thing you can do is go to the movies. Old black and white movies are my favorite. Nothing like a great story to put things in perspective.

Some movies change your life. Every generation, a movie comes along that makes us reexamine our values, beliefs and goals. It’s been said, “Adversity doesn’t make the man, it reveals him to himself.” The same can be said for money. If you were a scoundrel and a horse-thief before you hit a rich vein of gold, you will be a bigger scoundrel and horse-thief after you are rich.

In light of the recent results of the WaMu verdict where the guilty went free for lack of evidence, I decided to watch the 1948 Black & White John Huston classic film, “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” starring Humphrey Bogart. He plays Fred C. Dobbs, an American vagabond, an ignoble vagrant stuck in Mexico. He hooks up with another American, Bob Curtin and strikes up a friendship out of mutual hardship.

Quite by accident, the two drifters meet Howard, a kind of mentor. He is a grizzled, experienced, philosophical old prospector who agrees to help the two Americans parlay their money into the tools and time to find gold in central Mexico. They overhear a conversation Howard is having with another man:

Howard: “Say, answer me this one, will you? Why is gold worth some twenty bucks an ounce?”

Flophouse Bum: “I don’t know. Because it’s scarce.”

Howard: “A thousand men, say, go searchin’ for gold. After six months, one of them’s lucky: one out of a thousand. His find represents not only his own labor, but that of nine hundred and ninety-nine others to boot. That’s six thousand months, five hundred years, scramblin’ over a mountain, goin’ hungry and thirsty. An ounce of gold, mister, is worth what it is because of the human labor that went into the findin’ and the gettin’ of it.”

Flophouse Bum: “I never thought of it just like that.”

Howard: “Well, there’s no other explanation, mister. Gold itself ain’t good for nothing except making jewelry with and gold teeth. Aah, gold’s a devilish sort of thing, anyway. You start out, you tell yourself you’ll be satisfied with $25,000 handsome smackers worth of it. So help me, Lord, and cross my heart. Fine resolution. After months of sweatin’ yourself dizzy, and growin’ short on provisions, and findin’ nothin’, you finally come down to $15,000, then ten. Finally, you say, “Lord, let me just find $5,000 worth and I’ll never ask for anythin’ more the rest of my life.”

Flophouse Bum: “$5,000 is a lot of money.”

Howard: “Yeah, here in this joint it seems like a lot. But I tell you, if you was to make a real strike, you couldn’t be dragged away. Not even the threat of miserable death would keep you from trying to add $10,000 more. Ten, you’d want to get twenty-five; twenty-five you’d want to get fifty; fifty, a hundred. Like roulette. One more turn, you know. Always one more.” Howard warns the two, “Ah, as long as there’s no find, the noble brotherhood will last but when the piles of gold begin to grow… that’s when the trouble starts. Water’s precious. Sometimes may be more precious than gold.”

The big takeaway for me from this terrific film is “Regardless of your current financial circumstances, always remember what is truly important in your life. Money is just an idea, floating around. It’s a promise. A deal isn’t done and you don’t have the promise of cash until the check clears the bank. In your search for gold, remember not to lose the things money can’t buy.”

As Bob Curtin says at the end of the film, “You know, the worst ain’t so bad when it finally happens. Not half as bad as you figure it’ll be before it’s happened.”

The economy will eventually turn, it always does. 6,000 years of recorded history proves that fact. Remember what’s important in your life. Character counts. Enjoy the journey, the best is yet to come.

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