RE : Re: RE : RARA-AVIS: B.Traven _Treasure of the Sierra Madre

From: Richard Moore (
Date: 17 Jul 2007

Thank you for the clarification as my response to your original statement was based on the sweeping dismissal of Traven's work. I don't disagree with your assessment of THE DEATH SHIP. It features some scenes of great power but as a novel, it is a mess. It was the first work published by Traven and it may share many of the faults of a first novel.

The novel is important to understanding Traven as it is a cry of rage by a stateless person trapped in a limbo of hell. Traven, after an career as an actor and then revolutionary editor/publisher had been an official of the brief Bavarian republic after World War I. Following its overthrow, he was captured and sentenced to death. He managed to escape but had no papers and so could not travel and enter countries legally. He was turned away from Canada and Britain. There is a wonderful mug shot of him taken in London in 1923. It was about this time he began to claim American citizenship. Afterall, had he been deported to Germany, he would quite possibly be executed.

Interesting to the Traven researcher but THE DEATH SHIP is very flawed when viewed as a novel. Also, I would guess you are probably right that the early translations are of poor quality.

As for the John Houston movie "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" it is quite faithful to the novel--at least as faithful as his adaptation of Hammett's THE MALTESE FALCON. The characters are there as are most of the scenes and the dramatic arc of the story.

Traven, in his common disquise as the author's agent Hal Croves, served as a technical advisor on the film. As I recall from Houston's memoir, he had his doubts that Croves was Traven.

One odd story that IIRC came from the Houston memoir, is that on location every actor and significant crew member underwent an initiation which ended up the the person stripped and his balls painted some color or another. All fought but eventually submitted to the inevitable. Croves fought so violently that eventually, they had to back off and let him go. The sense from the memoir is that he wasn't being a good sport about it. From my reading of Traven, he always valued and maintained his dignity and would never understand or submit to this sort of locker room stunt.

I'll be interested in what you think of the novel.

Richard Moore

--- In, "E. Borgers" <webeurop@...> wrote:
> My previous mail was ambiguous, I admit it.
> In fact I was speaking only of the novel Death Ship.
> I have tried to read another novel by Traven (long long ago),
but I do not recall which one.
> Anyway, to answer Richard and Sonny : no, I never red THE
TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE, as my experience with "Death Ship" was not very good (maybe the translation I had was lousy, which is very possible as it was something translated before 1940 and most probably hacked as well - I discovered the translations/versions problems only a few years ago). In fact I stayed also away from the TREASURE after this experience, afraid of discovering a bad novel compared to the film masterpiece by John Huston- film I saw many many times since end of the fifties. I admire this film and IMO the first 20 minutes of it is a lesson in cinema making, wherein everything contributes to an astounding result: cinematography, editing (montage), dialogue, timing, rhythm, lighting, actors.
> But after what Richard told us about the real quality of the
novel TREASURE… I will try to find an English translation of it, or a recent one in French (if this exists).
> E.Borgers

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