The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

Released:  1948

Cast:  Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston, Tim Holt, Bruce Bennett

Oscar Wins:  Best Supporting Actor (Walter Huston), Best Director (John Huston), Best Writing, Screenplay (John Huston)

Oscar Nominations:  Best Picture

SUMMARY:  In 1925, Fred Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart) is a down-on-his-luck American living in Tampico, Mexico.  With no money to buy a ticket home, Dobbs is reduced to begging for meals from other Americans.  Along the way, he meets another man in the same situation, Bob Curtin (Tim Holt).  The two manage to find work on the same construction job, for which their boss promises they will be paid after completion.  However, when the job is done, the boss skips out without paying them.  Dobbs and Curtin wander through town for a while, and end up spending the night at a cheap hostel, where they meet Howard (Walter Huston).  Howard is a lifelong gold prospector, who claims to have found and lost several fortunes.  He states that he will still go out prospecting with anyone who will finance him, but warns about the effects that gold has on men.  Dobbs and Curtin are both amused by the old man’s stories, but soon go to sleep.  The next day, they see the construction boss in town, and corner him.  The man tries to give them the slip again, but they jump him in a bar and beat him up.  They take only the money that they are owned, then leave the rest with the man.  After some short consideration, they decide to use their money to go gold prospecting with Howard (it is later revealed that Curtin has dreams of owning his own peach orchard).  After discussing the matter, the three men decide to go into the mountains to mine.  Though Dobbs thinks they will have to essentially piggyback Howard up the mountain, he revises his opinion when Howard outpaces both him and Curtin during the journey.  After a long journey, Dobbs and Curtin are ready to give up and head back when Howard finds gold.  Very quickly, the men discover that they have found a very rich gold vein.  As Howard predicted, the gold starts to have an effect on the men:  the first time they weigh the gold, the men get into a disagreement about whether they should separate the gold into shares immediately, or wait until they return to town.  As the men continue to pull more and more gold out of the mountain, then tension between them grows as well.  In particular, Dobbs becomes very suspicious and paranoid of the other two, and their desire to steal his share of the gold.

When Curtin returns to town for supplies one day, he is followed back to camp by another American, James Cody (Bruce Bennett).  Cody is also a seasoned prospector, and even though the trio tries to convince him that they are hunters, he realizes that they are sitting on a rich gold deposit.  After considering their options, the men, led by Dobbs, decide to kill Cody.  However, before they can do so, Cody points out that a group of bandits are approaching.  All four take cover with their guns; when the bandits arrive, they pretend to be Federales, but the miners are not fooled.  A shootout erupts, and the miners manage to drive off the bandits; only Cody is killed in the fight.  Dobbs, Curtin and Howard resume their journey to Tampico, until they are approached one night by a group of natives looking for help.  Howard agrees to go with them, leaving his share of the gold in the care of Dobbs and Curtin.  When Howard is obligated to remain with the tribe for several days, all three decide that Dobbs and Curtin should continue toward town; Howard will join them later.  It is not long before Dobbs begin to speculate about simply stealing Howard’s share.  Curtin adamantly refuses, which makes the paranoid Dobbs even more suspicious that the other two are ganging up on him.  The two men become too mistrustful to sleep in front of the other; when Curtin finally passes out from exhaustion, Dobbs attacks and eventually shoots him.  He then takes all of the gold and rides off, leaving Curtin for dead.  However, Curtin is not dead, and manages to crawl to the camp of the tribe Howard is with.  Dobbs is nearly back to town with the gold when he is attacked by the remnants of the bandit tribe.  They kill him, then take his belongings to sell in town.  However, they believe that the bags of (unrefined) gold are full of sand as an attempt to make their furs weigh more:  they dump them out on the ground, then leave.  When the bandits arrive in town, they are recognized and arrested.  They are soon executed; just as this takes place, the recovered Curtin and Howard approach the edge of town, in search of Dobbs and their gold.  They are surprised to learn that Dobbs is dead, and even more shocked to learn that their recovered belongings do not contain any gold.  From a child who overheard the bandits, the two men infer that their gold has been left outside of town.  They immediately head out:  at the same time, a windstorm breaks out and blows most of the gold away.  When Curtin and Howard arrive at the location, they find the empty bags and realize what has happened.  After a pause, Howard begins to laugh uproariously:  though he initially looks at Curtin with amazement, Curtin eventually joins in.  When the laughter dies down, Howard announces that he has decided to remain with the native tribe.  He tells Curtin to take his share of the money brought from the remainder of their belongings, and return to the United States with it.  He requests that Curtin find James Cody’s widow, then mentions that it will be time to harvest the peach orchards.

MY TAKE:  Early in his career, Humphrey Bogart was known for playing the bad guy.  Later on, especially after Casablanca, he became more famous as a romantic leading man.  However, this movie is definitely a return to those early years.  Bogie’s Dobbs becomes more and more crazy as the movie goes on, which is seemingly accented by the condition of his hair:  the crazier his mind becomes, the crazier his hairdo gets.  It’s fascinating to watch, in a slightly morbid way.  Everything happens exactly as Howard predicts early on:  things start out rosy, but as soon as the men find gold, things start going downhill.  Howard seems to take it all in stride, but Dobbs and Curtin become more and more sure that the other is up to something.  This is most obvious in the scene where the three men are in the tent at night and Howard gets up to go to the bathroom or something.  When he notices that Howard is gone, Dobbs gets up to re-hid his gold; when Howard returns to the tent without Dobbs, Curtin gets suspicious, and heads out to find him.  Just after he leaves, Dobbs returns to the tent – only to find that Curtin is out, supposedly looking for him.  Dobbs is all set to get up again when Curtin returns to much suspicion.  On one hand, their suspicion is understandable, but mostly it’s ridiculous.  Things get better after the bandit attack, but Dobbs keeps getting crazier.  The annoying thing is that after all this struggle, the idiot bandits pour the gold out on the ground, and it all blows away.  It’s enough to make anyone cry, so it’s both shocking and commendable that Curtin and Howard take it so well.  Maybe the concept of being wealthy never really sunk in for them:  whatever the reason, they reacted way better than I would have.

Fun facts:  In the bandit attack scene, the bandits are pretending to be Federales when one of them gives a now-famous line when asked to show his badge:  “Badges?  We ain’t got no badges.  We don’t need no badges!  I don’t have to show you any stinkin’ badges!”  This quote is ranked #36 on AFI’s 100 Years . . . 100 Movie Quotes list.

Walter Huston, who plays Howard, is the father of the film’s director, John Huston.  He is also the grandfather of Anjelica Huston.

Director John Huston, Tim Holt’s (Curtin) father Jack Holt (a former silent film star) and a very young Robert Blake (In Cold Blood, TV’s Baretta) make appearances in the movie:  Holt plays one of the other down-on-his-luck men, Huston plays the man Dobbs approaches for money, and Blake is the young boy who sells Dobbs a lottery ticket.

Though Howard speaks fluent Spanish in the movie, Walter Huston did not really speak it at all.  Instead, the crew hired a Mexican actor to record the lines; Huston then listened to them and recited them back verbatim.  He was so good at this that many people on the set thought he really did speak Spanish.

This was one of the first movies shot on location outside of the United States.  Although some of the last scenes were shot on the Warner Bros. lot because of budget constraints, most of the movie was shot in and around the real Tampico, Mexico:  locals were hired as extras.

RATING:  Very interesting.



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