Based on the novel by B. Traven, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is a classic tale of adventure that follows three men digging for gold in the wilds of Mexico. The film opens with Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart) and Curtin (Tim Holt) broke in Tampico and falling victim to labor scams. When they hear an old man telling stories of prospecting, their dreams fill with piles of gold. They find the old man, Howard (Walter Huston), the three men set off into the wilderness in search of gold. They find it, lots of gold, but the more they find the less they can trust each other. It isn’t long before paranoia and suspicions start to tear the men apart jeopardizing both lives and fortunes.
This film is one of the great achievements by the legend, John Huston. In his entire career, he was nominated for Best Director five times. TOTSM was his first nomination and only win. He also picked up his only screenplay win and his father, Walter Huston won Supporting Actor in his portrayal of the wise old prospector. Considering that TTOTSM is currently ranked as # 38 on AFI’s best film’s list, this film has cleaned up pretty well.
It’s very deserving of all those recognitions. From the beginning, we become invested in the story and as the stakes get higher with the piles of gold, we start biting our nails. I loved this movie so much that by the climax I was yelling at Bogart and nearly had a fit when…well, I might’ve said some bad things about Gold Hat.
Bogart plays wonderfully shaggy, greasy, greedy, hotheaded and suspicious Dobbs. When Curtin stumbles upon Dobbs’s hiding place for his gold, Dobbs nearly risks his life to check his stash. One of my all time favorite Bogart moments comes when Dobbs is alone in the woods at night. We watch his greed slowly turn to madness and the way he talks to himself is just mesmerizing in such a creepy way.
Of course, Dobbs would’ve snapped a lot sooner if it hadn’t been for Howard. He’s the brains of the operation, knows where to find the gold, how to dig for it and becomes the neutral third party that can keep the peace. He tells Curtin and Dobbs, “Without me, you two would die here, more miserable than rats.”
The most important thing Howard tells Dobbs and Curtin are the dangers of prospecting. Not anything like lack of water or mines caving in, but greed. Howard makes it sound like an addiction or gambling. “Like roulette. One more turn, you know. Always one more.” But of course, the young men don’t understand and can only dream of their piles of gold growing bigger and bigger.
This film is a real treat. There’s plenty of action and gun slinging. The story has a good heart without preaching. At times, when the banditos are running around, it has a great cowboys-and-Indians feel that some westerns just can’t grasp right. I recommend this for everyone, it doesn’t feel outdated at all, I promise.
Oh, and let’s not forget: “Badges? We ain’t got no badges. We don’t need no badges. I don’t have to show you any stinking badges.”