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  • Writer's pictureThomas Duncan

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)

Updated: Dec 8, 2023


Cast:

  • John Huston, Director/Writer

  • Humphrey Bogart as Fred C. Dobbs

  • Walter Huston as Howard

  • Tim Holt as Bob Curtin

  • Bruce Bennett as James Cody

  • Barton MacLane as Pat McCormick

  • Alfonso Bedoya as Gold Hat

  • Arturo Soto Rangel as El Presidente

  • Manuel Dondé as El Jefe

  • José Torvay as Pablo

  • Margarito Luna as Pancho

*Recognition:

  • The Treasure of the Sierra Madre was wide released on January 24, 1948, and just celebrated its 75th anniversary earlier this year.

  • The film is an adaptation of B. Traven's 1927 novel of the same name, set in 1925.

  • The Treasure of the Sierra Madre would go on to make roughly $4.1 million due to multiple releases and despite its very modest initial opening on an estimated budget of $2.5 million but there is disagreement on whether it was a top grossing film of 1948.

  • The Treasure of The Sierra Madre received four Oscar nominations, and won three awards: Best Supporting Actor for Walter Huston, and Best Director and Best Writing, Screenplay for John Huston, his only Oscars. It failed to win Best Picture which went to Laurence Olivier's Hamlet.

  • There has been controversy since the 1949 ceremony because of the academy's choice not to nominate Bogart for the Academy Award for Best Actor, a choice that modern critics and Academy members have since condemned. Bogart's performance has been named the best of his career. British actor Daniel Day-Lewis said that his second Oscar-winning performance as vicious oil baron Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood was heavily inspired by Bogart's portrayal of Fred C. Dobbs.

  • In 1990, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress. The film was among the first 100 films to be selected.

  • Critic Leonard Maltin listed The Treasure of the Sierra Madre as one of the "100 Must-See Films of the 20th Century."

  • The Directors Guild of America called it the 57th best-directed movie of all time.

  • Director Stanley Kubrick listed The Treasure of the Sierra Madre as his 4th favorite film of all time in a 1963 edition of Cinema magazine.

  • Director Sam Raimi ranked it as his favorite film of all time in an interview with Rotten Tomatoes and director Paul Thomas Anderson watched it at night before bed while writing There Will Be Blood.

  • Director Spike Lee listed it as one of the "87 Films Every Aspiring Director Should See."

  • Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan has also cited the film as one of his personal favorites and has said that Dobbs was a key influence in creating the character of Walter White. A key scene from the film was emulated in "Buyout", the sixth episode of the series' fifth season.

  • The American Film Institute recognized the film on the following lists:

    • AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies – No. 30

    • AFI's 100 Years... 100 Thrills – No. 67

    • AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movie Quotes:

      • "Badges? We ain't got no badges! We don't need no badges! I don't have to show you any stinking badges!" – No. 36

    • AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) – No. 38

  • The Treasure of the Sierra Madre currently holds a 100% rating among critics on RT, a 98 score on Metacritic, and a 4.2 out of 5 on Letterboxd.

What is this movie is about?/Elevator Pitch: Greed corrupts, and what a miserable life one leads if they cannot trust anyone.


Plot Summary:

In "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre," director John Huston takes us on a journey into the heart of greed and paranoia. Set in Mexico during the 1920s, the film follows three down-on-their-luck Americans as they embark on a quest for gold in the Sierra Madre mountains.


Humphrey Bogart delivers a career-defining performance as Fred C. Dobbs, a drifter who becomes consumed by the allure of wealth, along with fellow prospectors Curtin (Tim Holt) and Howard (Walter Huston, the director's father). In the end, Dobbs faces not only the physical challenges of the harsh terrain, but also the psychological challenges of trusting one another.


As the trio uncovers a promising vein of gold, tensions rise, and paranoia sets in, leading to a gripping finale that challenges our perceptions of loyalty and morality.


Did You Know:

  • Though the daily rushes impressed Jack L. Warner, he nearly went berserk with the weekly expenditures. After viewing one scene, Warner threw up his hands and shouted to producer Henry Blanke, "Yeah, they're looking for gold all right - mine!" During another screening of rushes, Warner watched Dobbs stumble along in the desert for water. Warner jumped up in the middle of the scene and shouted to a gaggle of executives, "If that s.o.b. doesn't find water soon I'll go broke!" Warner had reason to be upset. John Huston and Blanke led him to believe that the film would be an easy picture to make and that they would be in and out of Mexico in a matter of weeks. Because Warner was notorious for not actually reading scripts, he assumed the film was a B-movie Western. As the full extent of Huston's plans became apparent, Warner nearly blew a gasket. He was especially unhappy with the way the film ended, arguing that audiences wouldn't accept it. Ironically, Warner was correct, since the initial box office take was as impressive as fool's gold. But the film was a huge critical success and, in its many re-releases, it more than earned its original investment of $3 million.

  • In his Oscar acceptance speech, Walter Huston said, "Many, many years ago, I brought up a boy and I said to him, 'Son, if you ever become a writer, try to write a good part for your old man sometime'. Well, by cracky, that's what he did!"

  • John Huston stated that working with his father on this picture and his dad's subsequent Oscar win were among the favorite moments of his life.

  • Initially thrilled at Walter Huston's scene-stealing performance, as the shoot wore on producer Henry Blanke started to have second thoughts about Huston upstaging the film's star, Humphrey Bogart, and so John Huston started to get notes from the studio telling him to tone down his father's performance.

  • Humphrey Bogart was quite fond of working with director John Huston and enjoyed his experience working on this film. However, Bogart found Huston to be quite the perfectionist, which led to some grueling and exhausting days on location. Bogart sarcastically recalled that "John wanted everything perfect. If he saw a nearby mountain that could serve for photographic purposes, that mountain was not good; too easy to reach. If we could get to a location site without fording a couple of streams and walking through snake-infested areas in the scorching sun, then it wasn't quite right."

  • On seeing the depth of Walter Huston's performance, Humphrey Bogart famously said. "One Huston is bad enough, but two are murder."

  • Humphrey Bogart's portrayal of 'Dobbs' in this film was cited by Steven Spielberg as the main inspiration for the character of Indiana Jones.

  • John Huston played a prank on Humphrey Bogart. In the scene where he has to reach under a rock for hidden gold and is told that an extremely venomous Gila monster had crawled there, Huston put a mousetrap where he had to reach. Bogart, acting appropriately as if a Gila monster actually was under the rock, jumped several feet backwards when the mousetrap snapped on his finger.

Best Performance: Humphrey Bogart (Dobbs)

Best Secondary Performance: John Huston (Director/Writer)

Most Charismatic Award: Walter Huston (Howard)

Best Scene:

  • Buy a Fellow American a Meal?

  • First Night in the Flophouse

  • Fool's Gold

  • Discovering the Gold

  • Late Night Paranoia

  • We don't need no stinking badges...

  • Did Cody deserve a share?

  • Dobbs attacks Curtin

  • Dobbs' Demise

  • A Fond Farewell

Favorite Scene: Late Night Paranoia/We don't need no stinking badges...

Most Indelible Moment: Dobbs attacks Curtin/A Fond Farewell


In Memorium:

  • Norman Reynolds, 89, British production designer (Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Empire of the Sun), Oscar winner (1978, 1982).

  • Bill Butler, 101, American cinematographer (Jaws, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Grease, Child's Play, Stripes, and The Conversation), two-time Emmy winner in 1977 and 1984.

  • Ingvar Hirdwall, 88, Swedish actor (Beck, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Children's Island)

  • Michael Lerner, 81, American actor (Barton Fink, Eight Men Out, Elf, Harlem Nights), 1992 Oscar Nominee.

Best Lines/Funniest Lines:

Gold Hat: Badges? We ain't got no badges. We don't need no badges. I don't have to show you any stinking badges.


Howard: 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.


Howard: I know what gold does to men's souls.


Curtin: 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.


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.


Dobbs: Conscience. What a thing. If you believe you got a conscience it'll pester you to death. But if you don't believe you got one, what could it do t'ya? Makes me sick, all this talking and fussing about nonsense.


Howard: Water's precious. Sometimes may be more precious than gold.


Howard: We've wounded this mountain. It's our duty to close her wounds. It's the least we can do to show our gratitude for all the wealth she's given us. If you guys don't want to help me, I'll do it alone.

Curtin: You talk about that mountain like it was a real woman.

Dobbs: She's been a lot better to me than any woman I ever knew. Keep your shirt on, old-timer. Sure, I'll help ya.


Cody: You know, you've got to hand it to the Mexicans when if comes to swift justice. Once the Federales get their mitts on a criminal, they know just what to do with him. They hand him a shovel, tell him where to dig, when he's dug deep enough, they tell him to put the shovel down, smoke a cigarette, and say his prayers. In another five minutes, he's being covered over with the dirt he dug out.


The Stanley Rubric:

Legacy: 7.25

Impact/Significance: 6.25

Novelty: 8.75

Classic-ness: 9.13

Rewatchability: 8

Audience Score: 8.85 (84% Google, 93% RT)

Total: 48.23


Remaining Questions:

  • If you were presented the choice Cody forces the prospectors into, what would you have chosen?

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