Humphrey Bogart, Tim Holt, Walter Huston
Directed by John Huston
Fred C. Dobbs and Bob Curtin (Humphrey Bogart, Tim Holt), two down-at-the-heels American drifters in 1925 Mexico, are swindled out of a day's pay by a dishonest oil entrepreneur who'd hired them to help set up camp for them. Overhearing their commiseration, an old prospector named Howard (Walter Huston) offers a ray of hope: there is gold in the mountains, he says, he knows where and how to get it, and would be happy to pool his resources with the two younger, stronger men to find it. Heedless of the old man's warnings about the seductive dangers of the precious stuff, the two drifters find their corrupt employer, extract their pay from him by force, and use the money to outfit for a trip into the mountains. Tortured by thirst, waylaid by bandits, and disappointed by fruitless leads, Dobbs and Curtin are on the verge of giving up when Howard makes an amazing find: a source of gold that could make them rich beyond their wildest dreams. But with their futures seemingly assured, the three men soon experience the truth of the prospector's prophecy: stuck together on the mountain guarding their claim against a steady parade of invaders, brought together by necessity, none of them trusts the other two with the fortune, and as Dobbs' natural suspiciousness and avarice blossom into an all-encompassing paranoia, tragedy seems certain.
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, the fourth of seven films director John Huston would make with Humphrey Bogart, has become one of the definitive cinematic portrayals of the toxic effects of greed and the Apostle Paul's warning that the love of money is the root of all evil. Bogart's Fred C. Dobbs is possibly the meanest character the famous tough guy ever played, and the psychology behind the main characters' three-way relationship forms the backbone of the film. Howard's sunny fatalism, which doesn't seem to change much as the movie progresses, stands out in ever-starker contrast to Dobbs' paranoia; Curtin, the youngest and naïvest of the three, is placed in the unenviable position of having to evaluate both of the other two as business partners and human beings, as the stakes grow higher and the bonds holding the trio together are strained.
The Huston-Bogart collaboration produced several legendary films, including The Maltese Falcon and The African Queen, but for my money The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is the best one of all, a hard-bitten adventure film that also manages to be both a compelling psychological study and a moral fable at the same time.
Points to ponder:
- While the "badges" line is by far the most famous line of dialogue from the film (note that Gold Hat (Alfonso Bedoya) actually says the grammatically correct "We don't have to show you any stinking badges!" rather than the always-misquoted "We don't need no stinking badges!"), you may also recognize Fred C. Dobbs' repeated entreaties to "stake a fellow American to a meal" as the inspiration for the Bogart doppelganger in the Loony Tunes animated short 8-Ball Bunny (1950), who implores Bugs to "help out a fellow American who's down on his luck." Warner Bros. included the cartoon as an extra on the recent DVD release; if you're nice to me, maybe I'll show it on Monday night.
- Look for: the director, John Huston, as the man in white whom Dobbs pesters at the beginning of the film, and future accused wife-murderer Robert Blake as a Mexican street urchin.
- John and Walter Huston are the only father-and-son team to win Academy Awards for the same movie: son John for Director and father Walter for Supporting Actor.