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The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

Bogart in a Tale of Greed, Betrayal and Cosmic Irony

About.com Rating 4.5 Star Rating

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The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

The Treasue of the Sierra Madre

DVD Cover - Warner Bros.
A powerful portrait of betrayal, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is both a gripping adventure movie and a timeless study of the acid corrosion of greed in the human heart.

It's another classic collaboration between director John Huston and Humphrey Bogart, and the only movie in which a director oversaw an Oscar-winning performance by his own father - Walter Huston.

The Plot

Fred C. Dobbs (Bogart) is a penniless drifter in a remote Mexican village, begging for pesos. He meets up with another down-on-his-luck American, Curtin (B-list actor Tim Holt), and an unscrupulous foreman cheats both out of their pay for contract work at a sweltering oil refinery.

In a cockroach-infested flophouse, "Dobbsie" and Curtin meet a spellbinding old prospector (Huston) spinning tales of gold mines and fortunes won and lost. When they stumble across the foreman and beat their wages out of him in an ugly fistfight, they decide to pool their money, hook up with the old man, and venture into the Sierra Madre Mountains to seek their fortune.

Led by the spry prospector, they outfit themselves with burros and prospecting tools, and head out into the remote, unforgiving landscape. They make a gold strike, endure back-breaking work and fight off bandits. As their fortunes rise, greed and suspicion cause Dobbs - the weakest among them - to disintegrate into a paranoid madman, vicious and violent.

The fate of the three men and the gold is resolved in an unforgettable scene of irony.

The Cast of 'The Treasure of the Sierra Madre'

Bogart puts in a courageous performance as the thoroughly unlikable Dobbs, petty, self-pitying and utterly without higher aspirations. When Curtin dreams of buying a fruit orchard with his fortune, Dobbs dreams of buying new clothes and sending back perfectly good dishes to the kitchen at a fancy restaurant simply to annoy the waiter. A coward who can neither trust nor find it within himself to be trustworthy, he's only dimly self-aware, but his descent into madness is tinged with self-loathing.

Holt has his moments, but is somewhat one-dimensional as Curtin, who is tempted by greed but allows his better nature to triumph. And Alfonso Bedoya as the infamous bandit "Gold Hat" is nicely low and mean.

Walter Huston deserved his Oscar as the shrewd and eccentric prospector, Howard. Experience has taught him that the quest for gold ends as often in madness and defeat as it does in riches, and he warns a disbelieving Dobbs of his fate when they first meet. Yet Howard is more than ready to make another try himself. It's his vitality that guides the expedition, and his rich humor that crowns the final irony.

The Backstory

"We don't need no stinkin' badges," is the line Mel Brooks used in his western send-up Blazing Saddles to pay homage to The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Actually, "Gold Hat" doesn't use those precise words in the movie, but it's close enough - and just one of the great lines in the movie.

Director John Huston appears early on in a cameo as an American gent Dobbs hits up for a handout not once, but three times. He finally tells Bogie to "make your way through life without my assistance," which may be a sly reference to their lucrative collaboration in real life.

The Director

John Huston started out as a writer in Hollywood, and his mastery of the craft is on display in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Artful foreshadowing, tremendous suspense and spare story-telling mark the film as his, along with rip-roaring adventure and a deep appreciation for the power of the natural world.

He was the only director ever to direct both his father to an Oscar (in this film) and his daughter, Anjelica, for Prizzi's Honor, placing them in the rarefied company of three-generation Oscar-winning families.

'The Treasure of the Sierra Madre' - the Bottom Line

With apologies to Gordon Gekko, this is the best movie ever made about the power of greed to destroy men's souls. Bogart wasn't nominated for the best actor Oscar, but he deserved to be. It's a riveting performance of a flawed man who is tested, tried, and found wanting.

Recommended for You

If you like The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, you may like other Humphrey Bogart films or movies by John Huston, including Chinatown and Moby Dick.

'The Treasure of the Sierra Madre' at a Glance:

Year: 1948, Black and White
Director: John Huston
Running Time: 126 minutes
Studio: Warner Brothers

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