Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The (1948)
Release Date: January 24th, 1948 MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: John Huston Actors: Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston, Tim Holt, Bruce Bennett, Barton Mac Lane
n Feb 14th, 1925, Fred Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart) scurries about Tampico, Mexico, nearly penniless until he receives a handout from a generous fellow American (a cameo by director John Huston). Treating himself to a meal and a shave, he eventually locates work rigging a derrick, along with another poor American named Curtin (Tim Holt). But overseer Pat McCormick (Barton Mac Lane) swindles the entire crew and runs off with the money. It’s a momentary delay of payment for Dobbs and Curtin, who catch up with Pat in a bar and forcibly retrieve their wages. Instead of wasting time in the city until the next inevitable job search, they decide to partner with an elderly gold prospector, the fast-talking Howard (Walter Huston), who can show them how to strike it rich in the Mexican mountains.
They set out into the blistering wilderness where Dobbs and Curtin quickly become exhausted, realizing just how unprepared they were for the expedition. Howard, on the other hand, is surprisingly fit for an old coot, keeping up the pace right alongside his enthusiasm. In time, they do find gold, and set up a camp and a mine. But as the payload increases, so does the distrust and thoughts of betrayal. The area grows more dangerous as Federales patrol for bandits that terrorize the countryside, and a fourth American, Texan James Cody (Bruce Bennett), starts asking too many questions when Curtin makes a stop into a nearby village for supplies.
“The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” essentially personifies greed, grandly demonstrating the slow but certain detrimental effects and tolls it takes on humanity. Although all three lead roles are touched by the influence of monetary cravings, Dobbs exhibits the most heightened negative characteristics. At first he’s merely unpleasant, transforming into a bitter, mean-spirited man. Shortly thereafter, he becomes suspicious as his skepticism gets the better of him. And finally, his paranoia turns murderous as his grip on reality starts to slip. Bogart shines in an incomparable portrayal of a good guy turned bad, demonstrating the ease in which he could be both charismatic and detestable; a stalwart hero and a wicked villain rolled together and lurking just below the surface of his modest visage.
Disparate sympathy, bad luck, and diminishing loyalties (and even a perceptive understanding of the immense powers of temptation) prove that things aren’t what they seem – especially as inner demons begin to expose themselves through overactive consciences. In the end, aside from a dark lesson in moral corruption, the film serves as a monumental achievement in storytelling and balanced entertainment. At turns adventurous, suspenseful, comedic, dramatic, terrifying, and emotionally compelling, “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” is a masterpiece of every filmic element coming together perfectly. It features spectacular acting with all three leads displaying naturalness, believability, exquisite nuances, and a vast array of emotions (Howard’s victory dance is particularly iconic); carefully scripted dialogue that is hilariously mischievous; and even a majestic score to go with the tragic yet ironic happenings of misguided entrepreneurs in their risky quest for fortune.
– Mike Massie