Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The (1948)

Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The (1948)

“The way I see it, gold can be as much of a blessing as a curse.”

Two penniless drifters (Humphrey Bogart and Tim Holt) partner with an aging prospector (Walter Huston) to search for gold in the Sierra Madre Mountains of Mexico, but quickly find their quest marred by bandits, greed, and distrust.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Betrayal
  • Gold Seekers
  • Greed
  • Humphrey Bogart Films
  • John Huston Films
  • Mental Breakdown
  • Walter Huston Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary notes that this adaptation of B. Traven’s novel represents “masterful storytelling by John Huston, who won Oscars for his direction and his script adaptation” — indeed, it “is one of the greatest American films.” He writes that “Humphrey Bogart had one of his finest roles as Fred C. Dobbs, revealing the brittleness and paranoia that his ’40s heroes felt but held in check.” Meanwhile, Supporting Oscar-winning Huston plays a “wise, fast-talking” man who “teaches his two partners about mining” but warns that they may “become distrustful of each other” — which does indeed happen, leading to a “brilliantly played character transformation” by Bogart in which he “nears madness”. Peary notes that this “epic has dynamic scenes in wilderness and civilization, superior dialogue, exciting action-adventure, [and] interesting characters” — but “what really makes this film special is that Dobbs, who proves anything but moral or heroic, is the lead (most emphasized) character rather than having that designation going to the moral Curtin [Holt], who, in movie storytelling terms, is the more logical choice.”

In Alternate Oscars, Peary names this the Best Movie of the Year (over Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet), and elaborates on what makes it such a fine picture. He writes that in order to “achieve authenticity, as well as a dirty, gritty, dangerous feel to his picture, Huston insisted on shooting on location in Mexico” — making it “the first narrative American movie filmed entirely out of the States” — and “hired Mexican character actors and amateurs,” wisely chancing on “including long bits of dialogue that were delivered in Spanish and had no subtitles.” However, Peary argues that “Huston’s major contribution to the film was making Gold Hat” (a bandito played by Alfonso Bedoya) “a continuing character”: he’s a “vile, smiling, almost comical” bandit who “could have been conceived by Luis Bunuel” and “is one of the screen’s great punk-bully villains”, with his “great moment” coming when “he tries to pass himself and his men off as federales, and Dobbs (Bogart) asks to see their badges:

“Badges? We ain’t got no badges. We don’t need no badges. I don’t have to show you any stinking badges.”

Peary notes that while “at first glance The Treasure of the Sierra Madre seems to be an action-adventure film geared for young boys, with its treasure hunt in unknown territory, gunplay, fisticuffs (the scene in which Dobbs and Curtin fight with their boss… in a bar is a classic), tension and squabbling among partners, brutal villains, [and] no women”, it’s “also a complex character study about what the discovery of gold can do to individuals.” Peary further points out how “most of the tension in the picture is caused by intrusion: the lure of gold intruding on [the] minds of and relationships among the three men, and different characters intruding on space ‘belonging’ to others.” Suffice it to say there’s much rich material here to be explored, and Huston does a marvelous job presenting a story with numerous surprises — both brutal and heartwarming — but one that never pulls any punches.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Humphrey Bogart as Fred Dobbs
  • Walter Huston as Howard
  • Tim Holt as Curtin
  • Ted McCord’s cinematography

  • Highly effective location shooting in Mexico

  • Many memorable moments

Must See?
Yes, as a genuine classic.


  • Genuine Classic
  • Oscar Winner or Nominee

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)


One thought on “Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The (1948)

  1. A once-must, as (agreed) a genuine classic.

    In the 2-disc DVD documentary (‘John Huston: The Man, The Movies, the Maverick’), Huston is quoted as saying to Bogart about the B. Traven novel, “I think this book would make a really great picture.” Bogart’s response: “You’re out of your mind. It’s a good western.”

    Bogart apparently saw the story as what many might see it as: a simple fable about greed. And, to a large extent, Bogart wasn’t wrong. Still, he didn’t seem to see how Huston was going to elevate the film to a level the director immodestly sensed as “great”.

    I haven’t read Traven’s book – but I read up on it and, a number of times, a main objection (to the otherwise admired work) was the “clunky” quality of the dialogue. Maybe that’s what Huston sensed he could improve on – cause it sure seems he did. And it seems his father (Walter) reaped most of the benefit of that. Not that Bogart and Holt’s roles are at all badly conceived – but Walter was given a jim-dandy when it comes to the golden lines that he makes roll off of his tongue. (His Oscar was well-deserved.)

    Having just rewatched the film – and as much as I love Huston (my favorite director, after all), I feel this is one of those (nevertheless terrific) films that doesn’t necessarily require repeat viewings. Its power is such that what you get out of it the first time is pretty much what you’re going to get out of it. It’s not all that deep a film so it’s not like it holds ‘secrets’ that might reveal themselves on a revisit. Still, I was glad to see it again after a long time.

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