While there are many outstanding classic films that have stood the test of time, very few of those films are as renowned as The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. The black and white 1948 movie stars Humphrey Bogart, Tim Holt, and Walter Huston. The movie was commercially successful and received many accolades including the Academy Awards’ Best Director for John Huston and Best Supporting Actor for Walter Huston. Walter Huston was the father of John Huston and grandfather of actress, Angelica Huston.
The story is based on B. Traven’s novel of the same name. Set in the oil town of Tampico, Mexico in the mid 1920’s, two aimless and unemployed men, Fred Dobbs (Bogart) and Tim Curtin (Holt) meet an experienced prospector and former miner named Howard (Huston). One night, Howard tells the two men about the risks of prospecting gold because wealth and power can alter a man’s character. Dobbs argues that if a person already has an upstanding character, they won’t be vulnerable to the power of gold. After much discussion, the three men decide to pool their resources and set out to seek their fortune in the dangerous mountains of the Sierra Madre.
Though Howard is much older than the other two men, his wisdom and experience set him apart from the group. He easily traverses the mountainside and has energy to spare, while Dobbs and Curtin struggle to keep up the pace. However, it is not until they finally discover gold that the real problems begin to emerge. Even though Dobbs was confident that gold had no power over him, he is the one that succumbs to jealousy and suspicion. No matter how hard the other two men try to show him that they’re being honest, Dobbs is unable to let go of his suspicions. The trust and friendship between the men begins to quickly unravel.
Eventually their gold-digging operation draws attention. Howard prefers to use diplomacy, but at this point, Dobbs has little patience for anything but his gold and he resorts to violence. His choices lead to the death of a man named James Cody (performed by Bruce Bennett), who only wanted to join their group so that he could provide for his family.
Though Howard recognizes that Dobb’s personality is transforming, he continues to keep the peace within the group. When they decide that they have enough gold, they take down their operation and head back to town. Just when there is peace between the three men, a villager approaches the group for help. Howard, known as a “medicine man”, volunteers to help the villager and leaves the group, entrusting Dobbs and Curtin to watch over his share of the gold. Once again, Dobbs succumbs to rage and suspicion because he’s certain that Curtin will try to steal Howard’s portion of the gold. Within a short amount of time Dobbs’ rage is unleashed on Curtin. Suddenly, Curtin’s life and the security of the gold is uncertain. Dobbs enemies are plentiful and eventually his karma catches up with him.
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre demonstrates the strengths and weaknesses of human nature. One of the reasons that the movie is so culturally significant is that the story is relatable to all people. The story isn’t really about gold because gold is just another symbol for wealth and power, which tends to hold power over people. Humans are capable of greatness and evil. Our lives are long and filled with choices, and we don’t know until the end of our lives whether we are truly a good or bad person. The character of Dobbs demonstrates this perfectly.
When Bogart caught wind that Director John Huston was working on this film, Bogart immediately pursued a role in the movie. While the main cast is all men, Bogart, Huston, and Holt brilliantly portray their highly nuanced characters. This is a movie that should be seen by everyone and discussed. It is both timely and timeless. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is a gritty, exciting, and intense movie that truly is unforgettable.