The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) – John Huston

 

The recommendations from Great Movies – 100 Years of Film for Greed, brought me the opportunity to rewatch this Bogart classic that I haven’t watched in years!

A tale of greed overtaking humanity features Humphrey Bogart as Dobbs, a down on his luck American in a small town in Mexico. When he and Curtin (Tim Holt) are cheated out of their wages, they begin to think about prospecting for gold to make their fortunes. They partner up with an elderly prospector, Howard (Walter Huston) and setting out from the town of Tampico, head for the mountain range of the Sierra Madre.

As they spend time with each other, working a vein of gold, paranoia, greed and suspicion begin to take hold of Dobbs, who seems to mistrust his partners with each new day’s gold. They all agree to look after their own split, hiding it from one another, watching each other, until they finally decide they’ve had enough and are ready to head back and cash in on their dreams.

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Before that happens though a fourth man shows up, Cody (Bruce Bennett), having followed Curtin from town, and doesn’t ask to be cut in on what they already have, but would like to work the vein with them from this point on. Dobbs is completely opposed to it, and eventually the others agree with him… the best plan is to simply kill Cody and carry on. Before they can commit murder a group of bandits arrive, posing as federales, leading to that immortal line about badges.

When Howard is called away to help a sick boy in a nearby village, Dobbs and Curtin are left to head back into town on their own, but the lust for gold has completely overtaken Dobbs at this point, mixing with distrust of his partners. The partners break, with Dobbs attempting to kill Curtin, but the young man, wounded, is taken to the village Howard is residing in, as a man of growing importance.

Dobbs, now with all the gold, makes for town, but falls afoul of the bandits…

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I love Bogart in this role, because it shows a darker side, man corrupted by his own greed and lust. While Howard and Curtin realize they are no worse off by film’s end than they were at the beginning, Dobbs loses everything of any import to him, including his mortality.

Watching his character, who is in a bad place to begin with, stumble along and find the possibility of hope only to have it clouded by the need to possess all of it, and the consequent loss of his humanity through tumbling downward into suspicion and greed is a treat.

I love how the film was crafted, the camera objectively watches Dobbs’ descent as well as the more stable balance his partners maintain. Out of all of them, Howard seems to make out the best of all the characters, his outlook on life, of helping and being respectful of the world, even in his own eccentric way, and the film’s end indicates that perhaps Curtin isn’t quite so bad either.

This one was a real joy to revisit, and it’s themes are still important, if not more important today!

What did you think of it?

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