There is a school of thought that says Bogart became a big star because of the Maltese Falcon. It was his first role that extended his acting range beyond the gangster parts he had been doing up to that point. And the story was a popular book and John Huston’s script was a pip.
So, I’m sure Bogart was more than anxious when he had a second chance to work with Huston. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre was once again based on a popular book. And once again Huston’s script is a pip. Bogart is an American named Dobbs in Tampico, Mexico who is broke and looking for an opportunity to make some money. After some difficulty collecting back-wages he teams up with two other Americans. Walter Huston, John Huston’s actual father, plays an old gold prospector Howard and Tim Holt is Curtin who hopes to make a stake before returning to the United States. The three men discuss what it would take to make a prospecting expedition to the Sierra Madre. By an amazing coincidence Bogart wins the amount they need off of a lottery ticket and donates it to the expedition. On the train ride at the outset of the journey to the Sierra Madre, the partners encounter bandits. This is followed by a long trek through jungles and desert and mountains. And just as Dobbs and Curtin have become discouraged and want to give up the search Howard mocks them with the news that they’ve been surrounded by gold for the last day but they were too ignorant to see it. The partners get to work and start a mining operation that rewards their hard work with generous amounts of gold. And at this point we begin to see the destructive effect of greed and mistrust. Pretty quickly Dobbs becomes dangerously suspicious of his partners and all remnants of amicable relations evaporate and all that is left is the business of harvesting the gold. During this time there are episodes involving a claim jumper and later the bandits return. A very well-known exchange occurs between the head bandit and the partners. The bandit is pretending to be a policeman and when asked to show his badge he sputters, “Badges? Badges? We don’t need no stinking badges!” The return journey also contains some interesting episodes that eventually split up the partners and leads to open warfare between Dobbs and Curtin. For the better part of the movie we’ve been watching as Fred C. Dobbs slowly descends into gold madness. Now he reaches the point of attempting murder. The end of the movie follows the last scenes where we learn the fate of the partners, the bandits and the gold.
For me this movie is an almost perfect gem of a tale. It has an interesting blend of humor, adventure and a study of human nature. Toward the end, Bogart is almost over the top in his manic portrayal of Dobbs but he is an interesting character. Tim Holt plays the most sympathetic character as Curtin but without a doubt, Walter Huston steals the show from everyone else as the old prospector Howard. His character is colorful, glib, humorous and just plain engaging.
I highly recommend this movie for everyone. It’s a classic and timelessly entertaining.