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The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

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The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) starring Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston, directed by John Huston
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John Huston won the Academy Award(R) for writing and directing this powerful saga that pits gold and greed in the wilds of Mexico and stars his father (Walter Huston) and Humphrey Bogart. Year: 1948 Director: John Huston Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston, Tim Holt

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) starring Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston, directed by John Huston

Editorial review of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, courtesy of

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) starring Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston, directed by John Huston

Ranked at No. 30 on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 all-time greatest American films, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is a genuine masterpiece that was, ironically, a box-office failure when released in 1948. At that time audiences didn’t accept Humphrey Bogart in a role that was intentionally unappealing, but time has proven this to be one of Bogart’s very best performances.

It’s a grand adventure and a superior character study built around the timeless themes of greed and moral corruption. As adapted by writer-director John Huston (from a novel by enigmatic author B. Traven) it became a definitive treatment of fate and futility in the obsessive pursuit of wealth.

Bogart plays Fred C. Dobbs, a down-and-out wage-worker in Mexico who stakes his meager earnings on a gold-prospecting expedition to the Sierra mountains. He’s joined by a grizzled old prospector (Walter Huston, the director’s father) and a young, no-nonsense partner (Tim Holt), and when they strike a rich vein of gold, the movie becomes an observant study of wretched human behavior. Bogart is fiercely intense as his character grows increasingly paranoid and violent; Huston offers a compelling contrast as a weathered miner who’s seen how gold can turn men into monsters.

From its lively opening scenes (featuring young Robert Blake as a boy selling lottery tickets) to its final, devastating image of fateful irony, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre tells an unforgettable story of tragedy and truth. With dialogue that has been etched into the cultural consciousness (who can forget the Mexican bandit who snarls “I don’t have to show you any stinking badges!”) and well-earned Oscars for John and Walter Huston, this is an American classic that still packs a punch. — Jeff Shannon

Movie quotes for The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

[Howard eats, while Dobbs and Curtin snooze]
Howard (Walter Huston): Hey you fellas, how ’bout some beans? You want some beans? Goin’ through some mighty rough country tomorrow, you’d better have some beans.

Fred C. Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart): Can you help a fellow American down on his luck?

Fred C. Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart): Nobody puts one over on Fred C. Dobbs.

Fred C. Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart): Let’s see, three times 35 … is a hundred and five. I’ll bet you 105,000 dollars that you go to sleep before I do.

Gold Hat: Badges? We ain’t got no badges. We don’t need no badges. I don’t have to show you any stinking badges.

Howard (Walter Huston): We’ve wounded this mountain. It’s our duty to close her wounds. It’s the least we can do to show our gratitude for all the wealth she’s given us. If you guys don’t want to help me, I’ll do it alone.
Bob Curtin (Tim Holt): You talk about that mountain like it was a real woman.
Fred C. Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart): She’s been a lot better to me than any woman I ever knew. Keep your shirt on, old-timer. Sure, I’ll help ya.

Bob Curtin (Tim Holt): You know, the worst ain’t so bad when it finally happens. Not half as bad as you figure it’ll be before it’s happened.

Howard (Walter Huston): I know what gold does to men’s souls.

Howard (Walter Huston): Ah, as long as there’s no find, the noble brotherhood will last but when the piles of gold begin to grow — that’s when the trouble starts.

Howard (Walter Huston): If I were you boys, I wouldn’t talk or even think about women. T’aint good for your health.

Fred C. Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart): You two guys musta been born in a revival meeting.

Fred C. Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart): Conscience. What a thing. If you believe you got a conscience it’ll pester you to death. But if you don’t believe you got one, what could it do t’ya? Makes me sick, all this talking and fussing about nonsense.

Howard (Walter Huston): Without me, you two would die here, more miserable than rats.

Fred C. Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart): What a town. Tampico.
Bob Curtin (Tim Holt): You said it, brother. If I could just get me a job that would bring in enough to buy passage, I’d shake it’s dust off my feet soon enough, you bet.

Fred C. Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart): You know, if I was a native, I’d get me a can of shoe polish and I’d be in business. They’d never let a gringo. You can sit on a bench — til you’re three-quarters starved — you can beg from another gringo — you can even commit burglary. You try shinin’ shoes in the street, peddlin’ lemonade out of a bucket, and your hash is settled. You’ll never get another job from an American.
Bob Curtin (Tim Holt): Yeah, and the natives would hound and pester you to death.
Fred C. Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart): Some town to be broke in.
Bob Curtin (Tim Holt): What town isn’t?

Howard (Walter Huston): Say, answer me this one, will you? Why is gold worth some twenty bucks an ounce?
Flophouse Bum: I don’t know. Because it’s scarce.
Howard (Walter Huston): A thousand men, say, go searchin’ for gold. After six months, one of them’s lucky: one out of a thousand. His find represents not only his own labor, but that of nine hundred and ninety-nine others to boot. That’s six thousand months, five hundred years, scramblin’ over a mountain, goin’ hungry and thirsty. An ounce of gold, mister, is worth what it is because of the human labor that went into the findin’ and the gettin’ of it.
Flophouse Bum: I never thought of it just like that.
Howard (Walter Huston): Well, there’s no other explanation, mister. Gold itself ain’t good for nothing except making jewelry with and gold teeth.

Howard (Walter Huston): Aah, gold’s a devilish sort of thing, anyway. You start out, you tell yourself you’ll be satisfied with 25,000 handsome smackers worth of it. So help me, Lord, and cross my heart. Fine resolution. After months of sweatin’ yourself dizzy, and growin’ short on provisions, and findin’ nothin’, you finally come down to 15,000, then ten. Finally, you say, “Lord, let me just find $5,000 worth and I’ll never ask for anythin’ more the rest of my life.”
Flophouse Bum: $5,000 is a lot of money.
Howard (Walter Huston): Yeah, here in this joint it seems like a lot. But I tell you, if you was to make a real strike, you couldn’t be dragged away. Not even the threat of miserable death would keep you from trying to add 10,000 more. Ten, you’d want to get twenty-five; twenty-five you’d want to get fifty; fifty, a hundred. Like roulette. One more turn, you know. Always one more.

Fred C. Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart): I think I’ll go to sleep and dream about piles of gold getting bigger and bigger and bigger.

Fred C. Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart): This is the country where the nuggets of gold are just crying out for you to take them out of the ground and make ’em shine in coins on the fingers and necks of swell dames.

Howard (Walter Huston): Now here’s where we’re bound for, hereabouts. Don’t show properly whether there’s mountains, swamp, or desert. That shows the makers of the map themselves don’t know for sure. Once on the ground, all we gotta do is open our eyes and look around. Yes, and blow our noses, too. Believe it or not, I knew a fellow once who could smell gold like a jackass can smell water.

Fred C. Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart): Hey, if there was gold in them mountains, how long would it have been there? Millions and millions of years, wouldn’t it? What’s our hurry? A couple of days, more or less, ain’t gonna make a difference.

Bob Curtin (Tim Holt): Remember what you said back in Tampico about having to carry that old man on our backs?
Fred C. Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart): That was when I took him for an ordinary human being, not part goat.

Fred C. Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart): Any more lip out of you and I’ll haul off and let you have it. If you know what’s good for you, you won’t monkey around with Fred C. Dobbs.

Fred C. Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart): Why am I elected to go to the village? Why me instead of you and Curtin? Oh, don’t think I don’t see through that. You two’ve thrown in against me. The two days I’d be gone would give you plenty of time to discover where my goods are, wouldn’t it?
Howard (Walter Huston): If you feel along those lines, why don’t you take your goods with you?
Fred C. Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart): And run the risk of having them taken from me by bandits?
Howard (Walter Huston): If you was to run into bandits, you’d be out of luck anyway. They’d kill you for the shoes on your feet.
Fred C. Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart): Oh, so that’s it. Everything’s clear now. You’re hoping bandits will get me. That would save you a lot of trouble, wouldn’t it? And your consciences wouldn’t bother you none, neither.

James Cody: You know, you’ve got to hand it to the Mexicans when if comes to swift justice. Once the Federales get their mitts on a criminal, they know just what to do with him. They hand him a shovel, tell him where to dig, when he’s dug deep enough, they tell him to put the shovel down, smoke a cigarette, and say his prayers. In another five minutes, he’s being covered over with the dirt he dug out.

Bob Curtin (Tim Holt): Wouldn’t it be better, the way things are, to separate tomorrow, or even tonight?
Fred C. Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart): That would suit you fine, wouldn’t it?
Bob Curtin (Tim Holt): Why me more than you?
Fred C. Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart): So you could fall on me from behind, sneak up and shoot me in the back.
Bob Curtin (Tim Holt): All right, I’ll go first.
Fred C. Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart): And wait for me on the trail to ambush me?

[first lines]

Fred C. Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart): Say, mister. Will you stake a fellow American to a meal?
American in Tampico in white suit: Such impudence never came my way. Early this afternoon I gave you money — €¦ while I was having my shoes polished I gave you MORE money — €¦ now you put the bite on me again. Do me a favor, will ya? Go occasionally to somebody else — €“ it’s beginning to get tiresome.
Fred C. Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart): Ah, excuse me, mister, I never knowed it was you. I never looked at your face — €“ I just looked at your hands and the money you gave me. Beg pardon, mister, I promise I’ll never put the bite on you again.
American in Tampico in white suit: [gives him a peso] This is the very last you get from me. Just to make sure you don’t forget your promise, here’s another peso.
[puts another peso in Dobbs’ hand]
Fred C. Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart): Thanks, mister. Thanks.
American in Tampico in white suit: But from now on, you’ll have to make your way through life without my assistance.

[last lines]
Howard (Walter Huston): Well, goodbye Curtin.
Bob Curtin (Tim Holt): Goodbye, Howard.
Howard (Walter Huston): Good luck.
Bob Curtin (Tim Holt): Same to you.

Fred C. Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart): [in one sentence] Do you believe that stuff the old man was saying the other night at the Oso Negro about gold changin’ a man’s soul so’s he ain’t the same sort of man as he was before findin’ it?

Fred C. Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart): You’re sure he was trailin’ you are ya?
Bob Curtin (Tim Holt): Absolutely.
Fred C. Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart): How come?
Bob Curtin (Tim Holt): Cuz there he is.

Howard (Walter Huston): Water’s precious. Sometimes may be more precious than gold.

Trivia for The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

  • There were scenes in which Walter Huston had to speak fluent Spanish, a language he did not know off camera. To fill this need, John Huston hired a Mexican to record the lines, and then the elder Huston memorized them so well that many assumed he knew the language like a native.
  • Just as John Huston was starting to shoot scenes in Tampico, Mexico, the production was shut down inexplicably by the local government. It turns out that a local newspaper printed a false story that accused the filmmakers of making a production that was unflattering to Mexico. Fortunately, two of Huston’s associates, Diego Rivera and Miguel Covarrubias, went to bat for the director with the President of Mexico. The libelous accusations were dropped.
  • The reclusive novelist B. Traven was asked if he would like to visit the set during location shooting. He demurred, but said he would be sending an associate instead. The associate was actually Traven himself, using a pseudonym.
  • Walter Huston, father of director John Huston, won the Academy Award for best supporting actor. John won for best direction. This was the first father/son win.
  • To lend authenticity to his role, Walter Huston was persuaded by his son John to perform without his false teeth.
  • The little boy who sells Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart) the portion of the winning lottery ticket is Robert Blake (of “Little Rascals” and “Baretta” (1975) fame).
  • John Huston stated that working with his father on this picture and his dad’s subsequent Oscar win were among the favorite moments of his life.
  • Director Cameo: John Huston: the man who Dobbs begs money from three times early in the film.
  • John Huston played one of his infamous practical jokes on Bruce Bennett in the campfire scene in which he eats a plate of stew. Bennett knew that his character was starving so he wolfed down the food as quickly as possible. Huston then demanded another take. And another. In both extra takes the rapidly filling-up Bennett again had to eat a large plate of stew. Unbeknownst to him, Huston had been happy with the first take. The cameras weren’t even rolling for the second and the third. He just wanted to see how much food Bennett could lower before he became too stuffed. As soon as the joke was revealed, Huston added insult to injury by calling for a lunch break.
  • Filmed in Mexico, though Warners’ studio head Jack L. Warner had the unit return to Hollywood when the budget started to exceed $3 million (Warner, however, did admit that he thought the film was one of the greatest ever made).
  • Humphrey Bogart started losing his hair in 1947, round about the time he was making Dark Passage (1947), partly because of hormone shots he was taking to improve his chances of having a child with wife Lauren Bacall (although his excessive drinking and lack of vitamin B were probably also factors in his hair loss). He was completely bald by the time he arrived in Mexico. Once on location, Bogart started taking vitamin B shots, and some of his hair grew back. But he did sport a wig throughout the entire shoot, albeit one that was artfully muddied and matted to cover up the joins.
  • John Huston wrote the part of Howard specifically for his father, Walter Huston. The character that appears in the original novel is much older. Indeed, author B. Traven had envisaged Lewis Stone in the part.
  • It was novelist B. Traven who suggested that John Huston play the part of the American tourist.
  • John Huston has a cameo as an American tourist. This scene was directed by Humphrey Bogart, who took malicious pleasure on his director by making him perform the scene over and over again.
  • When John Huston first started working on the project in 1941, the studio had George Raft, Edward G. Robinson and John Garfield in mind for the three main roles. Then World War II intervened. By the time Huston came back from making several documentaries for the war effort, Humphrey Bogart had become Warner Brothers’ biggest star. This was entirely appropriate, for when Bogart first got wind of the fact that Huston might be making a film of the B. Traven novel, he immediately started badgering Huston for a part.
  • On seeing the depth of Walter Huston’s performance, Humphrey Bogart famously said. “One Huston is bad enough, but two are murder.”
  • Initially thrilled at Walter Huston’s scene-stealing performance, as the shoot wore on producer Henry Blanke started to have second thoughts about Huston upstaging the film’s star, Humphrey Bogart, and so John Huston started to get notes from the studio telling him to tone down his father’s performance.
  • One of the first American films to be made almost entirely on location outside the USA.
  • Vincent Sherman was all set to direct a version of the story during the WWII years until his script fell foul of the Breen office for being derogatory towards Mexicans.
  • John Huston at the time had not been married very long to Evelyn Keyes, who he constantly belittled and humiliated on the location shoot. Eventually Keyes returned to Hollywood to shoot another picture. During this time Huston decided that he wanted to adopt a little orphan boy called Pablo who had been hanging around the set. Keyes first got wind of this when she greeted Huston and Pablo at the airport upon their return from Mexico.
  • The film took 5-1/2 months to shoot and was 29 days over schedule.
  • Robert Blake snatched the water glass and coffee cup — instrumental props from his big scene — as mementos of his time on the film.
  • The fight scene in the cantina took five days to shoot.
  • Robert Rossen submitted at least nine drafts of rewrites on the screenplay when John Huston was away during the war.
  • A doctor was assigned to the unit in Mexico and one night he had to attend to John Huston, who had an adverse reaction to marijuana, having smoked it for the first time with his father. He never touched the stuff again.
  • John Huston originally wanted to cast Ronald Reagan as James Cody. Warner Bros. studio boss Jack L. Warner instead insisted on casting Reagan in The Voice of the Turtle (1947). Bruce Bennett was eventually cast as Cody.
  • 2007: The American Film Institute ranked this as the #38 Greatest Movie of All Time.
  • Director John Huston had read the book “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” by B. Traven in 1936 and had always thought the material would make a great movie. Based on a 19th-century ballad by a German poet, Traven’s book reminded Huston of his own adventures in the Mexican cavalry. When Huston became a director at Warner Bros., the smashing success of his initial effort, The Maltese Falcon (1941), gave him the clout to ask to write and direct the project, for which Warner Bros. had previously secured the movie rights.
  • Humphrey Bogart’s and Tim Holt’s very first scene together was also the very first scene shot.
  • Walter Huston learned his famous jig from playwright Eugene O’Neill when he was performing in O’Neill’s play “Desire Under the Elms” in 1925. This most famous of dances was unscripted and was Walter’s idea.
  • SPOILER: John Huston’s original filmed depiction of Dobbs’ death was more graphic — as it was in the book — than the one that eventually made it onto the screen. When Gold Hat strikes Dobbs with his machete, Dobbs is decapitated. Huston shot Dobbs’ (fake) head rolling into the waterhole (there’s a quick shot of Gold Hat’s accomplices reacting to Dobbs’ rolling head that remains in the film and in the very next shot you can see the water rippling where it rolled in). The 1948 censors would not have allowed that, so Huston camouflaged the cut shot with a repeat shot of Gold Hat striking Dobbs. Warner Bros’ publicity department released a statement that Humphrey Bogart was disappointed the scene couldn’t be shown in all its graphic glory. Bogart’s reaction: “What’s wrong with showing a guy getting his head cut off?”

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