Riveting, downbeat, and full of surprises, John Huston’s The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is both a gripping adventure and one of Hollywood’s best and most resonant morality tales, a smart and remorseless story of gold, greed, guns, and guile in the mountains of Mexico.
Humphrey Bogart, forever associated with tough-hero roles in films like Casablanca and The Big Sleep, gave some of his best performances in darker roles (e.g., The Caine Mutiny, High Sierra). In Fred C. Dobbs, a down-and-out American in Mexico suffering from a lack of options and moral fiber, he may have had the role of his career. Equally splendid is the director’s aging father, former matinee idol Walter Huston, as an eccentric but canny and tough old prospector named Howard.
A couple of early scenes suggest that while Dobbs is far from noble or honorable, he’s not especially dishonorable or dishonest either. Annoyed by a persistent young beggar, Dobbs splashes water in the boy’s face; but on the other hand when Dobbs and a companion, Bob Curtin (Tim Holt), run into a shady operator who owes them a week’s wages, and they manage to get the upper hand over him, Dobbs goes into the con man’s wallet and takes the money he owes them — but only that much, leaving the rest.
In fact, Dobbs and Curtin both seem fairly ordinary men, neither especially bad nor especially good, perhaps capable of either nobility or treachery, as circumstances might inspire or tempt him. This is important, because when the story puts them to the test, if they were either particularly honorable or dishonorable the end result would be either trivial or contrived. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre shrewdly avoids these pitfalls, along with the misanthropic implication that, when push comes to shove, anyone always does whatever is in his own self-interest.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.