After watching “Star Wars,” I had a craving for a B&W movie and some raw storytelling. I found my fortune in “The Treasure of Sierra Madre.” This classic film, helmed by the legendary director John Huston, tells the story of three American men searching for gold in the mountains of Mexico. Humphrey Bogart plays Fred C. Dobbs, a scraggly bum who walks the filthy streets of Tampico begging Americans for a handout. His luck turns however when he overhears an old gold prospector named Howard (Walter Huston), entertaining a bunch of men about his adventures of gold hunting. Howard is certain that there is gold out there, but you need the right set of mind and money to find the gold. When Dobbs unexpectedly wins a fraction of the lottery winnings, he sets his eye on finding that gold. Along with the expertise of old Howard and a fellow bum named Curtin (Tim Holt) contributing to the necessary expenses, Dobbs might pull out of poverty for good. But aha – it’s not easy as it seems.
The movie is part adventure and part character drama. In addition to a Western backdrop (mountains, guns, and bandits), it has its own taste of Mexican flavor (pueblos, tribes, and fairly good amount of Spanish spoken). The dynamics between the ill-matched men is set-up very well. The plot is sly in the way it introduces obstacles to shake the power of balance among them. There’s always danger ahead and the biggest peril is the possible fallout due to clashing personalities. Old Howard reminded me of the old prospector toy in “Toy Story 2” He’s jolly and crazy, but his experience gives him wisdom and wariness. Curtin is more of a typical old-school character. He’s the honest and decent man, who never deviates from his morals.
The most fascinating though is the Bogart’s “Dobbsie” who starts out as a starving nice man and turns into a deranged skeptic nourished by greed. It’s a compelling transformation. I thought Bogart cannot top his iconic “Casablanca” role. Here he surprises us with his versatility with an against-type role. He is game to play dirty. I’m baffled that he didn’t even get an Oscar nomination for this. Maybe it’s because the character is ahead of its time for a 1948 movie. His Fred C. Dobbs is one paranoid movie character that would be home in the current trend of movies. He believes no one can be trusted and everyone is waiting to opportune time to backstab him. We get too many dumb and innocent characters that get blindsided in a movie’s plot. In a time when screenwriters like to twist their stories, we are in need of Dobbs descendants. If a modern version of him exists, he’ll make an absolutely notorious player in “Survivor.”
There’s one scene that pretty much sums up what the movie is about. It occurs when old Howard is advising a bunch of hobos about gold hunting.
“Going it alone’s the best way,” he tells them. “But you got to have a stomach for loneliness. Some guys go nutty with it. On the other hand, going with a partner or two is dangerous. Murder’s always lurkin’ about. Partners accusin’ each other of all sorts of crimes. Aw, 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.”