The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (film)

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

Theatrical poster
Directed by John Huston
Produced by Henry Blanke
Screenplay by John Huston
Based on The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
by B. Traven
Starring Humphrey Bogart
Walter Huston
Tim Holt
Bruce Bennett
Music by Max Steiner
Cinematography Ted D. McCord
Edited by Owen Marks
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release dates
  • January 6, 1948 (1948-01-06)
Running time
126 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $3 million[1]
Box office $4,307,000 (rentals)

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is a 1948 American dramatic adventurous neo-western written and directed by John Huston. It is a feature film adaptation of B. Traven's 1927 novel of the same name, about two financially desperate Americans, Fred C. Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart) and Bob Curtin (Tim Holt), who in the 1920s join initially reluctant old-timer Howard (Walter Huston, the director's father) in Mexico to prospect for gold.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre was one of the first Hollywood films to be filmed on location outside the United States (in the state of Durango and street scenes in Tampico, Mexico), although many scenes were filmed back in the studio and elsewhere in the US. The film is quite faithful to the source novel. In 1990, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".[2]


By the 1920s in Mexico the violence of the Mexican Revolution had largely subsided, although scattered gangs of bandits continued to terrorize the countryside. The newly established post-revolution government relied on the effective, but ruthless, Federal Police, commonly known as the Federales, to patrol remote areas and dispose of the bandits.

Foreigners, like three gold prospectors from the U.S. (Fred, Bob, and Howard) were at very real risk of being murdered by the bandits if their paths crossed. The bandits suffered a similar fate if captured by the Mexican Federales or army units. On-the-spot, bandidos were forced to dig their own graves and given a "last cigarette" before the death sentence was carried out.


In 1925 in the Mexican oil-town of Tampico, Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart) and Curtin (Tim Holt), two Americans cheated out of promised wages and down on their luck, meet old prospector Howard (Walter Huston). When Dobbs wins a small jackpot in the lottery, they have the bankroll to finance a gold prospecting journey to the remote Sierra Madre mountains.

They ride a train into the hinterlands, surviving a bandit attack en route. In the desert, Howard proves to be the toughest and most knowledgeable; he is the one to discover the gold they seek. A mine is dug, and much gold is extracted. Greed soon sets in, and Dobbs begins to lose both his trust and his sanity, lusting to possess the entire treasure. Dobbs is also unreasonably afraid that he will be killed by his partners.

A fourth American named James Cody (Bruce Bennett) appears, which sets up a debate about what to do with the new stranger. Rather than give him a share of the future production of the mine, the men decide to kill Cody. Just as the three confront him with pistols and prepare to kill him, the bandits reappear, crudely pretending to be Federales. After a tense vocal exchange regarding proof, a gunfight with the bandits ensues, in which Cody is killed, a real troop of Federales appears and chases the bandits away.

Howard is called away to assist local villagers to save the life of a seriously ill little boy. When the boy recovers, the next day, the villagers insist that Howard return to the village to be honored. However, he leaves his goods with Dobbs and Curtin. Dobbs, whose paranoia continues, and Curtin constantly argue, until one night when Curtin falls asleep, Dobbs holds him at gunpoint, takes him behind the camp, shoots him, grabs all three shares of the gold, and leaves him for dead. However, the wounded Curtin survives and manages to crawl away during the night.

Nearly dying of thirst, Dobbs is ambushed and killed at a waterhole by the same bandits they encountered earlier at the mine. In their ignorance, the bandits believe Dobbs' bags of unrefined gold are merely filled with sand, and they scatter the gold to the winds. Curtin is discovered by indios and taken to Howard's village, where he recovers.

The bandits try to sell the packing donkeys but a child (Robert Blake) recognizes the donkeys and Dobbs' clothes and reports them to the police. The bandits are captured, sentenced to death and forced to dig their own graves before being executed. Curtin and Howard miss witnessing the bandits' execution by Federales by only a few minutes as they arrive back in town, and learn that the gold is gone.

While checking the area where the bandits dropped the gold, Howard and Curtin notice some empty sacks and surmise that the winds must have carried the gold away, back to the mountain from which it came. They accept the loss with equanimity, Howard proclaiming it a good joke and laughing while doing a little jig. They part ways, Howard returning to the indio village, where the natives have offered him a permanent home and position of honour, and Curtin returning home to the United States, where he will seek out the widow of Cody in the peach orchards of Texas.


Frame from the film trailer

Production notes


Director John Huston first read the novel by B. Traven in 1935 and had always thought the material would make a great movie with his father in the main role. Based on a 19th-century ballad by a German poet, Traven's book reminded Huston of his own adventures in the Mexican cavalry. After a smashing success with his directorial debut, The Maltese Falcon, Huston started to work on the project. The studio had George Raft, Edward G. Robinson and John Garfield in mind for the three main roles, but then World War II intervened. While Huston was in the war filming documentaries, Robert Rossen had worked on an adaptation of the novel, but it was left unfinished at the time Huston was brought on board, and differed significantly from the novel.

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.


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. Bogart was given the main role of Fred C. Dobbs. Prior to filming, Humphrey Bogart encountered a critic while leaving a New York nightclub. "Wait till you see me in my next picture," he said, "I play the worst shit you ever saw".

Traven initially disagreed with Huston's decision to cast his father, Walter Huston, as Howard. He had preferred Lewis Stone, but eventually came to agree with Huston's choice.

Walter Huston himself also questioned his son's choice. He still saw himself as a leading man and was not keen on being cast in a supporting role. However, his son was able to convince him to accept, and also persuaded him to play the part without his dentures for the sake of reality. John Huston rated his father's performance as the finest piece of acting in any of his films. On seeing the depth of Walter Huston's performance, Humphrey Bogart famously said. "One Huston is bad enough, but two are murder."

Huston originally wanted to cast Ronald Reagan as James Cody. Jack L. Warner instead insisted on casting Reagan for another film. Bruce Bennett was eventually cast in the role.

A few notable uncredited actors appear in the film. In an opening cameo, director John Huston is pestered for money by Bogart's character. The scene was directed by Bogart himself. Actor Robert Blake also appears as a young boy selling lottery tickets.

A photograph included in the documentary accompanying the DVD release shows Sheridan in streetwalker costume, with Bogart and Huston on the set.[3] Many film-history sources credit Sheridan for the part.

Co-star Tim Holt's father, Jack Holt, a star of silent and early sound Westerns and action films, makes a one-line appearance at the beginning of the film as one of the men down on their luck.


The Treasure of the Sierra Madre was one of the first Hollywood films to be filmed on location outside the United States (in the state of Durango and street scenes in Tampico, Mexico), although many scenes were filmed back in the studio and elsewhere in the US. Filming took five and a half months to shoot.

The first scene in the film with Bogart and Holt was the first to be shot. The opening scenes, filmed in longshot on the Plaza de la Libertad in Tampico, show contemporary (i.e. of the 1940s) cars and buses, even though the story opens in 1925, as evidenced by the lottery number's poster.

Just as Huston was starting to shoot scenes in Tampico, Mexico, the production was shut down inexplicably by the local government. The cast and crew were at a complete loss to understand why, since the residents and government of Tampico had been so generous in days past. It turns out that a local newspaper printed a false story that accused the filmmakers of making a production that was unflattering to Mexico.

Huston soon found out why the newspaper skewered him and his production. When you wanted to do anything in Tampico, it was customary to slide a little money toward the editor of the newspaper, something the crew failed to do. Fortunately, two of Huston's associates, Diego Rivera and Miguel Covarrubias, went to bat for the director with the President of Mexico. The libellous accusations were dropped, and a few weeks later, the editor of the newspaper was caught in the wrong bed and shot dead by a jealous husband.

Most of the Mexican extras were paid 10 pesos a day which was the equivalent of $2.00, a considerable amount for an impoverished region at the time.

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. As with most of the Mexican actors selected from the local population, Alfonso Bedoya's heavily accented pronunciation of English proved to be a bit of a problem. Example: "horseback" came out as "whore's back." Bogart only knew two Spanish words, "Dos Equis," a Mexican beer.

The fight scene in the cantina took five days to shoot. During the shooting of the entire film, John Huston pulled pranks on Bennett, Bedoya (along with Bogart) and Bogart himself.

While most of the film was shot in Mexico, Jack L. Warner had the unit return to Hollywood when the budget started to exceed three million dollars.

Though the daily rushes impressed Warner Bros., Jack L. Warner, he nearly went berserk with the weekly expenditures. After viewing one scene, Warner threw up his hands and shouted to Blanke, "Yeah, they're looking for gold all right - mine!" During another screening of rushes, Warner watched Dobbs stumble along in the desert for water. Warner jumped up in the middle of the scene and shouted to a gaggle of executives, "If that s.o.b. doesn't find water soon I'll go broke!"

Warner had reason to be upset. John Huston and Blanke led him to believe that the film would be an easy picture to make and that they would be in and out of Mexico in a matter of weeks. Because Warner was notorious for not actually reading scripts, he assumed the film was a B-movie Western. As the full extent of Huston's plans became apparent, Warner nearly blew a gasket. He was especially unhappy with the way the film ended, arguing that audiences wouldn't accept it. Ironically, Warner was correct, since the initial box office take was as impressive as fool's gold. But the film was a huge critical success and, in its many re-releases, it more than earned its original investment of $3 million.

As production dragged on, Bogart, who was an avid yachtsman, was starting to get increasingly anxious about missing the Honolulu Classic, the Catalina-to-Hawaii race in which he usually took part. Despite assurances from the studio that he would be wrapped on the picture by then, he started to constantly annoy Huston about whether he would be done in time. Eventually Huston had enough and grabbed Bogart by the nose and twisted hard. Bogart never again asked him to confirm when shooting was expected to be over.

The wind storm in the final scene was created by borrowing some jet engines from the Mexican Air Force. 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. It is debated if this is speculation or not.

Edited scene

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 (a quick shot of Gold Hat's accomplices reacting to Dobbs' rolling head remains in the film, and in the very next shot one can see the water rippling where it rolled in). The 1948 censors would not allow 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 was: "What's wrong with showing a guy getting his head cut off?"

John Huston's screenplay

Main article: Stinking badges

John Huston's adaptation of Traven's novel was altered to meet Hays Code regulations, which severely limited profanity in film.[4] The original line from the novel was: "Badges, to god-damned hell with badges! We have no badges. In fact, we don't need badges. I don't have to show you any stinking badges, you god-damned cabrón and chinga tu madre!" The dialogue as written for the film is:

Gold Hat: "We are Federales... you know, the mounted police."
Dobbs: "If you're the police, where are your badges?"
Gold Hat: "Badges? We ain't got no badges. We don't need no badges! I don't have to show you any stinkin' badges!"

Gold Hat's response as written by Huston - and delivered by Bedoya - has become famous, and is often misquoted as "We don't need no stinking badges!" In 2005, the quotation was chosen as No. 36 on the American Film Institute list, AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes.


The film is often described as a story about the corrupting influence of greed.[5] Film critic Roger Ebert enlarged upon this idea, saying that "The movie has never really been about gold but about character." [6] In addition, reviewers have noted the importance not just of greed and gold, but also of nature and its desolateness as an influence on the actions of the men.[7] However, the ability of the film to comment on human nature generally has been questioned, in view of the fact that Dobbs' character is so evidently flawed from the beginning.[7]


According to Variety the film earned $2.3 million in the US in 1948.[8]

Awards and honors

John Huston won the Academy Award for Directing and Academy Award for Writing Adapted Screenplay in 1948 for his work on The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Walter Huston, John Huston's father, also won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in this film, the first father-son win. The film was nominated for the Best Picture award, but lost to Laurence Olivier's film adaptation of Hamlet.

In 1990, this film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". The film was among the first 100 films to be selected.[2]

Director Stanley Kubrick listed The Treasure of the Sierra Madre as his 4th favorite film of all time in his list of his top ten favorite films in a 1963 edition of Cinema magazine.[9] Director Sam Raimi ranked it as his favorite film of all time in an interview with Rotten Tomatoes and director Paul Thomas Anderson watched it at night before bed while writing his film There Will Be Blood.[10]

American Film Institute recognition

Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan has also cited the film as one of his personal favorites. A key scene from the film was emulated in "Buyout", the sixth episode of the fifth season of Breaking Bad.


  1. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Filmsite Movie Review. AMC's FilmSite. Retrieved April 15, 2013.
  2. 1 2 Gamarekian, Barbara (October 19, 1990). "Library of Congress Adds 25 Titles to National Film Registry". The New York Times. Retrieved July 22, 2009.
  3. Discovering Treasure: The Story of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Turner Classic Movies, 2003
  4. "Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The (1948)". 2010. Retrieved 2010-04-21.
  5. "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)". The New York Times. 1948.
  6. "Treasure of the Sierra Madre". 2003.
  7. 1 2 "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre". The Nation. 1948.
  8. "Top Grossers of 1948", Variety 5 January 1949 p 46
  9. Baxter 1997, p. 12.
  10. Lynn Hirschberg (November 11, 2007). "The New Frontier's Man". The New York Times. Retrieved November 10, 2007.
  11. AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes and Villains Nominees
  12. AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores Nominees
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