Film Review: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
In 1948, John Huston released The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, adapted from the 1927 novel fo the same name by B. Traven. Starring Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston, Tim Holt, Bruce Bennett, Barton MacLane, Alfonso Bedoya, Arturo Soto Rangel, Manuel Donde, Jose Torvay, and Margarito Luna, the film grossed $4.3 million at the box office. Listed by Stanley Kubrick as his fourth favorite film of all time in 1963, the film won the Academy Awards for Best Directing, Best Supporting Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay and was nominated for Best Picture, but lost to Hamelt. The American Film Institue also listed the film as #30 on its original list of top 100 films and at #38 for its 10th anniversary list.
A trio of gringos in Mexico decide to search for gold in the Sierra Madre mountains, but while the adventure seems simple at first, they find that their greatest obstacle might not be the elements or bandits, but themselves.
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is a great film that plays out like a morality tale. At first, the film looks like it’s going to go in the direction of men who get so hooked into looking for their gold that they get blinded by everything else, only to learn their lesson when they don’t end up finding anything. But that’s subverted when they actually do end up finding their gold, which is the true impetus for how the greed comes about. It’s after they start to find the gold and begin dividing it up that the lust for more comes about, which leads to conflict. And it starts small, with Dobbs saying that he deserves more gold and grows into paranoia that his partners are going to kill him, which in turn drives him to shoot Curtin. But it’s not just Dobbs that is inflicted by greed as Curtin is touched by it at first, almost turning away from saving Dobbs after the cave in. But he doesn’t and digs him out, showing that the greed wasn’t going to turn him.
There’s also some clever foreshadowing about what finding the gold is going to do to the men, as Howard calls it a “devilish sort of thing.” In his monologue, he talks about how a man will want a lot, but will settle for less when he can’t find anything. However, when he does, not even death will drag him away from getting more.
And the above is actually seen in all the characters and their motivations.
Dobbs starts out the film doing an honest living as well as panhandling, which is the first point the audience will realize he’s not satisfied with what he’s going to get. And when the gang are talking about what they’ll do with the money, his idea is to live easy by buying everything in a haberdashery as well as order everything on the menu at a restaurant, only to take it all back. He wants to live like a king and have the ability to order people around malevolently. And at the end of the film, after he’s tried all he can to take all the gold for himself, his efforts are in vain when the banditos end up killing him.
Compare that to Curtin and Howard. Curtin is trying to make an honest living in the beginning of the film and talks about buying a peach farm with his share of the gold, showing that he actually values work. And Howard just wants to finally settle down, which shows that he wants to rest after a life of hard work. Howard is also the morality chain that keeps Dobbs from killing Curtin, because when he leaves to assist villagers in saving the life of an ill boy, Dobbs tries to kill Curtin and take all the gold. This is also the product of interesting foreshadowing as Howard says that the two wouldn’t last very long without him earlier.
Now, just as Dobbs is killed in the end, not getting any of the gold, neither do Curtin and Howard, which shows that greed not only affects a greedy person’s life, but the lives of those around them. However, the latter two are able to laugh about the situation because the bandits who killed Dobbs thought it was sand and got rid of it. Howard even says that he has to laugh or else he’ll cry. But really, while they don’t get the gold, Howard and Curtin are better off, mainly because they’re not dead, but also because Howard is given the position of the aforementioned village’s medicine man and Curtin is still able to fulfill his dream of owning a peach farm.
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