The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (film)

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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
Editing by Owen Marks
Studio Warner Bros.-First National Picture
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 adventure film 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.


Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart) and Curtin (Tim Holt), cheated out of promised wages and down on their luck, meet old prospector Howard (Walter Huston) in the Mexican oil-town of Tampico. They set out to strike it rich by searching for gold in 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 moral debate about what to do with the new stranger. The men decide to kill Cody, but just as the three confront him with pistols and prepare to kill him, the bandits reappear, crudely pretending to be Federales. (This results in a now-famous exchange between Dobbs and the bandits about not needing to show any "stinking badges.") After a gunfight with the bandits, in which Cody is killed, a real troop of Federales appears and chases away the bandits.

Howard is called away to assist some local villagers in saving a little boy. The next day he is asked, without the option of declining, to go back 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.

Dobbs is later ambushed and killed by some of the bandits. 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 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 realizes that the winds must have carried the gold away. They accept the loss with equanimity, and then part ways, Howard returning to his village, and Curtin returning home to the United States.


Frame from the film trailer


A few notable uncredited actors appear in the film. In an opening cameo, director John Huston is pestered for money by Bogart's character. Actor Robert Blake also appears as a young boy selling lottery tickets. However, the most controversial cameo is the rumored one by Ann Sheridan. Sheridan allegedly did a cameo as a streetwalker. After Dobbs leaves the barbershop in Tampico (actually a set on a studio soundstage), he spies a passing prostitute who returns his look. Seconds later, the woman is picked up again by the camera, but this time in the distance. Some filmgoers and critics feel the woman looks nothing like Sheridan, but the DVD commentary for the film contains a statement that it is she. A photograph included in the documentary accompanying the DVD release shows Sheridan in streetwalker costume, with Bogart and Huston on the set. However, single frames of the film show a different woman in a different dress and different hairstyle, raising the possibility that Sheridan filmed the sequence but that it was reshot with another woman for indeterminate reasons.[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.

Significant portions of the film's dialog are in unsubtitled Spanish.

The opening scenes, filmed in longshot on the Plaza de la Libertad in Tampico, show modern (i.e. of the 1940s) cars and buses, even though the story opens in 1925, as evidenced by the lottery number's poster.


Dobbs is often used as a foil for Howard's philosophical comments on the value of gold and one's responsibilities to one's companions. For example, the Marxist exchange in the Oso Negro flophouse:

Howard: Say, answer me this one, will you? Why is gold worth some twenty bucks an ounce?

Dobbs: I don't know. Because it's scarce.

Howard: 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.

Dobbs: I never thought of it just like that.

Howard: Well, there's no other explanation, mister. Gold itself ain't good for nothing except making jewelry with and gold teeth.


The film is the origin of a famous line, often misquoted as "We don't need no stinking badges!" (homaged in Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles, also a Warner Bros. film). The correct dialogue is:

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

In 2005, the quotation was chosen as No. 36 on the American Film Institute list, AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes.

Awards and honors[edit]

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, director Sam Raimi ranked it as his favourite 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.[4]

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. ^ a b 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. ^ Lynn Hirschberg (November 11, 2007). "The New Frontier's Man". New York Times. Retrieved November 10, 2007. 
  5. ^ AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes and Villains Nominees
  6. ^ AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores Nominees

External links[edit]