The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (film)

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is a 1948 American dramatic adventurous neo-western written and directed by John Huston. It is an adaptation of B. Traven's 1927 novel of the same name, set in the 1920s, in which, driven by their desperate economic plight, two young men, Fred C. Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart) and Bob Curtin (Tim Holt), join old-timer Howard (Walter Huston, the director's father) in Mexico to prospect for gold.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
Theatrical poster
Directed byJohn Huston
Produced byHenry Blanke
Screenplay byJohn Huston
Based onThe Treasure of the Sierra Madre
1935 novel
by B. Traven
Music byMax Steiner
CinematographyTed D. McCord
Edited byOwen Marks
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • January 6, 1948 (1948-01-06)
Running time
126 minutes
CountryUnited States
  • English
  • Spanish
Box office$4,095,000[1]

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre was one of the first Hollywood productions to be shot on location outside the United States (in the state of Durango with street scenes in Tampico, Mexico), although many scenes were filmed back in the studio and elsewhere in the U.S. 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".[3]


In 1925, in the Mexican oil-town of Tampico, Fred C. Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart) and Bob Curtin (Tim Holt), two unemployed American drifters, survive by bumming for spare change. They are recruited by an American labor contractor, Pat McCormick (Barton MacLane), as roughnecks to construct oil rigs for $8 a day. When the project is completed, McCormick skips out without paying the men.

Returning to Tampico, the two vagrants encounter the grizzled prospector Howard (Walter Huston) in a flophouse. The loquacious and penniless ex-miner holds forth on the virtues of gold prospecting and the perils of striking it rich. The two younger men feel the lure of gold and contemplate its risks. Dobbs and Curtin run into McCormick at a cantina, and after a desperate bar fight, they collect their back wages in cash. When Dobbs wins a small jackpot in the lottery, he pools his funds with Curtin and Howard to finance a gold prospecting journey to the Mexican interior.

Departing from Tampico by rail, the threesome help to repulse a bandit attack. Dobbs exchanges gunfire with his future nemesis, the Mexican outlaw leader Gold Hat (Alfonso Bedoya). North of Durango the party is outfitted with gear and pack animals and begin their ascent into the remote Sierra Madre mountains. Howard proves to be the hardiest and most knowledgeable, outstripping the younger men in his physical endurance and wisdom. After several days of arduous travel, Howard's keen eye recognizes that the terrain is laden with gold. He dances a jig to celebrate their good luck, to the dismay of his two comrades.

The men commence the exhausting process of extracting the riches, living and working in the harshest and primitive conditions. In time, they amass a fortune in placer gold. As the gold piles up, fear and suspicion take hold of each man. Dobbs is particularly susceptible and begins to lose his sanity to paranoia. The men agree to divide the gold dust so as to jealously conceal the whereabouts of their shares.

Curtin, while on a resupply trip to Durango, is spotted making purchases by a Texas fortune hunter named Cody (Bruce Bennett). The Texan guesses the significance of Curtin's aloofness, and trails him secretly back to the encampment. When he confronts them, the three claim holders tell the intruder they are merely hunters. Cody dismisses the lie, and boldly proposes to join their outfit to share in any future takings from the unregistered claim. Howard, Curtin and Dobbs, each more or less in thrall to the gold, hold a private counsel and vote to kill the newcomer. As they announce their verdict, pistols in hand, Gold Hat and his bandits arrive on the scene. They claim to be Federales and attempt to barter for firearms. After a tense vocal exchange regarding requested proof that the bandits are indeed Federales, a gunfight with the bandits ensues, in which Cody is killed. A genuine troop of Federales suddenly appears and pursues Gold Hat and his gang as they flee the encampment. The three prospectors examine the personal effects of the dead Cody. A letter he carries from a loving wife reveals that his motivations were to provide for his family.

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 and will not take no for an answer. Howard leaves his goods with Dobbs and Curtin and says he will meet them later. 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 at a waterhole by Gold Hat and his accomplices. He attempts to shoot them, but is out of ammunition – allowing the bandits to brutally kill him. In their ignorance, they believe Dobbs' bags of gold dust are merely filled with sand, and they scatter the precious metal to the winds, taking only his burros and supplies. Meanwhile, Curtin is discovered by indios and taken to Howard's village, where he recovers.

Gold Hat's gang try to sell the packing donkeys in town, but a child recognizes the branding mark on the donkeys (and Dobbs' clothes, which the bandits are wearing) and reports them to the authorities. The bandits are captured and summarily executed by the Federales.

Howard and Curtin, arriving back in Durango in a dust storm, reclaim their pack animals, only to find the severed and empty gold sacks. At first shaken by the loss, Howard, then Curtin, grasp the immense irony of their circumstances, and they share in peals of laughter. They part ways, Howard returning to the indio village, where the natives have offered him a permanent home and position of honor, and Curtin returning home to the United States, where he will seek out Cody's widow in the peach orchards of Texas.


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.

Vincent Sherman was all set to direct a version of the story during the WWII years until his script fell foul of the 1930 Motion Picture Production Code 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. 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, 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. Walter Huston 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. 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, directed by Bogart. Actor Robert Blake also appears as a young boy selling lottery tickets.[4]

A photograph included in the documentary accompanying the DVD release shows Ann Sheridan in streetwalker costume, with Bogart and Huston on the set.[5] Many film-history sources credit Sheridan for a 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 libelous accusations were dropped, and a few weeks later, the editor of the newspaper was caught in flagrante 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. 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. 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 Producer Henry 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. Warner was notorious for not actually reading scripts and he assumed the film was a B-movie Western. As the full extent of Huston's plans became apparent, Warner became quite angry. He was especially unhappy with the way the film ended, arguing that audiences wouldn't accept it. Warner's expectation was validated in that the initial box office take was unimpressive. Yet the film was a huge critical success and in its many re-releases, it more than earned back 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 Race in which he usually took part. Despite assurances from the studio that his work on the picture would be finished by then, he started to repeatedly 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

John Huston's adaptation of Traven's novel was altered to meet Hays Code regulations, which severely limited profanity in film.[6] 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.[7] Film critic Roger Ebert expanded upon this idea, saying that "The movie has never really been about gold but about character."[8] 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.[9] However, the ability of the film to comment on human nature generally has been questioned, in view of the fact that the Dobbs character is so evidently flawed from the beginning.[9]


According to Variety the film earned $2.3 million in the US in 1948.[10] According to Warner Bros records the film earned $2,746,000 domestically and $1,349,000 foreign.[1]

On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film is one of the few that have an approval rating of 100%, based on 46 reviews, and an average rating of 9.07/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Remade but never duplicated, this darkly humorous morality tale represents John Huston at his finest."[11]

Awards and honors

Year Award ceremony Category Nominee Result
1950 BAFTA Best Film from Any Source Henry Blanke Nominated
1949 Academy Awards Best Picture Henry Blanke Nominated
Best Director John Huston Won
Best Supporting Actor Walter Huston Won
Best Adapted Screenplay John Huston Won
Golden Globe Awards Best Picture Won
Best Director John Huston Won
Best Supporting Actor Walter Huston Won

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.[3]

Director Stanley Kubrick listed The Treasure of the Sierra Madre as his 4th favorite film of all time in a 1963 edition of Cinema magazine.[12] 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.[13]

Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan has also cited the film as one of his personal favorites and has said that Fred C. Dobbs was a key influence in creating the character of Walter White. A key scene from the film was emulated in "Buyout", the sixth episode of the series' fifth season.

American Film Institute recognition

In pop culture

In addition to the numerous references to the infamous "stinking badges" line, an episode in the first season the TV series M*A*S*H* was titled "Major Fred C. Dobbs", referencing Bogart's character. The name refers to Major Frank Burns, who requests a transfer after repeated abuse by Hawkeye and Trapper. Seeing as the Major's departure would result in extra work for the other surgeons, they plot to get him to stay by making Burns believe there is gold in the nearby Korean hills. Letting his greed override his better judgment, Burns revokes his transfer.

The Stone Roses song "Fools Gold" was inspired by the film. Songwriter Ian Brown said, "Three geezers who are skint and they put their money together to get equipment to go looking for gold. ... Then they all betray each other... That's what the song is about."[14]


  1. Warner Bros financial information in The William Shaefer Ledger. See Appendix 1, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, (1995) 15:sup1, 1–31 p 28 DOI: 10.1080/01439689508604551
  2. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Filmsite Movie Review. AMC's FilmSite. Retrieved April 15, 2013.
  3. Gamarekian, Barbara (October 19, 1990). "Library of Congress Adds 25 Titles to National Film Registry". The New York Times. Retrieved July 22, 2009.
  4. Maltin, Leonard (2014). Leonard Maltin's 2015 Movie Guide. Penguin Group US. p. 2,447. ISBN 978-0-14-218176-8.
  5. Discovering Treasure: The Story of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Turner Classic Movies, 2003
  6. "Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The (1948)". 2010. Retrieved April 21, 2010.
  7. Crowther, Bosley (January 24, 1948). "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved February 23, 2019.
  8. Ebert, Roger (October 12, 2003). "Treasure of the Sierra Madre". Retrieved February 23, 2019.
  9. Agee, James (January 16, 2009). "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre". The Nation. Retrieved February 23, 2019.
  10. "Top Grossers of 1948". Variety. Variety Publishing Company. 173: 46. January 5, 1949. Retrieved February 23, 2019.
  11. "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved June 30, 2019.
  12. Baxter 1997, p. 12.
  13. Hirschberg, Lynn (November 11, 2007). "The New Frontier's Man". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. p. 660. Retrieved November 10, 2007.
  14. Webb, Robert (November 5, 2010). "Story Of The Song: Fool's Gold, The Stone Roses, 1989". The Independent. Retrieved August 15, 2018.


  • Baxter, John (1997). Stanley Kubrick: A Biography. HarperCollins. ISBN 978-0-00-638445-8.
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