Film / The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/treasure_sierra_madre.jpg

Howard: Aah, gold's a devilish sort of thing, anyway. You start out, you tell yourself you'll be satisfied with 25,000 handsome smackers worth of it. "So help me, Lord, and cross my heart." Fine resolution. After months of sweatin' yourself dizzy, and growin' short on provisions, and findin' nothin', you finally come down to 15,000, then ten. Finally, you say, "Lord, let me just find $5,000 worth and I'll never ask for anythin' more the rest of my life.
Flophouse Bum: $5,000 is a lot of money.
Howard: Yeah, here in this joint it seems like a lot. But I tell you, if you was to make a real strike, you couldn't be dragged away. Not even the threat of miserable death would keep you from trying to add 10,000 more. Ten, you'd want to get twenty-five; twenty-five you'd want to get fifty; fifty, a hundred. Like roulette. One more turn, you know. Always one more.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is a 1948 film directed and written by John Huston, starring his father Walter Huston and Humphrey Bogart, and adapted from a 1927 novel by B. Traven. Father and son both won Academy Awards for their achievements in the film, which was also nominated for Best Picture.

A trio of down-on-their-luck gringos in Mexico — Fred C. Dobbs (Bogart), Bob Curtin (Tim Holt), and elderly prospector Howard (Walter Huston) — decide to search for gold in the eponymous mountain range. At first, the adventure seems simple enough; in fact, they even find their gold. What they didn't count on might just be the greatest obstacle of all: themselves.


This film provides examples of:

  • Adaptation Distillation: A considerable part of Dobbs' wandering and several chapter long tales told by Howard and Lacaud are missing from the movie.
  • Adaptation Dye-Job: In the book, Dobbs is blond.
  • Adaptation Name Change: In the book, Cody's name is Lacaud.
  • Alas, Poor Villain: Dobbs wanders off alone (with the gold) and gets caught by the Mexican bandits from earlier, who ultimately kill him with a machete. You almost feel sorry for him. Almost.
  • All That Glitters
  • Artistic License – Geography: Mention is made of "hardly any snow" in the fruit groves of... Dallas, Texas, a place where snow would be remarkable if it happened at all, to say nothing of the complete absence of orchards.
  • Aside Glance: Howard, in his hammock when one of the Mexican girls helps him lit a cigarette.
  • Bandito: The fake Federales who deliver the film's most famous line.
    Gold Hat: Badges? We ain't got no badges. We don't need no badges. I don't have to show you any stinking badges.
  • Bar Brawl: Dobbs and Curtin get into a fistfight with McCormick at a cantina.
  • Big Bad Ensemble: Fred C. Dobbs and Gold Hat.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Dobbs' insanity catches up with him, he dies, and the treasure is lost, rendering 10 months of Curtin and Howard's lives a waste. But Howard gets a nice position as a medicine man, and Curtin may yet get his dream of a nice peach farm.
  • Bottomless Magazines: A nice aversion. In every major action scene, we see both the heroes and villains reloading constantly.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Howard is being wined and dined by indians for saving a child. He's swinging in a hammock, being fed meat and fruit and Tequila. Then a beautiful woman lights a cigarette for him and rubs his beard. He looks directly into the camera and shudders with amazement at his good fortune.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • The lottery ticket Dobbs buys early on. He forgets all about it until the kid returns to inform him of his win.
    • The burros the group rent. Or rather, their branding marks. The bandits who kill Dobbs are caught when someone recognizes the mark.
  • Chromosome Casting: Outside of the occasional extra during the earlier scenes, the cast of the movie consists of three men, four if you include Cody (who isn't in the movie for very long but has a major impact on the plot). There's also the bandits, but they're not given as much focus.
  • Composite Character: Gold Hat and two of his followers replace the bandits who kill Dobbs at the end.
  • Cool Old Guy: Howard. Face it, without him, Dobbs and Curtin would not have lasted more than a week (Howard himself points this out). Being the only one who can identify Fool's Gold and speak Spanish certainly helps.
  • Creator Cameo: That's John Huston as the white-suited man Dobbs keeps accosting for a handout in Tampico.
  • Dead Hat Shot: The dead bandito's "gold hat" is flying around the scene after the execution.
  • Death by Adaptation: Cody is killed by bandits. Lacaud is last seen still prospecting on the mountain the protagonists are leaving.
  • Death by Materialism: Dobbs.
  • Deal with the Devil: Not really, despite the tagline. The decision to kill each other over the gold might be seen as a metaphorical one. And it turns out like the classic "Was It Really Worth It?" aesop the classic Faustian Bargain story has. Nobody profits except ol' Scratch in the end.
  • Dig Your Own Grave: Happens to the three banditos.
  • Evil Laugh: Dobbs develops an unsettling one as he gets crazier.
  • Faux Affably Evil: The bandit leader, Gold Hat, who speaks in a friendly manner and claims to be one of the "mounted police" in an attempt to get Dobbs to lower his guard.
  • Fedora of Asskicking: Dobbs wears one.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Howard's little spiel about partners in a gold claim going crazy with greed and turning on each other is a neat summary of what happens.
    • Also, early on they are hit by a "Norther", which Howard explains are high-speed winds that blow across the land from the north. At the end, they are hit by another which blows the gold dust away before they make it to the ruins.
    • Howard mentioning that Dobbs and Curtin wouldn't last very long without him. The moment Howard's gone, Dobbs and Curtin start feuding, and nearly kill each other several times, which ultimately culminates in Dobbs leaving Curtin for dead. Then Dobbs is on his own and gets whacked by the Mexican bandits.
  • Freudian Trio: The Gold Hunters:
    • Id: Dobbs, whose Sanity Slippage and Protagonist Journey to Villain are the focus of the film, and who decides to act impulsively and murder his comrades, putting Greed in place of everything else.
    • Ego: Curtin, originally Dobbs' partner-in-crime, but later starts to become rational after realizing that Dobbs does not intend to let any of them live.
    • Superego: Howard, the experienced propsector who is the only one of the three not to succumb to Gold Fever and usually offers a peaceful, non-violent solution.
  • The Friend Nobody Likes: Cody is treated as the odd man out when he approaches the group with the intention of joining them. Which leads to the decision to kill him.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: Dobbs starts off as nothing more than a beggar; by the third act, he's ready to kill someone if it means preserving his share of the gold.
  • Gold Fever: A driving force in the plot. The experienced Howard seems mostly immune to it, remaining rational throughout, but Dobbs and Curtin both fall under its spell. Dobbs is the only one who turns to killing to make sure he comes out on top, however, and it doesn't end well for him.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Of Dobbs being sliced up by machetes.note 
  • Greed: This is the whole point of the story. Frank Dobbs starts as a normal guy just trying to get by while constantly being swindled and scammed. Once he starts getting his hands on gold his sanity starts to spiral downhill to the point where he's quite content to torture and then attempt to murder his best friend just so he can make off with everybody's share of the gold as well as his own. This ends up being his undoing, as his eagerness to get away gets him ambushed and murdered by the bandits, which results in the loss of all the gold.
  • Hand in the Hole: Curtin dares Dobbs to put his hand into the hole where the gold — and a deadly lizard — are hidden.
  • Happy Dance: Courtesy of Howard, when they find the gold vein.
  • Hat Damage: Dobbs fires a warning shot right into the bandito leader's hat.
  • The Heavy: Dobbs winds up becoming the main threat (aside from the Mexican bandits).
  • If I Were a Rich Man: Each of the three prospectors tell the others what they will do now that they've struck it rich. Howard, the old prospector, is done looking for gold. He'll settle down with some kind of store and spend his days reading adventure stories. Curtin, an orchard because of his (somewhat idealized) memories of picking fruit one summer when he was a kid (read The Grapes of Wrath). Fred C. Dobbs? First a Turkish Bath to clean out all the dirt. Then clothes — a dozen of everything. Then a fancy restaurant ordering everything on the Bill of Fare and if it isn't just right, and maybe even if it is, he'll send it back and bawl out the waiter. When Curtin asks "Then what?" Dobbs answers "Well, what would be?" The two younger man stare into space with very intense looks until Howard interrupts them to remind them it wasn't all that healthy to be thinking about women in their current situation. Big dreams for $30,000 each but it was 1925.
  • Jerkass: Dobbs, who gradually devolves into Jerk with a Heart of Jerk in the last half-hour.
  • Jungles Sound Like Kookaburras: When the protagonists enter the Mexican forest a kookaburra can be heard in the background, despite not living there at all.
  • Lack of Empathy: Dobbs, oh so very much.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Dobbs certainly gets his when the "Federales" he had been bad-mouthing earlier turn up.
  • Laughing Mad: Dobbs starts laughing more and louder as Gold Fever sets in.
  • Left Your Lifesaver Behind: Curtin takes away the insane Dobbs' revolver. He returns it only after unloading it. Bogart forgets to reload it and finds himself defenseless at the end.
  • The Load: Dobbs and Curtin start off as this, in comparison to the far more experienced Howard.
  • Magnificent Moustaches of Mexico: The fake Federales exemplify this.
  • Man in White: The rich American in a white suit, Dobbs is constantly panhandling money from.
  • The Millstone: Dobbs is a rare dramatic version, being responsible for everything that isn't caused by Gold Hat and his bandits.
  • Motor Mouth: Everyone is a fast talker in this movie, but Howard is the fastest talker of them all.
  • Mysterious Middle Initial: Fred C. Dobbs.
  • Native Guide: As a veteran gold digger and being fluent in Spanish, Howard gets hired by the two novices to lead them to the right grounds.
  • Nice Hat: Gold Hat insists on putting his sombrero back on before being executed.
  • Nice, Mean, and In-Between: Howard (nice), Dobbs (mean) and Curtin (in-between).
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Dobbs and Curtin give McCormick (the foreman of their work crew) one of these after he cheats them out of their pay.
  • No Name Given: We never learn Howard's surname. And the leader of the Mexican bandits is known only as "Gold Hat".
  • Off with His Head!: Although we don't see it, it's strongly implied (and has been confirmed by the director) that Dobbs is decapitated.
  • One Last Job: That's what Cody promised to his wife in his letter, which really makes things awkward when the trio attempted to kill him themselves earlier on.
  • Paying for the Action Scene: After Dobbs and Curtin beat down their deadbeat employer they take only the money owed to them and then leave something on the bar for the drinks and damage.
  • Pet the Dog: Whether you find the protagonists sympathetic or not: fixing the mountain when they leave, burying Cody's body, and informing his widow of her husband's death.
  • Prospector: All three main characters, but Howard in particular exemplifies the "old and grizzled" stereotype of the trope.
    • The character of Stinky Pete in Toy Story 2 is a direct parody of Howard.
  • Protagonist Journey to Villain: Dobbs, who starts off as the main character of the story, but our allegiance gradually switches to his comrades when he goes off the deep end.
  • Sanity Slippage: Dobbs becomes increasingly unhinged and paranoid as the movie progresses. Howard mentions it happening to his comrades before.
  • Sound-Only Death: A few: Gold Hat, Dobbs, banditos, Bob (though he doesn't die).
  • Talking Your Way Out: Dobbs tries to do this when he finds himself at the mercy of Gold Hat and his remaining banditos. Doesn't save him.
  • Think Nothing of It: Subverted. After Howard resuscitates a young village boy who'd drowned, a group of villagers led by the boy's father tracks the trio down and insists on taking them back for a feast. Howard tries to wave it off out of modesty, but the father is insistent: seems local custom holds that "all the saints in Heaven will be angry with him" if he fails to honor them properly, so he's willing to bring them back through force of arms, if that's what it'll take.
  • Third-Person Person: Dobbs starts to do this when he grows more unhinged.
  • Token Evil Teammate: Dobbs gradually grows into this role in the group as The Cynic viewpoint, where it gets so bad that he generates most of the conflict in the story because of his opportunity to become somebody. The only time his cynicism helped the mining group was running off the bandits the first time. Other than that, well...
  • Token Good Teammate: Howard, being the only one who doesn't consider killing his comrades. He does kill off a few bandits (but that was purely in self-defense), and the only voluntary killing he comes close to doing is shooting Cody (which in turn was a result of being overruled in the decision by Dobbs and Curtin). When Cody is given a chance to prove himself by keeping an eye on the fake Federales, Howard is all for it.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: Even getting rescued from a mine collapse and then a Gila monster doesn't make Dobbs any less suspicious of his partners.
  • Unsatisfiable Customer: Dobbs apparently plans to be one after he strikes it rich.
    Dobbs: Then, I'm goin' to a swell cafe and order everything on the bill of fare, and if it ain't just right — or maybe even if it is — I'm gonna bawl the waiter out and make him take the whole thing back.
  • Villain Protagonist: It will surprise nobody who pays attention for the first ten minutes to know that Dobbs turns out this way. From blowing off helping a child to panhandling specifically to rich people, the only reason Dobbs got anywhere is one good impression to Howard and Curtin.
  • What You Are in the Dark: The mine caves in on Dobbs. Curtin calls out to him, then has second thoughts and turns around, leaving Dobbs to die. Then, after a moment's hesitation, he turns around again and digs Dobbs out.
  • Worthless Yellow Rocks: The bandits who kill Dobbs steal his gold, but mistake it for sand and dump it off; it gets blown away by a windstorm.
  • Writer on Board: It's absent in the film, but if you read the novel, it seems rather clear that Traven really didn't like the Catholic Church.
  • The X of Y: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.


http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Film/TheTreasureOfTheSierraMadre