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Film / The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

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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.note 

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.

"I don't have to show you any stinkin' Tropes!":

  • 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 for Nothing: The three protagonists work hard to mine a large quantity of gold. None of them benefits from it: one is killed by bandits who let the wind blow gold away, so the other two cannot recover it.
  • All That Glitters: Dobbs and Curtin think that they have found a gold vein, but the more experienced Howard tells them it is pyrite, also called fool's gold.
  • 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.
  • Audience Surrogate: Curtin, as the most relatable and least shady of the main trio, essentially fills this role in the movie.
  • 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 STINKIN' BADGES!
  • Bar Brawl: Dobbs and Curtin get into a fistfight with McCormick at a cantina.
  • Big Bad Ensemble: Fred C. Dobbs and Gold Hat.
  • Bilingual Bonus: A whole lot of dialogues happens in Spanish, with no subtitles and not always someone to translate. Even if the translation happens, it misses various bits, including few funny lines.
  • 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 Gold Hat and his gang have been brought to justice by the Federales, 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.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: I'm sure that poor beggar man Dobbs encountered on the bench early on isn't going to find a way to return to the story in any way whatsoever. (He comes back as one of the men work at the construction site and accompanies Dobbs and Howard in the gold hunt.)
  • 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.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Curtin tries to take care of a Gila monster that runs under some rocks, which just happens to be where Dobbs was hiding his share of the gold and sparks his growing paranoia.
  • 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 steals gold from his partners and ends up alone with the whole treasure, which makes him an easy prey for the banditos, who kill him.
  • 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.
  • "Everybody Laughs" Ending: When he realizes that gold was blown away by the wind, Howard starts laughing and the Indians imitate him. Curtin is visibly disappointed at first, but ends up laughing too.
  • 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:
    • Dobbs and Curtin working hard on a construction site and getting nothing in return because the guy who hired them is a swindler foreshadows the fact that their effort to mine gold will not be rewarded.
    • 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.
    • When they find gold, Dobbs notes that the gold they mine looks like plain sand. Howard confirms that only experienced people can recognize it. In the end, the bandits do not recognize it and let the wind blow it away.
    • Howard says early in the film that banditos would kill Dobbs even if he has no gold, just for stealing his boots. In the end, banditos actually kill Dobbs and steal his mules, pelts and boots. They do not realize that he carried gold too.
    • 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 
  • Grapes of Luxury: The happy ending for Howard. He doesn't get the gold but he does get a very nice place indeed as a sort of doctor for the local village. The job seems to mostly consist of lying in a hammock while pretty young ladies who look to be a third of his age wait on him hand and foot, bringing him liquor and fruit that they feed him by hand. (There's also a quite daring for 1948 shot in which one of the lovely ladies serves him tequila shots, allowing him to lick the salt off of her hand before giving him the shot glass.)
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: All of the main trio do some morally questionable things in the story. Even the ostensible "good" one, Curtin, willingly helps beat up McCormick and casts the deciding vote to kill Cody. As for Dobbs, the bad guy, he agrees to pay instead of Curtin for buying the equipment. Later, he also agrees to clear up the prospecting site as Howard suggests.
  • Greed: This is the whole point of the story. Fred 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).
  • Honor Among Thieves: Early on, Dobbs and Curtin beat the shit out of a foreman who swindle them from money. After finally going for his wallet, they only take the exact amount the man owed them, then throw the rest of it - about five times as much - into his face. And then they pay for damages they caused - from the pay they just retrived. But once gold enters the equation, Dobbs stops having any qualms whatsoever.
  • 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.note 
  • In Harmony with Nature: Done subtly-not-subtly with Howard. He's the only one who knows at all what he's doing out in the desert with his fellow prospectors, seems to have a better sense of human nature than them as well, is so spry that Dobbs complains he must be part mountain goat, and reveals that he considers the mountain a living place to be respected, when he insists on dismantling the played-out mine.
    Howard: We've wounded this mountain. It's our duty to close her wounds. It's the least we can do to show our gratitude for all the wealth she's given us. If you guys don't want to help me, I'll do it alone.
    Curtin: You talk about that mountain like it was a real woman.
  • 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. As he gets more and more unhinged, he starts projecting every mean, nasty thought he has onto his partners.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Dobbs certainly gets his when the "Federales" he had been bad-mouthing earlier turn up. In fact, each of the three protagonists get fates according to their morality:
    • Howard, who goes out of his way to return the mountain to its natural state after the mining is done and is the only one to vote against murdering Cody (even if he's not too fussed with going through with it when he's outvoted), eventually gets set up as the healer of a native village, treated as royalty presumably for the rest of his life, so long as he actually can do the work.
    • Curtin, who is the deciding vote in choosing to kill Cody (even if it was somewhat reluctant), but who sticks by his two partners, even as the going gets rough and emotions flare, at worst is back to being a bum like he started, but actually has a chance at his dream of running a peach orchard... if the widow he has to break the news to will take him, and he doesn't mention that he was about to kill her husband when the bandits who did distracted him.
    • Dobbs, who was pushing for murdering Cody from the start, and who eventually tries to cheat and murder his partners... well, he is reduced to drinking water with the burros, then dies in that same ditch, beheaded by bandits as mean and stupid and greedy as him.
    • Then there's Pat McCormick, who talks desperate guys like Dobbs and Curtin into working for him, then stiffs them on their payment. He gets his comeuppance when the two men spot him parading around town spending the money he owes them.
  • 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. Dobbs forgets to reload it and finds himself defenseless at the end, while leaving the loaded gun with Curtin.
  • 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.
  • 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: Despite not technically being a native, Howard fits the trope to a "T". 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, 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. However, at first he has an upper hand aginst them, easily beating the crap out of them, despite being one versus two and it seems he will just leave with them beaten down.
  • No MacGuffin, No Winner: In the end, the gold is lost for all the people who tried to get it.
  • No Name Given: We never learn Howard's surname. Or his first name, if "Howard" is his 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.
  • Reality Has No Subtitles: There is a lot of spoken Spanish in the film. If the audience need to understand it, then Howard will provide a translation.
  • Rule of Symbolism: Gold Hat asks if he can keep his hat, when he's executed by the firing squad. In the next scene, the hat is tumbling towards his grave, evidently to reunite with him in death. Instead, it misses the hole, and goes tumbling off on the wind. Scant minutes later, the actual gold he stole (but couldn't recognize as anything but sand) also blows off on the wind.
  • Sanity Slippage: Dobbs becomes increasingly unhinged and paranoid as the movie progresses. Howard mentions it happening to his comrades before.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: The three protagonists work hard to mine a large quantity of gold. Finally, the gold is stolen by bandits who do not realize what it is and let the wind blow it away.
  • Sound-Only Death: A few: Gold Hat, Dobbs, banditos, Bob (though he doesn't die).
  • Stupid Crooks: Gold Hat and his gang really aren't that bright. They try to rob a train that has Federales on it, then laughably attempt to pose as Federales, and don't know what gold dust looks like. They then top it off by riding into Durango with stolen donkeys, each of them marked and thus tracable, selling them on a market right next to a precinct. Their one success, ambushing Dobbs, was basically dumb luck.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: Dobbs and Curtin quickly realize that prospecting isn't what they thought it was, even after they find the gold. Instead of getting gold nuggets or a metallic vein, they have to work their asses to dig out dirt that's barely recognisable as gold in the first place. And after a few months of hard labour, exhausting the deposit in the process, they've got gold dust that's worth (even when adjusted by inflation) a quite humble sum of money. No motherload, no get-rich-quickly, all the tough job of actual prospecting.
  • 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. And when Curtin has every reason to just shoot him, but refrains from doing so, Dobbs pays him back by trying to kill him the first chance he gets.
  • 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.