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The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is John Huston's American feature film adaptation of B. Traven's novel of the same name, in which two penurious Americanmarker (Humphrey Bogart and Tim Holt) during 1920s in Mexicomarker join with an old-timer (Walter Huston, the director's father) to prospect for gold. The old-timer accurately predicts trouble, but is willing to go anyway. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre was one of the first Hollywoodmarker films to be filmed almost entirely on location outside the United Statesmarker (in the state of Durangomarker and street scenes in Tampicomarker, Mexico), although the night scenes were filmed back in the studio. The film is quite faithful to the novel.

Story and historical setting

(L-R) Tim Holt, Humphrey Bogart and Walter Huston
By the 1920s 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 the three American prospectors who are the protagonists in the story, were at very real risk of being killed by the bandit if their paths crossed. The bandits, likewise, were given little more than a "last cigarette" by the army units after capture, even having to dig their own graves first.

This is the context in which the three gringos band together in a small Mexican town and set out to strike it rich in the remote Sierra Madre mountains. They ride a train into the hinterlands, surviving a bandit attack en route. Once out in the desert, Howard, the old-timer of the group, quickly proves to be by far the toughest and most knowledgeable; he is the one to discover the gold they are seeking. A mine is dug, and much gold is extracted, but greed soon sets in and Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart) begins to lose both his trust and his mind, lusting to possess the entire treasure. The bandits then reappear, pretending, very crudely, to be Federales, which leads to the now-iconic line about not needing to show any "stinking badges". After a gunfight, a real troop of Federales appear and drive the bandits away.

But when Howard is called away to assist some local villagers, Dobbs and third partner Curtin have a final confrontation, which Dobbs wins, leaving Curtin lying shot and bleeding. However, as he staggers away through the desert, Dobbs is found and killed (via having his head chopped off) by some surviving bandits, who, in their ignorance, scatter the gold to the winds. Curtin is discovered and taken to Howard's village, where he recovers. He 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 areas that 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 America.

Cast

from The Treasure of the Sierra Madre 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 Tampicomarker (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. 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.

Quotation

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 (Alfonso 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 #36 on the American Film Institute list, AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movie Quotes.

Awards and honors

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 Statesmarker National Film Registry by the Library of Congressmarker as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

Director Stanley Kubrick listed The Treasure of Sierra Madre as one of his top ten favorite films, and director Paul Thomas Anderson watched it at night before bed while writing his film There Will Be Blood.

American Film Institute recognition

Notes

  1. Discovering Treasure: The Story of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Turner Classic Movies, 2003


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