The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

Everyone knows the plot by now: Three down-and-out gold prospectors slumming in a small Mexican town venture into the titular mountain range and strike the mother lode. But that’s when trouble starts brewing as one of the men, Dobbs (played by Humphrey Bogart in one of his career-defining performances) becomes completely dominated by his greed and murderous suspicions towards the other two men — the easygoing Curtin (Tim Holt) and the seasoned, wisecracking Howard (Walter Huston, who won an Oscar) — till everything they’ve worked for and accumulated is jeopardized.

Huston’s crackerjack screenplay is a study in karmic justice as the men follow their separate paths, destined to meet their separate fates. Six decades since its release and counting, the performances by the three leads continue to exert a raw moral power, especially Bogart’s. He really goes full-tilt in a bold, unapologetic turn as the unhinged Dobbs. Holt makes a sturdy counterweight to Dobbs’ excesses while Huston holds his own as a grizzled prospector who’s seen a thing or two. His foreboding look as Dobbs begins to unravel reveals that Howard is the movie’s oracle, our resident wise man and the jokester we badly need by the time Treasure pitches and storms to its close.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is an all-time masterpiece of characterization, structure, pacing and storytelling in general. While the outdoor photography could have been more expressive and textured (the early interiors are gorgeously filmed), and Huston’s early inspiration flags in the third act, the sheer narrative force of the whole thing — and Bogart’s indomitable performance — carry the film through. Among the most unforgettable action/adventure movies ever made.

Grade: A

Directed by: John Huston
Written by: John Huston
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Tim Holt, Walter Huston

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