John Huston’s mad adventure about a seedy man (Humphrey Bogart) and his two gold-mining companions (Walter Huston, Tim Holt) opens up with a usually clean-cut Bogart begging for money on the streets of Tampico. The rest of the film’s arc is foreshadowed early on, but it’s the execution of its brotherly camaraderie and subsequent descent into darkness that stands out and makes The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) memorable and easy to enjoy. The characters are the film’s heart and soul, and we get the full range of human interaction and expression through the wise old man, the money-hungry Dobbs, the young man with a good heart, and their encounters with a cast of auxiliary characters that continually throw a wrench in their plans.
Although the entirety of the film is entertaining, no portion is more gripping than the last hour or so, when old man Howard leaves and Dobbs fully gives into his delusions. Bogart plays the madman to its full, glorious potential in a breakdown of Shakespearean proportions (King Lear). No matter how heavy and depressing this movie gets, however, there are always moments of humor and laughter, whether in lighthearted banter or in painfully ironic situations. The final scene, especially, is almost like a cosmic joke played out on our protagonists, and they are surely aware enough to get their share of laughter out of the way. As the film gets closer and closer to that point, one begins to notice the stark realism and honesty in the world’s portrayal: true Mexican landscapes, with true Mexican actors, speaking their language for scenes at a time with no translations. In a film filled with action, humor, and tension, it’s the honesty of Sierra Madre that wins out and makes it all worth it.