The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) Review

Director: John Huston

Genre(s): Adventure, Drama, Western

Runtime: 126 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

This dirty, sweaty western picture is notable not only for starring Humphrey Bogart, but also for featuring Walter Huston, director John Huston’s father. This makes The Treasure of the Sierra Madre perhaps the most famous film to have a father/son tag-team in movie history. In 1925 Mexico, two down-on-their-luck American drifters, Fred C. Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart) and Curtin (Tim Holt), recruit an old, experienced prospector, Howard (Walter Huston), to aid them on a gold-digging expedition deep in the wilderness. This film starts strong, but suffers from a less energetic third act.

One of the first things the audience notices about The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is its thick atmosphere of desperation. The main characters start out as little more than beggars, constantly on the prowl for money for their next meal. The movie maintains this sense of fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants adventure as the trio move into the hills of Mexico to search for gold. Max Steiner provides a good musical score and the whole thing is mercifully devoid of romantic subplots. Humphrey Bogart’s paranoid performance could’ve easily veered off into hamminess, but this is largely avoided.

Unfortunately, the third act is noticeably weaker and slower than the first two. Bogart’s character spends too much time worriedly talking to himself and the subject matter isn’t as exciting as the content seen in the first two-thirds. The final act isn’t a total flop, but I missed the urban drifting, dive bars, shootouts with bandits, gold-mining, etc. from earlier on in the motion picture. Also, Walter Huston’s character’s prospector dance about midway through hasn’t aged well.

I can’t say that I enjoyed The Treasure of the Sierra Madre as much as the critics did (it currently holds an 100% approval rate among professional reviewers on Rotten Tomatoes). Sure, it’s still a highly watchable flick, but the third act just isn’t as entertaining as what came before. The film’s message that greed is bad is, of course, true, but it strikes me as an obvious statement to make. I’ll recommend it, even though I don’t find it close to perfect.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

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