For a film that’s 66 years old, “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” is full of surprises.
First-time viewers expecting one type of movie might be surprised when it develops into another. Some might be stunned by the harshness of Humphrey Bogart’s warts-and-all characterization. And those who anticipate hearing the film’s most quoted line might be disappointed that it never materializes in precisely that form.
The acclaimed 1948 drama will be shown Saturday and Sunday in Hoquiam, as part of the 7th St. Theatre’s Silver Screen Classic series.
Bogart stars as Fred C. Dobbs, a down-and-out American stranded in Mexico who is so cash-strapped that he keeps hitting up the same white-suited tourist (played in a cameo role by John Huston, the film’s writer/director) for a handout.
Spending a night in a flophouse, Dobbs and his younger friend Bob Curtin (Tim Holt) listen to a gabby oldtimer named Howard (Walter Huston, the director’s father) relate his experiences as a gold prospector. Staked by unexpected winnings from a lottery (the kid who delivers the money is future “Baretta” star and real-life murder suspect Robert Blake), Dobbs and Curtin decide to seek their fortune hunting for gold in the Sierra Madre mountains, reluctantly recruiting Howard as a guide.
Since the movie is not entitled “The Fruitless Search for Treasure in the Sierra Madre,” it’s not a spoiler to report that they find gold. But their troubles only begin at that point, as they must deal with Mexican bandits, a mysterious American who wants a cut of the swag (played by former University of Washington football player and shot putter Bruce Bennett, in a role John Huston intended for Ronald Reagan) and their own paranoia and greed.
“The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” is often described as an adventure classic. There’s plenty of adventure — and John Huston (as he demonstrated in such later films as “The African Queen” and “The Man Who Would Be King”) knows how to stage such scenes.
But what transforms the film into greatness is that it is also a superb character study, aided immeasurably by two tremendous performances.
Walter Huston’s Howard is initially depicted as the type of loquacious old coot most people instinctively avoid. He turns out to be much savvier and more physically adept than Dobbs and Curtin believe and eventually emerges as the moral centerpiece of the film.
Huston earned a supporting actor Academy Award for his performance. John received Oscars for his writing and direction, making the Hustons the first father-son team to be so honored. Some 37 years later, John Huston directed his daughter, Anjelica, to a supporting actress Oscar for the black comedy, “Prizzi’s Honor.”
Bogart, in contrast, wasn’t even nominated for the Best Oscar award — one of the Academy’s most egregious oversights.
Unlike most stars of his era, Bogey wasn’t pigeonholed into certain types of roles. He specialized in morally ambiguous characters, alternating between flawed heroes (as in “Casablanca,” “The Maltese Falcon” and “The African Queen”) and sympathetic villains (“High Sierra” and “The Caine Mutiny”).
Bitter, paranoid Fred C. Dobbs doesn’t begin as a particularly sympathetic character and becomes less so as the film progresses. Bogart, however, makes him recognizably human. His late-film rant on the effects of conscience is a classic.
Not quite as classic, however, as the oft-repeated line, delivered by the bandit chief, “Badges? We don’t need no stinkin’ badges.”
Like Cary Grant’s supposed “Judy, Judy, Judy” and Bogart’s own “Play it again, Sam” from “Casablanca,” this has been misquoted over the years. The bandit actually says, “We don’t need no badges. I don’t have to show you any stinkin’ badges.”
Fortunately, “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” doesn’t need that stinkin’ line to be a great movie.