The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

Movie review by
Barbara Shulgas..., Common Sense Media
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre Movie Poster Image
Classic '40s tale of greed, betrayal, and murder.
  • NR
  • 1948
  • 126 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

When people have nothing, they yearn for a little, but once they have something, often they want much more. An experienced prospector warns that partners steal from each other and kill each other where gold is concerned. "I never knowed a prospector died rich." Life's "real treasure" is embodied in loving marriages and family. "The worst ain't so bad when it finally happens."
 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Dobbs panhandles for money, not recognizing he's asked the same guy three times. A foreman hires needy men to build houses then stiffs them. Later, when confronted, he beats up two men he stiffed until they knock him down and take the money they're owed from his wallet. Three men promise to be supportive three-way partners then start distrusting each other as soon as they find gold. A man who is seemingly honest and only expects what he's owed gradually becomes a thief and a murderer under the influence of potential wealth. After digging up the mountain and extracting gold, the experienced prospector insists on closing up the mountain to leave it as they first found it, sounding a note of respect for nature and touting man's responsibility to care for the environment. A man shoots another man, then suffers a guilty conscience.

Violence

Three men decide to murder an intruder rather than take him in as a partner. A man beats up two men he stiffed until they knock him down and take the money they're owed from his wallet. Thieves pose as police, trying to steal the prospectors' weapons, then shoot at them. Several men are killed. Later some of the thieves are executed off screen, after digging their own graves, by the real police. A man describes the deadly bite of a Gila monster.
 

Sex

A man alludes to looking for sex as "next on the program" after getting rich, going to a Turkish bath, buying new clothes, and ordering everything on a fancy menu.  Another warns not to talk about or even think about women when prospecting for gold.

 

Language

"Jackass."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol, sometimes to drunkenness. The prospectors share their tobacco with Mexicans, who may be sharing marijuana with them in return.

 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, director John Huston's 1948 exploration of greed, betrayal, and conscience, is a classic black-and-white film based on B. Traven's 1927 novel of the same name. Probably younger viewers will be uninterested, but older teens who are students of classic film may appreciate the craftsmanship and the fact that it was one of the first Hollywood films to be shot outside the U.S. on location. Shoot-outs leave bodies behind and off-camera executions of criminals are featured, but the black-and-white renders the small amount of blood seen far less gory than the stuff ordinarily displayed in contemporary movies. A foreman hires needy men to build houses then stiffs them. Later, when confronted, he beats up two men he stiffed until they knock him down and take the money they're owed from his wallet. Adults smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol, sometimes to drunkenness.

 

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What's the story?

In THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE, Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart) and Curtin (Tim Holt) are down-and-out Americans bumming meals and cigarettes to survive on the streets of 1925 Tampico, Mexico. When they meet the grizzled, white-bearded Howard (Walter Huston) at a Mexican flophouse, he is spinning tales of gold prospecting. He warns of the loneliness, hard labor, and danger involved, adding that the pursuit of gold does terrible things to the souls of even the best men. Nevertheless, the younger men suggest pooling their resources and, under secrecy and the guidance of Howard's experience, they set off on a life-changing trek up an unforgiving Mexican mountain. The old man has the energy and stamina of a mountain goat, often leaving the other two behind. It's a hint that actions speak louder than words, which is an overarching theme. Character is revealed slowly. A man's death spurs an unexpected pledge of charity. When a group of locals finds the men's camp and asks them to help revive a young boy who is in a coma, Howard goes without hesitation and pumps life into the still child's body. As the three find, mine, purify, and amass gold, bandits and a meddling prospector threaten, leading to shoot-outs, mistrust, murder, and betrayals.

Is it any good?

Human weaknesses are magnificently on display in every scene of this classic tale of greed, betrayal, and conscience. John Huston cannily directed his father Walter to a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award and also won himself Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay Oscars. The movie asks great questions: When money is at stake, how much is enough? Are partners owed loyalty? How far must one go to protect one's interest? Is murder justifiable? Which suspicions are sensible and which are delusional paranoia?  Huston ably juggles the constant tension between man's natural desire to work communally and the equally powerful drive toward self-protection. Are three strangers capable of working as one? It may be a losing proposition to fight human weakness, but the odds are even worse when fighting forces of nature. These observations and questions are not new and, in fact, the structure echoes that of a heist movie, but the addition of the harsh mountain setting, the dangers and details of gold prospecting, and the threat of armed Mexican bandits each adds twists that keep this two-hour-plus epic riveting throughout.     
 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how The Treasure of the Sierra Madre shows how willing people can be to share with others in order to get what they want, but generosity may fade once the goal is reached.

  • What do you think surprised the younger men about the character played by Walter Huston? Do you think they had preconceived notions about him just because he looked older and grayer than they did? Do you think the younger men could have survived in the mountains without him?

  • Do you sometimes decide that people are worse than they really are just so you can justify disliking them? How do you think this ordinary human tendency influences the way we pick teammates, the way schools admit applicants, the way employers hire employees, the way voters elect candidates?  

  • If you could remake this movie, how would you do it and who would you cast?

Movie details

For kids who love classic tales

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