In 1925 in the Mexican oil-town of Tampico, Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart) and Curtin (Tim Holt), two Americans cheated out of promised wages and down on their luck, meet old prospector Howard (Walter Huston). When Dobbs wins a small jackpot in the lottery, they have the bankroll to finance a gold prospecting journey to the remote Sierra Madre mountains.
They ride a train into the hinterlands, surviving a bandit attack en route. In the desert, Howard proves to be the toughest and most knowledgeable; he is the one to discover the gold they seek. A mine is dug, and much gold is extracted. Greed soon sets in, and Dobbs begins to lose both his trust and his sanity, lusting to possess the entire treasure. Dobbs is also unreasonably afraid that he will be killed by his partners.
A fourth American named James Cody (Bruce Bennett) appears, which sets up a debate about what to do with the new stranger. Rather than give him a share of the future production of the mine, the men decide to kill Cody. Just as the three confront him with pistols and prepare to kill him, the bandits reappear, crudely pretending to be Federales. After a tense vocal exchange regarding proof, a gunfight with the bandits ensues, in which Cody is killed, a real troop of Federales appears and chases the bandits away.
Howard is called away to assist local villagers to save the life of a seriously ill little boy. When the boy recovers, the next day, the villagers insist that Howard return to the village to be honored. However, he leaves his goods with Dobbs and Curtin. Dobbs, whose paranoia continues, and Curtin constantly argue, until one night when Curtin falls asleep, Dobbs holds him at gunpoint, takes him behind the camp, shoots him, grabs all three shares of the gold, and leaves him for dead. However, the wounded Curtin survives and manages to crawl away during the night.
Nearly dying of thirst, Dobbs is ambushed and killed at a waterhole by the same bandits they encountered earlier at the mine. In their ignorance, the bandits believe Dobbs' bags of unrefined gold are merely filled with sand, and they scatter the gold to the winds. Curtin is discovered by indios and taken to Howard's village, where he recovers.
The bandits try to sell the packing donkeys but a child recognizes the donkeys and Dobbs' clothes and reports them to the police. The bandits are captured, sentenced to death and forced to dig their own graves before being executed. Curtin and Howard miss witnessing the bandits' execution by Federales by only a few minutes as they arrive back in town, and learn that the gold is gone.
While checking the area where the bandits dropped the gold, Howard and Curtin notice some empty sacks and surmise that the winds must have carried the gold away, back to the mountain from which it came. They accept the loss with equanimity, Howard proclaiming it a good joke and laughing while doing a little jig. They part ways, Howard returning to the indio village, where the natives have offered him a permanent home and position of honour, and Curtin returning home to the United States, where he will seek out the widow of Cody in the peach orchards of Texas.Humphrey Bogart as Fred C. Dobbs
Walter Huston as Howard
Tim Holt as Bob Curtin
Bruce Bennett as James Cody
Barton MacLane as Pat McCormick
Alfonso Bedoya as Gold Hat
Arturo Soto Rangel as El Presidente
Manuel Dondé as El Jefe
José Torvay as Pablo
Margarito Luna as Pancho
Robert Blake as the Mexican Boy Selling Lottery Tickets (uncredited)
John Huston as the American in Tampico in the White Suit (uncredited)
The film is often described as a story about the corrupting influence of greed. Film critic Roger Ebert expanded upon this idea, saying that "The movie has never really been about gold but about character." In addition, reviewers have noted the importance not just of greed and gold, but also of nature and its desolateness as an influence on the actions of the men. However, the ability of the film to comment on human nature generally has been questioned, in view of the fact that Dobbs' character is so evidently flawed from the beginning.
According to Variety the film earned $2.3 million in the US in 1948.
John Huston won the Academy Award for Directing and Academy Award for Writing Adapted Screenplay in 1948 for his work on The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Walter Huston, John Huston's father, also won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in this film, the first father-son win. The film was nominated for the Best Picture award, but lost to Laurence Olivier's film adaptation of Hamlet.
In 1990, this film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". The film was among the first 100 films to be selected.
Director Stanley Kubrick listed The Treasure of the Sierra Madre as his 4th favorite film of all time in a 1963 edition of Cinema magazine. Director Sam Raimi ranked it as his favorite film of all time in an interview with Rotten Tomatoes and director Paul Thomas Anderson watched it at night before bed while writing his film There Will Be Blood.American Film Institute recognition
AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies – No. 30
AFI's 100 Years... 100 Thrills – No. 67
AFI's 100 Years... 100 Heroes and Villains:
Fred C. Dobbs – Nominated Villain
AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movie Quotes:
"Badges? We ain't got no badges! We don't need no badges! I don't have to show you any stinking badges!" – No. 36
AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores – Nominated
AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) – No. 38
Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan has also cited the film as one of his personal favorites. A key scene from the film was emulated in "Buyout", the sixth episode of the series' fifth season.