When three very different people go looking for gold together and find it, the ending generally will not be happy. "The Treasure of Sierra Madre" does end happily, but only after one of the characters has been killed and the gold returns to the earth. It is a theme with a number of rather obvious allegorical possibilities concerning the doings of both men and nations, and this unusual picture manages to hint at them painlessly, without verbosity or undue lengthiness.
Above all, "The Treasure" is a unique Hollywood product. The cliches of romantic interest have almost been avoided; the movie has violent action, but for other purposes than immediate sensation; both Humphrey Bogart, who has been playing the same stock tough man for the last five or six years, and Walter Huston, whose last important part was in "Duel in the Sun," are able to do some original acting. The result is a movie with some power, a movie different from anything Hollywood has previously produced.
The leader of the gold-hunting party (Huston), whom the others call "the old-timer," is an almost superhuman character. He keeps the party together as long as he can, and it is only when his wisdom loses its effect on the nuerotic boy-man Dobbs (Bogart), that there is murder and madness. The events, until the gold dust is lost by a seeming accident, have an inevitability that comes from the characters of the three men. Tim Holt plays the third, a straight role that bears the small romantic element of the plot. Only in his part and in the mental disintegration of Dobbs is there any over-playing or serious want in the picture.
Orchids must go all around to "The Treasure of Sierra Madre." Besides the three main characters, there is the wonderful portrayal of the child-like but evil Indian chief. There is also the excellent photography of the mountainous Mexican country and the extraordinary dramatic effects that are occasionally obtained merely through the discreet use of the camera. But John Huston, who wrote the screen play and directed, should be the chief recipient of the orchids. The story moves speedily through a number of relevant incidents that contribute to the dramatic tension and to the release that comes when the gold is finally lost. Through it all there is no sense of contrivance, but only a freshness that until now has been the almost complete monoply of movies from beyond the Atlantic.