This film could have been titled “There Will Be Beef.”
When John Huston came back from the war and Humphrey Bogart was a star big enough to choose his next project, the two of them chose to make a film about a seedy loser driven mad by greed. "Wait till you see me in my next picture," Bogart shouted to a movie critic outside a New York nightclub. "I play the worst s--- you ever saw." The movie was desolate and despairing, the nicest character in it dies trying to defend men who were about to kill him, and the ending is not merely unhappy but like a cosmic joke against the hero's dreams. Jack L. Warner, the studio boss who sent the crew to Mexican locations and yanked them back when the budget ran out of control, thought it was "definitely the greatest motion picture we have ever made."
"The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" (1948) is a story in the Joseph Conrad tradition, using adventure not as an end in itself but as a test of its characters. It involves moral disagreements between a wise old man and a paranoid middle-aged man, with a young man forced to choose sides. It tells this story with gusto and Huston's love of male camaraderie, and it occasionally breaks into laughter -- some funny, some bitterly ironic. It happens on a sun-blasted high chaparral landscape, usually desolate, except for the three gold prospectors, although gangs of bandits and villages of Indians materialize when required. At the end, it has Bogart in a delirious mad scene that falls somewhere between "King Lear" and "Greed."
Bogart plays Fred C. Dobbs, one of the movie characters everybody can name. In 1925 in Tampico, he meets another drifter from America, Bob Curtin (Tim Holt). Both have been cheated out of hard-earned wages by a dishonest employer named McCormick, and when they corner him in a bar, they beat him so savagely that it seems pointless to hang around town. Their next move is suggested by the old-timer Howard (Walter Huston), who they've overheard talking about gold. They think he's good for advice and not much more, but he has the stamina of a goat and is soon filling their ears with practical advice about how to find gold, which is not too hard, and how to keep it and not get killed, which is not too easy.
The heart of the movie takes place on the slopes of mountains, which the title identifies but the characters never do; they simply address it as "mountain." They are so exposed in this landscape that only Howard's experience and rough Spanish get them through. They start out as partners, but the moment they find real gold, Dobbs grows avaricious, suggesting they divide their gains three ways, every night. Soon they're hiding their gold separately, and there is a long night when Dobbs awakens in the tent to find Howard gone, and then Curtin awakens to find Dobbs gone, and finally old Howard observes the turn has come back around to him and so why don't they get some sleep because they have work to do in the morning.