At first glance, many might find
it odd that Treasure
of the Sierra Madre should be counted among
the group of films that inspired the Indiana Jones
series. The reasons for this have nothing to do
with the quality of the film, as quite honestly
this is one of the greatest films ever made. What
masks this film from being an obvious inspiration
for the Indiana Jones films is simply that the
themes of Sierra Madre
and the setting are far removed from the playing
ground of Indiana Jones.
The story is one of a man named
Fred C. Dobbs (played by Humphrey Bogart) who
lives as a poor panhandler in a small Mexican
village. Destitute and hungry, Dobbs takes a job
rigging a camp with a fellow American named Curtin.
When the job is over, their foreman initially
refuses to pay them, until Dobbs and Curtin corner
him and beat him to a pulp.
They meet an old prospector in a
flophouse named Howard, who spins tales of immense
wealth in the mountains of Sierra Madre. Curtin
and Dobbs think making a claim and sifting for
gold would be a good idea, but they have no money.
Luckily, a lottery ticket Dobbs purchased wins
big and they find themselves able to set up an
expedition to mine for gold. They ask Howard to
accompany them because they know his experience
will be invaluable. Howard agrees and they set
off into the hills.
They find a promising spot to mine
and after a few days, the gold starts pouring
out of the mountain. Within a few days, they are
rich men. However, suspicion, greed, and paranoia
begin to set in, with Dobbs growing increasingly
hostile. They split the gold three ways, but Dobbs
irrational behavior continues and threatens to
destroy everything. And if things could not get
any worse for the three men, a group of Mexican
bandits arrive and threaten to kill them all.
Not being one to spoil films, you will just have
to watch the rest for yourself.
of the Sierra Madre is an expertly crafted
tale by legendary director John Huston (who also
directed The Maltese
Falcon with Humphrey Bogart). The story
of three men who start out as friends only to
find themselves at odds once gold is in their
hands is as compelling as it is frightening. Rarely
was Bogart as brilliant and powerful in his acting
craft as he is in this film. Granted, Bogart was
always a wonderful actor, but in this story, audiences
are offered a rare glimpse of him playing a character
far removed from the roles he was normally offered,
and the result is truly overpowering.
Probably the most memorable quote
from this film (and immortalized forever years
later in Mel Brooks' Blazing
Saddles) is uttered by Gold Hat, the leader
of the Mexican bandits who yells, "Badges?
We ain't got no badges. We don't need no badges.
I don't have to show you any stinking badges!"
as Fred Dobbs.
As far as Indiana Jones is concerned,
there are a number of devices in the film that
would have inspired Lucas and Spielberg. Certainly
Dobbs' grungy, weather-beaten fedora bears a striking
resemblance to Harrison Ford's famous hat and
the fact that the three men are in search of gold
in a remote area of the world also hints at the
adventure genre. It is also arguable that the
seedy flophouses and bars seen in the film can
also be inspirations for the foreign dives Indy
frequents in his travels. Probably the best parallel
between this film and Raiders
of the Lost Ark is the entire opening sequence
of the first Indiana Jones film. Indy's trek through
Peru is an homage to Treasure
of the Sierra Madre, with three grungy
explorers searching for "gold" in the
wilderness of South America with their gear on
donkeys. Equally similar is the fact that as the
gold gets closer and eventually in their possession,
they start to betray each other, just as Dobbs,
Curtin, and Howard do.
Also pay attention to the sounds of the jungle
in Sierra Madre,
it sounds very much like the jungle in Raiders'
opening. Not to forget the crazy laughter of Dobbs
at one moment, which sounds almost exactly like
Belloq's laughter when he's in possession of the
It is very probable that Lucas and
Spielberg looked at this film as a template for
how to inject Raiders
of the Lost Ark with a sense of real drama
and characterization. The intensity of the drama,
paranoia, and suspicion are moments as equally
powerful as Indy and Belloq's conversations in
Cairo or Marion and Indy's argument in Nepal.
The adventure serials and films such as Gunga
Din and Zorro's
Fighting Legion, while certainly having "character
moments", are almost devoid of such human
drama, which Raiders
of the Lost Ark pointedly has in spades.
However, with that said, this film
is markedly different from any Indiana Jones story.
Dobbs is a greedy, paranoid, almost psychotic
ruffian and the story surrounding him is one of
intense character study and realism. There are
no great chases and escapes in this film, with
the exception of the gunfight between the bandits
and the three men. The power of this movie comes
from the intensity of the characters' actions,
reactions, heated dialogue, and weighted silences.
Interestingly enough however, during a sequence
in which Dobbs attempts to murder Curtin and thinks
he has succeeded, he breaks out into a maniacal
laugh almost identical to Belloq's laugh in Raiders
of the Lost Ark when Indy flees after losing
of the Sierra Madre is a stellar masterpiece
and anyone who appreciates good filmmaking will
love it. (MF)