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Patrick Schoenmaker

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TR.N Research Indy's Influences Inspirations The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

Released by Warner Bros. - 1948

Directed by: John Huston
Story by: B. Traven (novel)
Screenplay by: John Huston
Produced by: Henry Blanke & Jack L. Warner

Humphrey Bogart .... Fred C. Dobbs
Walter Huston .... Howard
Tim Holt .... Bob Curtin
Bruce Bennett .... James Cody
Barton MacLane .... Pat McCormick


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.

Dobbs & Curtin.

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.

Struggling for gold.

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.

Treasure 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!"

Bogart 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 gold statue.

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.

At gunpoint.

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 the idol.

Treasure of the Sierra Madre is a stellar masterpiece and anyone who appreciates good filmmaking will love it. (MF)


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