There is a line in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) that has been echoed over the decades, and I am not sure why it is so famous. At one point, Fred C. Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart) is holding a gun on the infamous Mexican bandito known as Gold Hat (Alfonso Bedoya). Gold Hat is trying to claim that he and his men are federales, a form of Mexican police, and therefore they should not be fired upon. Fred demands to see a badge, to which Gold Hat replies, “Badges? We ain’t got no badges. We don’t need no badges! I don’t have to show you any stinkin’ badges!” These lines often get misquoted, and my knowledge of general cinema trivia had me expecting a slightly different delivery during my viewing. Anyway, comment below if you have an explanation as to why these words are so memorable. Is it their delivery? Is there something I am not noticing in the scene? Take a look at the rest and maybe you can tell me what I am missing.
Before we get to the showdown in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre referenced above, we meet Fred as an out-of-work laborer in the town of Tampico, Mexico. He begs for money from another American he sees a couple of times, but gruffly brushes aside other needy people when they come for a handout. Nonetheless, he is not above taking a job from labor agent Pat McCormick (Barton MacLane), who promises $8 a day. However, when he and fellow down-on-his-luck American ex-patriot Bob Curtin (Tim Holt) return from their labors, Pat attempts to skip town without paying the workers. Bob and Fred eventually catch up with Pat and essentially mug the crooked boss, though only taking the money they feel they are owed. That night, they are staying in a boarding house where they overhear tales of gold prospecting in the title mountains as told by the old-timer Howard (Walter Huston). His talk of riches inspires Fred in particular, but they also come with a warning: the pursuit of riches is never enough, and eventually it leads to all manner of ills. Fred disagrees, saying that if it were him doing the prospecting, he would surely know when to quit. Thus, he forms a trio with Bob and Howard and head for where there is gold in them “thar” hills. Along the way, they are treated to their first glimpse of the banditos led by Gold Hat, who attack the train they take to Durango, where they plan to purchase the necessary supplies. The train raid is fought off with the help of the Americans, and not long afterwards they have their loaded mules and are heading out into the mountains. The journey proves more grueling than Bob and Fred anticipate, though Howard is taking to it like a man several years their junior rather than the older one. Indeed, at one point Fred wants to give up and return to Durango. Yet, they soon get their first glimpse of what Bob and Fred believe to be the precious metal they seek. Instead, it turns out to be pyrite, otherwise known as “fool’s gold.” Still, this is enough to keep them going a little longer. It is only when they have reached their absolute limit that Howard indicates that they have found the gold they seek, showing his partners the fine grains of the substance to be found amongst the dirt at their feet. Now it is time to begin mining in earnest, and they set to work at setting up camp. A few days into it, with consistent amounts beginning to accumulate, they begin to speculate as to how and when they are going to divide the shares. Bob is in favor of continuing to amass one large quantity, taking it in to be appraised, and then equally splitting the profits. Fred, instead, insists that they divvy it up daily. Howard agrees to this latter plan, with the caveat that they also hide their hordes from one another. Fred also begins to go against his earlier promises, feeling like they should keep digging until they have a greater sum of money than Howard had originally envisioned. Fred’s suspicions of his partners also starts to come to the fore, despite the fact that Bob saves him from a cave-in inside their modest mine shaft. Fred’s attitude erodes any of their previous camaraderie as they bicker over simple tasks, such as who will go to the nearest town in order to bring back fresh supplies. It eventually falls to Bob, and the tense situation is not helped when he is followed back to camp by another American named James Cody (Bruce Bennett). Initially, they give James a meal, but the next morning they decide to murder him. Before this can take place, they are found by Gold Hat’s banditos. This is when the aforementioned scene takes place, preceding being driven away by the actual federales. James dies in the gunfight. His death, along with Howard helping to revive the sick son of one of the locals, convinces our trio that it is time to leave. Before they can get far, the locals forcefully insist that Howard return to their village with them so that he can be properly thanked. This leaves Bob alone with Fred. Without Howard’s expertise, they struggle, leading Fred to blame Bob. Fred attempts to murder Bob. Fred manages only to wound Bob, who crawls away to the same village where Howard is being fêted. Meanwhile, an exhausted Fred is found by Gold Hat. The bandito’s men hack Fred to death and spill the bags containing the gold on the ground, not knowing what is in them. Instead, they make off with the mules and the hides on them, trying to sell them in Durango. In town, a local boy recognizes them as stolen. In turn, Gold Hat and his gang are rounded up and shot. Bob and Howard, though initially trying to catch up with Fred, instead find where his murder happened and the gold dust scattered in the wind. In the end, Bob and Howard laugh off the loss of their wealth.
Bob and Howard find mirth in their situation at the close of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre because they realize some important lessons, ones that Fred chooses to ignore. Before continuing, know that the Catholic Church does not begrudge people with wealth. No matter if one has hundreds of millions of dollars or a couple bucks, the standard number it sets for tithing is ten percent of your total annual income. It is not an obligation. This is key, and it relates to the film. When it comes to riches, what a person does with it is an important aspect by which God will judge you. Giving, like tithing, comes from a generous heart, but it can take many forms. What each of the three prospectors says they will do with the money they get from gold is telling. Bob wants to start a peach farm back in the United States, Howard seems to simply desire retirement, but Fred looks forward to buying suits and eating in fancy restaurants, even having the temerity to send back his food simply because he can do so. You tell me which one is probably most in line with that giving spirit. The fact that Bob seeks to build something for the benefit of others is in keeping with what the Church does with the income it gains from what we give. The metaphors are there in the Bible for comparing what it does to the kind of work that goes on in a grove, though it more often uses the vineyard analogy. This also invites a discussion of the converse, that being what happens to those who do not tithe or respond with a generous heart. Of course, you might immediately think of Fred. That is understandable. Biblical death, though, is a little different. One of the big things in the Catholic Church is how faith and works go together. James 2:26 (you know, one of those pesky Catholic letters the Protestants tossed out of Scripture) says “. . . faith without works is dead.” Fred makes a handy symbol for this truth.
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is okay. Bob and Howard find true wealth, while the antagonist discovers that the riches of their world lead to utter ruin. These are lofty principles, and I appreciate them. Still, as I have indicated with his other movies, I do not find Bogart to be compelling as an actor. I am sorry if that scandalizes you, but such is taste.