The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre Pushed Humphrey Bogart's Patience To Its Limit

It's perhaps no coincidence that John Huston's 1948 film "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" came out the same year that comic book publisher William Gaines took control of EC Comics and began to work the company away from its original moniker, Educational Comics, to a much more commercially viable model — Entertaining Comics. Both "Treasure" and the books that came out of EC in the late-'40s had a lurid horror bent, exploring the darker recesses of the human soul. 

"Treasure" is about a trio of men (Humphrey Bogart, Tim Holt, and Walter Huston, the director's father) who trek into a forbidding, hot wilderness to look for gold. As soon as gold is struck, each of the three men begins to eyeball each other suspiciously, instantly paranoid of being double-crossed. There will be multiple opportunities for each of the men to dispose of another and take a larger share of gold. It's a tale of the corrupting power of greed, and the monstrousness lurking within all of us. One doesn't even require a denouement of supernatural revenge to see that "Treasure" bears a similar story to several issues of "Tales from the Crypt." 

Given its stark tone and tortured characters, it's natural to assume that filming conditions were less than rosy, a fact confirmed by Bogart himself in Axel Madsen's 2015 book "John Huston: A Biography."

The mountain location

In "Treasure," Walter Huston plays an old experienced prospector who, at the outset of the film's second act, leads his two compatriots up a dangerous, sweltering mountain looking for gold. Bogart and Holt become dazed by the heat, and are thrown when they find pyrite instead of actual gold. For a while, it seems like the old prospector might be leading them on a wild goose chase, a suspicion only mitigated by his optimism. One more ridge, lads, and we'll find the gold. 

A similar attitude seems to have been affected by John Huston, who led his actors up a real-life sweltering mountain to find the correct locations. "Treasure" was filmed in the Mexican state of Durango, and the cast and crew had to hike through severely inclement conditions. According to the Huston biography, Bogart reportedly screamed at Huston on several occasions for his bloody-minded insistence on authenticity. Indeed, Huston seemed to most frequently take the path of most resistance. In Bogart's own words: 

"John wanted everything perfect. If he saw a nearby mountain that could serve for photographic purposes, that mountain was no good; too easy to reach. If we could get to a location site without fording a couple of streams and walking through snake-infested areas in the scorching sun, then it wasn't quite right."

Even Walter Huston complained, being quoted in the book as saying "John ran me up too darn many mountainsides!"

Trouble in Tampico

The shooting of "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" has passed into Hollywood legend, and the stories of Huston's troubles with the Mexican government are well-recorded in numerous books and documentary films. Evidently, while preparing to shoot street scenes in Tampico, Tamaulipas, the local government abruptly shut down all production and forbade Huston from moving forward. Huston didn't know why at first, until he discovered that the local Tampico newspaper had been printing unflattering, and untrue, stories about Huston and his associates. Huston eventually learned that doing business in Tampico came with it an unspoken rule that you bribe the local newspapers in exchange for flattering coverage. Huston, it seems, failed to bring bribe money. 

Huston was allowed to resume production on "Treasure" after he arranged an appeal directly to Miguel Alemán, the president of Mexico, by famed Mexican artists Diego Rivera and Miguel Covarrubias, men that Huston had associated with in the past. The story was withdrawn, and production could continue. Even with the difficulties of trekking into the wilderness, the rest of filming went reasonably well. 

The real story, like "Sierra Madre," also has a lurid ending. Evidently, the newspaper editor who wrote the untrue stories for the Tampico newspapers was caught in bed with another man's wife shortly thereafter, and was shot dead by the husband. Corruption and death, it seems, were in the film's very DNA.