John Huston played one of his infamous practical jokes on Bruce Bennett in the campfire scene in which he eats a plate of stew. Bennett knew that his character was starving so he wolfed down the food as quickly as possible. Huston then demanded another take. And another. In both extra takes the rapidly filling-up Bennett again had to eat a large plate of stew. Unbeknownst to him, Huston had been happy with the first take. The cameras weren't even rolling for the second and the third. He just wanted to see how much food Bennett could lower before he became too stuffed. As soon as the joke was revealed, Huston added insult to injury by calling for a lunch break.
John Huston was fascinated by mysterious author B. Traven, who was a recluse living in Mexico. Traven approved of the director and his screenplay (by letter, obviously), and sent his intimate friend Hal Croves to the location to be a technical advisor and translator for $150 a week. The general consensus is that Croves was in fact Traven, though he always denied this. Huston was happy not to query him on the subject but his then-wife Evelyn Keyes was certain Croves was the mysterious author, believing that he was continually giving himself away, saying "I" when it should have been "he", and using phrases that were exactly the same as those to be found in Traven's letters to Huston. All very ironic, especially considering that Traven was offered $1000 a week to act as technical advisor on the film. It is known that "B. Traven" was a pen name, and Traven's true identity remains a mystery to this day.
Humphrey Bogart started losing his hair in 1947, round about the time he was making Dark Passage (1947), partly because of hormone shots he was taking to improve his chances of having a child with wife Lauren Bacall (although his excessive drinking and lack of vitamin B were probably also factors in his hair loss). He was completely bald by the time he arrived in Mexico. Once on location, Bogart started taking vitamin B shots, and some of his hair grew back. But he did sport a wig throughout the entire shoot, albeit one that was artfully muddied and matted to cover up the joins.
In his Oscar acceptance speech, Walter Huston said, "Many, many years ago, I brought up a boy and I said to him, 'Son, if you ever become a writer, try to write a good part for your old man sometime'. Well, by cracky, that's what he did!"
A doctor was assigned to the unit in Mexico and one night he had to attend to John Huston, who had an adverse reaction to marijuana, having smoked it for the first time with his father. He never touched the stuff again.
Just as John Huston was starting to shoot scenes in Tampico, Mexico, the production was shut down inexplicably by the local government. It turns out that a local newspaper printed a false story that accused the filmmakers of making a production that was unflattering to Mexico. Fortunately, two of Huston's associates, Diego Rivera and Miguel Covarrubias, went to bat for the director with the President of Mexico. The libelous accusations were dropped.
There were scenes in which Walter Huston had to speak fluent Spanish, a language he did not know off camera. To fill this need, John Huston hired a Mexican to record the lines, and then the elder Huston memorized them so well that many assumed he knew the language like a native.
Though the daily rushes impressed Warner Bros., Jack L. Warner, he nearly went berserk with the weekly expenditures. After viewing one scene, Warner threw up his hands and shouted to producer Henry Blanke, "Yeah, they're looking for gold all right - mine!" During another screening of rushes, Warner watched Dobbs stumble along in the desert for water. Warner jumped up in the middle of the scene and shouted to a gaggle of executives, "If that s.o.b. doesn't find water soon I'll go broke!" Warner had reason to be upset. John Huston and Blanke led him to believe that the film would be an easy picture to make and that they would be in and out of Mexico in a matter of weeks. Because Warner was notorious for not actually reading scripts, he assumed the film was a B-movie Western. As the full extent of Huston's plans became apparent, Warner nearly blew a gasket. He was especially unhappy with the way the film ended, arguing that audiences wouldn't accept it. Ironically, Warner was correct, since the initial box office take was as impressive as fool's gold. But the film was a huge critical success and, in its many re-releases, it more than earned its original investment of $3 million.
As production dragged on, Humphrey Bogart, who was an avid yachtsman, was starting to get increasingly anxious about missing the Honolulu Classic, the Catalina-to-Hawaii race in which he usually took part. Despite assurances from the studio that he would be wrapped on the picture by then, he started to constantly dog John Huston about whether he would be done in time. Eventually Huston had enough and grabbed Bogart by the nose and twisted hard. Bogart never asked him how long before the shooting was over again.
Initially thrilled at Walter Huston's scene-stealing performance, as the shoot wore on producer Henry Blanke started to have second thoughts about Huston upstaging the film's star, Humphrey Bogart, and so John Huston started to get notes from the studio telling him to tone down his father's performance.
Director John Huston had read the book "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" by B. Traven in 1936 and had always thought the material would make a great movie. Based on a 19th-century ballad by a German poet, Traven's book reminded Huston of his own adventures in the Mexican cavalry. When Huston became a director at Warner Bros., the smashing success of his initial effort, The Maltese Falcon (1941), gave him the clout to ask to write and direct the project, for which Warner Bros. had previously secured the movie rights.
John Huston at the time had not been married very long to Evelyn Keyes, who he constantly belittled and humiliated on the location shoot. Eventually Keyes returned to Hollywood to shoot another picture. During this time Huston decided that he wanted to adopt a little orphan boy called Pablo who had been hanging around the set. Keyes first got wind of this when she greeted Huston and Pablo at the airport upon their return from Mexico.
Walter Huston learned his famous jig from playwright Eugene O'Neill when he was performing in O'Neill's play "Desire Under the Elms" in 1925. This most famous of dances was unscripted and was Walter's idea.
John Huston played a prank on Humphrey Bogart. In the scene where he has to reach under a rock for hidden gold and is told that an extremely venomous Gila monster had crawled there, Huston put a mousetrap where he had to reach. Bogart, acting appropriately as if a Gila monster actually was under the rock, jumped several feet backwards when the mousetrap snapped on his finger.
When John Huston first started working on the project in 1941, the studio had George Raft, Edward G. Robinson and John Garfield in mind for the three main roles. Then World War II intervened. By the time Huston came back from making several documentaries for the war effort, Humphrey Bogart had become Warner Brothers' biggest star. This was entirely appropriate, for when Bogart first got wind of the fact that Huston might be making a film of the B. Traven novel, he immediately started badgering Huston for a part.
While on location, John Huston took a little Mexican boy named Pablo under his wing. The child ran errands for Huston and generally acted like the crew mascot. When it came time for Huston to close up shop in Mexico, he chose to adopt Pablo and brought him back to the United States to live with him and his second wife, actress Evelyn Keyes. You would think that Huston would have prepared Keyes for their new family member, but he didn't. That oversight precipitated their divorce a short time later. Pablo was educated in the United States and eventually got married and had three children. But later Pablo deserted his family, returned to Mexico City, and became a used-car salesman.
Humphrey Bogart was quite fond of working with director John Huston and enjoyed his experience working on this film. However, Bogart found Huston to be quite the perfectionist, which led to some grueling and exhausting days on location. Bogart sarcastically recalled that "John wanted everything perfect. If he saw a nearby mountain that could serve for photographic purposes, that mountain was not 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."
When offered the part of the old-timer, Walter Huston was not keen to accept. He still saw himself as a leading man and the opportunity to play a secondary supporting part--without his own false teeth--did not appeal to him. Fortunately, he had a change of heart and won a Supporting Actor Oscar for his pains.
Just as John Huston was starting to shoot scenes in Tampico, Mexico, the production was shut down inexplicably by the local government. The cast and crew were at a complete loss to understand why, since the residents and government of Tampico had been so generous in days past. It turns out that a local newspaper printed a false story that accused the filmmakers of making a production that was unflattering to Mexico. Huston soon found out why the newspaper skewered him and his production in the funny papers. When you wanted to do anything in Tampico, it was customary to slide a little money toward the editor of the newspaper, something the crew failed to do. Fortunately, two of Huston's associates, Diego Rivera and Miguel Covarrubias, went to bat for the director with the President of Mexico. The libellous accusations were dropped, and a few weeks later, the editor of the newspaper was caught in the wrong bed and shot dead by a jealous husband.
Much of the film is set in the mountainous area surrounding the village of Jungapeo, near San Juan Purua, Mexico. Director John Huston and art director John Hughes found the spot after an exhaustive 8,000 mile scouting trip through Mexico.
As with most of the Mexican actors selected from the local population, Alfonso Bedoya's atrocious pronunciation of English proved to be a bit of a problem. Example: "horseback" came out as "whore's back." And speaking of language barriers, there were scenes in which Walter Huston had to speak fluent Spanish, a language he did not know off camera. To fill this need, John Huston hired a Mexican to record the lines, and then the elder Huston memorized them so well that many assumed he knew the language like a native. This is but one reason why Walter Huston was long regarded as an "actor's actor." Meanwhile, Humphrey Bogart only knew of two Spanish words, "Dos Equis," a Mexican beer.
John Huston and Humphrey Bogart played a prank on Alfonso Bedoya. The actor seemed to have a hollow leg when it came time for meals, gorging himself at every occasion with the food that Warner Bros. provided for the cast and crew. Bedoya took his meals very seriously, always being first when it came time to eat. Huston and Bogart took notice of this and decided to fix Bedoya by affixing strong glue to his saddled and stationary stuffed horse. Just before the lunch bell rang, Huston called Bedoya over to shoot some close-up takes. He hopped into the saddle, Huston shot a few scenes, and dinner was called. Everyone but Bedoya hit the food spread. Bedoya struggled to get off the horse but was held firmly in place by the glue. Bedoya's subsequent barrage of frantic sobbing and caterwauling so annoyed Huston that he soon ordered Bedoya's pants cut away from the saddle and the actor rushed off to stuff his face.
Filmed in Mexico, though Warners' studio head Jack L. Warner had the unit return to Hollywood when the budget started to exceed $3 million (Warner, however, did admit that he thought the film was one of the greatest ever made).
B. Traven did not agree with John Huston's decision to cast Walter Huston as Howard, the grizzled prospector. He originally envisioned MGM contract star Lewis Stone in the role, but he eventually came to see the wisdom behind the director's choice to put Walter Huston in the role.
Ann Sheridan is listed as a cast member in a modern source for the role of "Streetwalker," but she did not appear in the film. A streetwalker did appear near the start of the film, but it was not Sheridan.
Perhaps in retaliation for a rift with John Huston over the editing of Key Largo (1948), Warner Bros. released both film across the country in a double bill without mentioning Huston's name in its promotion ads.
Executives at Warner Bros. were not quite sure what to do with the film. Initially, the suits promoted it as a Western. To further support the opening of the film, the studio lackeys distributed treasure maps showing the locations of the action in the film for display in theater lobbies.
In the flophouse scene, Howard talks about the value of gold and makes a labor-theory of value argument. "Gold itself ain't worth nothing" except because of the labor that went into "the finding of it." Marx and Engels made the same argument, and before them, John Locke (inspiration for the U.S. Constitution) put it in raw form. " But since gold and silver, being little useful to the life of man in proportion to food, raiment, and carriage, has its value only from the consent of men, whereof labour yet makes, in great part, the measure, it is plain, that men have agreed to a disproportionate and unequal possession of the earth, they having, by a tacit and voluntary consent, found out, a way how a man may fairly possess more land than he himself can use."
Documentary cinematographer Phil Gries and his accredited Guinness World Record archive, Archival Television Audio, was so infatuated with the movie (his favorite of all time) he audio tape recorded, on reel to reel 1/4 inch tape, The Treasure of the Sierra Madrre off of his Television set when it was re-run on The Late Show (WCBS) in the spring of 1960. Over the years Gries would playback just the audio and visualize the film.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
John Huston's original filmed depiction of Dobbs' death was more graphic - as it was in the book - than the one that eventually made it onto the screen. When Gold Hat strikes Dobbs with his machete, Dobbs is decapitated. Huston shot Dobbs' (fake) head rolling into the waterhole (there's a quick shot of Gold Hat's accomplices reacting to Dobbs' rolling head that remains in the film and in the very next shot you can see the water rippling where it rolled in). The 1948 censors would not have allowed that, so Huston camouflaged the cut shot with a repeat shot of Gold Hat striking Dobbs. Warner Bros' publicity department released a statement that Humphrey Bogart was "disappointed the scene couldn't be shown in all its graphic glory". Bogart's reaction: "What's wrong with showing a guy getting his head cut off?"
With a budget exceeding $3.5 million, this was the most expensive production ever mounted by Warner Brothers up until 1948, with the added uneasiness of it being shot in Mexico. To protect their investment the studio bosses insisted Bogart's character, Fred C. Dobbs remain alive until the very end of the script (after initially not wanting Dobbs to die at all). John Huston steadfastly resisted studio interference. While critically acclaimed, the film was a financial disappointment during its initial release.