Director John Huston cast his father, Walter Huston as the knowing prospector. It's an amazing performance which won Walter the Academy Award for best supporting actor. But it almost didn't happen. A highly regarded leading man on both stage and screen (the little jig he does in the film was taught to him by Eugene O'Neill when Mr. Huston appeared on Broadway in Desire Under the Elms (Lincoln Center Film Society)), Huston Sr didn't object to playing an older man - he'd already played James Cagney's father in Yankee Doodle Dandy. But son John's insistence that he remove his dentures was just too much even for a father trying to support his son's career. John and Mr. Bogart would eventually resort to holding Mr. Huston down and forcibly removing the teeth, much to Walter Huston's chagrin. But the difference in his speaking voice was so noticeable that he finally agreed to appear without his teeth. (TCM articles). It's interesting to note that, on some of the poster art, the drawing of Walter Huston looks like him in most of his films, not as he appears in this film (see the poster below).
Born in Canada in 1883, Walter Huston began his career on the stage, primarily in touring companies. His first marriage postponed his acting career: he worked in an electric power plant to support his wife and son. When the marriage ended, he returned to the stage - this time vaudeville - working with his second wife, until he began getting roles on Broadway. Between 1924 and 1946, he would appear in 14 plays - musicals and dramas - including Dodsworth, which he would also bring to the screen. He was nominated 4 times for Oscars (Dodsworth (1936), The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941), Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)), finally winning for this film. He worked with his son on other films, including The Maltese Falcon (1941) where he played the dying Captain Jacoby, and providing narration for John's wartime documentaries (i.e. Let Their Be Light (1946)). His third marriage in 1931 endured until his death of an aortic aneurym at age 67 in 1950. For more on Walter Huston, see this Los Angeles Times obituary.
Humphrey Bogart was not the studio's first choice for Dobbs - Edward G. Robinson was initially suggested, though John Huston badly wanted to Bogart for the part. Ronald Reagan and John Garfield were considered for Curtin, and Zachary Scott was in the running for the part of James Cody (which would go to Bruce Bennett). It's been said that Ann Sheridan did a walk-on as a prostitute, but the woman in question does not look a bit like her, so it's probably urban myth. (AFI catalog)
Bogart, of course, is amazingly good in a characterization that morphs so dramatically during the course of the film. He's not a bad man in the beginning - even when he forcibly takes his salary from Pat McCormick, he only takes the money due to him and Curtin. He even pays the bartender for the damage to the saloon from his own money. But as the gold starts to mount, so does his greed and paranoia. At one point, he most closely resembles Gollum in The Lord of the Rings, crouching and giggling over his wealth.
There are some uncredited performances to look out for. The Mexican Boy Selling Lottery Tickets is portrayed by Robert Blake, who would later star in the TV show Baretta. Jack Holt, a silent and sound actor, perhaps remembered today for his appearance in San Francisco (1936) is one of the residents of the flophouse where Dobbs and Curtin meet Howard. And the Lone Ranger's colleague Tonto, Jay Silverheels appears as the Indian Guide at Pier.
John Huston filmed much of the action for the film in Mexico; finally he was dragged back to Warner Brothers to complete filming when the costs became too high. He worked with an advisor, who Mr. Huston believed was actually the author of the novel, B. Traven. The advisor denied this, but the BBC later confirmed John Huston's theory. Check out this New York Times article on the author, as well as the BBC broadcast.
Besides Walter Huston's Academy Award, the film also won for Best Direction and Adapted Screenplay to John Huston - the first time a father and son won Oscars (and the only time thusfar for the same film). It was also nominated for Best Picture, but lost to Hamlet). In April of 1948, Humphrey Bogart and Walter Huston reprised their roles for the Lux Radio Theatre; in February 1955 Edmund O'Brien and Walter Brennan performed the radio play for Lux. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre was #38 on AFI's 100 Years, 100 Movies, 10th Anniversary Edition (it was #30 on the original list), as well as being listed at #36 in their 100 Greatest Movie Quotes (for the oft midquoted: "Badges? We ain't got no badges! We don't need no badges! I don't have to show you any stinking badges!"), and #67 in the 100 Most Thrilling American Films. In 1990, it was added to the National Film Registry (the second year of the registry).
We'll leave you with the trailer for this excellent film. If you've not seen it before, you are in for a treat.