Humphrey Bogart as Fred C. Dobbs, desperate drifter-turned-treasure hunter
Mexico, Spring to Summer 1925
Film: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
Release Date: January 6, 1948
Director: John Huston
Wardrobe: Robert O’Dell & Ted Schultz (uncredited)
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
On the 65th anniversary of when Humphrey Bogart died on January 14, 1957, I wanted to visit one of his most lasting—if not exactly best-dressed—roles.
“Wait until you see me in my next picture,” Bogie had proclaimed to a New York Post critic outside 21 one night. “I play the worst shit you ever saw!” Indeed, unlike his previous protagonists like Sam Spade, Rick Blaine, and Philip Marlowe, who were primarily heroes marred by a cynical streak, there are few redeeming factors to Fred C. Dobbs, the panhandling prospector whose treacherous greed leads him well past the point of no return.
Adapted from an adventure novel by the mysterious “B. Traven”, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre excited Bogart, who was “at the peak of his ability, confident and ready for a new and demanding role,” according to authors A.M. Sperber and Eric Lax. The actor re-teamed with his pal and frequent collaborator John Huston, whose famous father Walter would portray the grizzled old-timer Howard who joins Dobbs and their younger partner Bob Curtin (Tim Holt) on their nightmarish journey.
“First he is a gentleman, then an actor, and what an actor!” Bogart proclaimed of Walter Huston. “He’s probably the only performer in Hollywood to whom I’d gladly lose a scene.”
Dobbs reeks of desperation like few Bogart characters ever had or would, peering out hungrily from under the brim of his tattered fedora at a discarded cigarette on the streets of Tampico (“some town to be broke in!”), only for a boy to grab the butt and squash his short-term dream of an expensive smoke. After squeezing his usual source—a white-suited American played by director John Huston—out of pesos, he and new pal Curtin impulsively takes an odd job on an oil derrick… only to get stiffed when the notorious employer welches. Dobbs and Curtin track the man to a cantina, where they beat out of him the $150 that they’re owed and use the money to finance a gold-digging trip into no man’s land with Howard, though the bounty of riches launches Dobbs into an increasingly dangerous paranoia that illustrates the destructive nature of greed.
What’d He Wear?
Fred C. Dobbs’ threadbare clothing in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre has arguably seen better days. Despite its wrinkles, tears, and grime, the foundation of the outfit is built on classic workwear pieces that—with a little TLC—may have lasted Dobbs a little longer, though he may have also obtained them secondhand.
Humphrey Bogart’s screen persona through the ’40s was built partially on his heroic profile in a well-crafted Borsalino fedora: think Rick Blaine in his trench coat at the end of Casablanca, or his tough-talking private eyes in The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep.
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre immediately subverts the viewer’s expectations of Bogie the dashing hero, as one of the first things we see about him is the tattered taupe-gray fedora that’s literally coming apart at the seams. The eroding binding around the brim has been torn away in the front, which appears to be the portion of the hat that has taken the most abuse as the top of the pinched crown has been ripped through, the possible result of hat-hungry rodents or a bandit’s bullet. The wide black grosgrain band is also beginning to pull away from the base of the crown, threatening the sanctity of Dobbs’ favorite place to keep matchsticks handy.
Though iterations of the shirt had been independently produced earlier, the blue chambray work shirt was established as a menswear staple when the U.S. Navy authorized it for their work uniforms in the early 20th century.
Chambray’s origins date back even further, when plain-woven “cambric” linen was developed during the 16th century in the northern French commune of Cambrai. Over the centuries to follow, the dense yet light-wearing cloth gained a reputation for durability. Chambray emerged as a variation with differing colors in the warp and weft, though the most conventional combination remains a blue or indigo warp and white weft (or “filling”). Due to their shared textures, chambray shirts are often mistaken for denim, though the two cloths are constructed differently.
Dobbs’ blue chambray shirt follows the conventional styling of these work shirts, with a point collar and front placket fastened with large four-hole plastic buttons that he typically wears buttoned up to mid-chest, showing his undershirt and making room for his neckerchief. The two patch pockets over the chest have mitred bottoms and horizontal yokes across the top, where a single button closes through a vertical buttonhole, though the left pocket is detailed with an additional horizontal buttonhole positioned on the innermost edge of the top yoke. The long sleeves are fastened with a single button on the barrel cuff, though Dobbs invariably wears his sleeves unbuttoned and rolled up his forearms.
Dobbs wears a red paisley cotton neckerchief knotted around his throat, ostensibly to catch his sweat in the intense heat and humidity of a region that has seen record high temperatures over 107 °F as early as March.
His undershirt is an off-white marled cotton short-sleeved henley with two two-hole plastic buttons at the top.
Corduroy’s origins as a hardy cloth favored by outdoor sportsmen in England and France make Dobbs’ brown needlecord cotton trousers a wise choice, though even they gradually tatter over the course of his misadventures. (“Needlecord”, also known as “pincord” or “pinwale” corduroy, refers to corduroy with higher numbers of wales per inch, typically between 16 and 21; for reference, 11 is considered a “standard” wale count.)
Dobbs’ flat front trousers have side pockets, set-in back pockets with pointed flaps that close through a single button, and plain-hemmed bottoms that Dobbs cuffs himself to clear over his boots. The wide belt loops signify that these were intended for heavy-duty wear with a hefty belt; Dobbs responds in kind with a wide brown leather belt that closes through a large gold-toned square single-prong buckle. He tests the belt’s sturdiness by looping a large open-top holster onto the back right to carry his Colt revolver.
Consistent with the rest of his hard-wearing work clothes, Dobbs wears a pair of sturdy combat boots that understandably catch the eye of the bandits he encounters toward the end. The uppers are a brown leather, faded and worn to a dusty, sun-drenched patina. These plain-toed boots are derby-laced with six sets of eyelets over the instep and seven sets of speed hooks extending up the mid-calf shafts.
The climate doesn’t quite necessitate additional layers, so Dobbs keeps it light with his denim chore coat that he carries around Tampico with his modest bundle, pulling it on only briefly during traveling or the occasional night around the fire. Recently, chore coats enjoyed a renaissance as a “must-have” jacket for fall 2021, celebrated for being roomy yet ruggedly reliable, so many modern outfitters began reimagining this centuries-old workwear design that—like Dobbs’ chambray shirt and corduroys—can trace its origins to France. (Read more about the history of the chore coat, as penned by James Smith for Heddels.)
When introduced to French laborers in the late 19th century, these jackets were typically made from moleskin that had been dyed a distinctive shade known as bleu de travail, though they would be re-imagined as chore coats once they emigrated across the Atlantic to the land of denim.
Close-ups of Dobbs’ jacket show the characteristic denim twill, created by blue-dyed warp threads passing over two white waft threads before going under one (unlike chambray, which alternates the warp over and under one waft thread at a time.) Denim can range in thickness, but Dobbs’ ventless chore coat is arguably cut from a lighter-weight denim. The shank buttons up the front and on the edges of each cuff are semi-spherical brass, with the button closing the neck spaced farther apart from the buttons over the chest. In addition to straight set-in pockets over the hips, there are two patch pockets on each side of the chest, with a flap over the right-side pocket.
Dobbs and Curtin each sport a set of dark indigo denim overalls when briefly working on an oil derrick, with the newness of Dobbs’ overalls suggesting that they were issued to him for the job. They are classic “bib-and-brace” overalls, as pioneered by H.D. Lee in 1911, consisting of jeans with a bib that extends over the chest. Two rivet-style buttons on each upper corner of the bib connects to a suspender-style looped hook at the end of the wide straps that pull over each shoulder. The front and back fasten further with a pair of buttons on each side—one at the waist, one several inches lower.
Bogie’s overalls have a large pocket over the bib with a narrow flap over the top that snaps closed. The white manufacturer’s tag sewn onto the center of this pocket would tell us who made Dobbs’ overalls, though I can’t discern the specific brand. The style suggests the North Carolina-based Blue Bell, though overalls were an early 20th century specialty of many denim outfitters like Lee, Levi’s, and the relatively new Wisconsin-based OshKosh B’gosh.
Below the waist, the overalls are styled like classic jeans with two slanted front pockets and two patch pockets on the seat. Dobbs wears the bottoms self-cuffed, showing that he indeed wears his overalls over his trousers.
Off-screen and typically on-screen, Humphrey Bogart wore his father’s gold ring with two rubies flanking a diamond, but he—quite understandably—doesn’t wear this ring in his role as Fred C. Dobbs.
What to Imbibe
Dobbs and Curtin sidle up to the bar at a local cantina to await Pat McCormick’s arrival with their pay, each ordering a beer with the generic label “CERVEZA” (which, of course, is Spanish for “beer”.)
Days later, Dobbs and Curtin run into the garrulous McCormick, who offers to buy them each a shot of rye but is strong-armed into upping these to shots of brandy.
Dobbs: Weapons? What do we need weapons for?
Howard: Meat’s one thing, bandits another. Bandit country’s where we’ll be goin’.
Howard’s point is proven almost instantly as the trio is forced to fend off a bandit attack while still on the train to their destination. The hanging ejector rods and rounded cylinder release clearly differentiate their armament as Colt revolvers. The smaller frame and the early-style hard plastic grips of Dobbs’ revolver suggest that at least he carries a Colt Police Positive, the service revolver developed for American law enforcement usage early in the 20th century.
As its appearance in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre suggests, the Police Positive’s moniker certainly didn’t limit it to lawmen as both criminals and civilians came to favor the trusty double-action six-shooter, with three quarters of a million sold over the course of its nearly 90-year production timeframe throughout the 20th century. In addition to the base model, Colt quickly introduced the stronger-framed Police Positive Special, differentiated by its ability to feed and fire the more powerful .38 Special round favored by most law enforcement agencies.
Dobbs also arms himself with a Winchester Model 1892 lever-action rifle when he’s cornered in the brush by bandits who famously explain that they don’t have to show any “stinkin’ badges!”
The earlier Winchester Model 1873 had been immortalized by company marketing as “the gun that won the west.” The Model 1892 was a relative improvement on the ’73 with its lighter frame and a stronger action, designed by venerable gunmaker John Browning. Like the ’73, the Model 1892 was chambered for a range of low-pressure rounds up to .44-40 Winchester, fed through a tube magazine. More than a million Model 1892 rifles were manufactured over more than a half-century before production ended in 1945.
How to Get the Look
Assuming you take better care of your clothes than Fred C. Dobbs, you can use his daily warm-weather workwear as the foundation for a classic casual look that builds on the timelessness of a chambray work shirt, corduroy pants, and leather boots… YMMV when it comes to the neckerchief, henley undershirt, and fedora.
- Blue chambray cotton long-sleeved work shirt with point collar, front placket, two button-through chest pockets, and button cuffs
- Off-white marled cotton short-sleeved henley undershirt with 2-button top
- Red paisley cotton neckerchief
- Brown pinwale corduroy cotton flat front trousers with wide belt loops, side pockets, button-down flapped back pockets, and self-cuffed bottoms
- Brown wide leather belt with gold-toned square single-prong buckle
- Brown leather open-top belt holster
- Brown leather plain-toe mid-calf combat boots with derby lacing and speed hooks
- Dark brown calf socks
- Taupe-gray felt fedora with black grosgrain band
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
Conscience. What a thing. If you believe you got a conscience it’ll pester you to death. But if you don’t believe you got one, what could it do t’ya? Makes me sick, all this talking and fussing about nonsense.