Director John Huston adapted B. Traven's novel about three Americans who fight over gold they mine in Mexico.
In 1925 Fred C. Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart) begs for money for a meal. Pat McCormick (Barton MacLane) hires Dobbs and Bob Curtin (Tim Holt) but does not pay them. Howard (Walter Huston) talks about gold prospecting. Dobbs and Curtin find McCormick and fight him to get $300. Dobbs win a lottery, and they join with Howard to seek gold.
Their train is attacked by bandits, and Dobbs says he shot three. Howard guides them, and they try to keep up with him. Howard dances when he finds gold. They work at mining. Howard says they have $5,000 so far. Curtin suggests they divide it each night. Dobbs is knocked out by a cave-in, and Curtin rescues him. They talk about the future. Howard suggests they get $25,000 each and quit, but Dobbs wants more. Dobbs says he put in more than Curtin, who pays him back with interest.
Dobbs gets suspicious and talks to himself. He pulls a gun on Curtin, who saw a Gila monster. Curtin buys supplies in a town and tells James Cody (Bruce Bennett) he is a hunter. Cody asks to go with him and follows him. Dobbs suggests they kill Cody and tells him to leave. Cody doubts the hunting and says there is gold. Howard suggests they take turns watching Cody.
In the morning Dobbs hits Cody for making coffee. Cody says he will dig for gold and asks to be a partner. Dobbs and Curtin vote to kill Cody, but they see bandits and get ready. Gold Hat (Alfonso Bedoya) asks Dobbs for his gun. Howard shoots a watch, and a gun battle begins. Cody is killed, and the bandits are chased away by the federales. The three read a letter from Cody's wife.
They have $35,000 each and decide to leave after putting the mountain back in shape. Curtin and Howard plan to give a fourth to Cody's wife. Four Indians share tobacco with them. Howard goes to help their boy in a coma, and the boy revives.
The next day the Indians invite Howard, who leaves his goods with Dobbs and Curtin. Dobbs wants to take all the goods. Curtin takes away his gun but gives it back. Dobbs bets Curtin that he will stay awake longer. The next night Curtin dozes off, and Dobbs takes his gun and shoots him. Indians find Curtin and help him. Dobbs debates whether to bury him and discovers he is gone.
Indians pamper Howard, and Curtin tells him what happened. Indians go with Howard and Curtin. Dobbs staggers to a water-hole. Gold Hat and three bandits hit Dobbs with a machete and take the burros. They dump out the sand and sell the burros, but they are arrested, dig their graves, and are shot. Howard and Curtin learn that Dobbs is dead, and the gold dust is blown away by the wind. Howard laughs and tells Curtin he will be a medicine man. Howard offers Curtin funds to go to Cody's widow, and they say goodbye.
In this drama one especially greedy and violent man
ruins a lucrative partnership and brings about his own destruction,
and the same theme is reflected in the fate of the Mexican bandits.
Conscience is affirmed as important, because disregarding it can
lead to harm of others and oneself.