Humphrey Bogart did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Fred C. Dobbs in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.
It is quite remarkable to see Bogart downplay his screen presence actually in his portrayal of Dobbs. Of course Bogart carefully does not reject all of his other performances entirely at first. There are some qualities in his performance early on that reflect that more known Bogart style. He does have a certain likability in his portrayal, and Bogart does well in making Dobbs just seem just like an average sort of guy. Although he may not be a perfect guy but he seems decent enough, and Bogart importantly sets this up as the beginning for Dobbs. Dobbs is not perfect or even close to being so but Bogart does make him rightfully an average sort of guy that we can first follow along. Bogart is believable in Dobbs's proposed honesty at first as he puts in the most money for the gold expedition along with fellow drifter Curtin (Tim Holt) and Howard (Walter Huston).
Bogart importantly though does show the signs of weakness and plants the seeds in the man. When he espouses how he will be able to easily just take enough gold as well as will easily be able to share it there is a great enthusiasm in Bogart's delivery. Bogart though actually handles it brilliantly though as he shows almost too much enthusiasm in that it feels superficial to at least some degree. Now Bogart does not show Dobbs to be putting on a facade when speaking about this in anyway, but he conveys almost a lack of thought as Dobbs says it. It is almost too forceful suggesting that it really is not something that goes right down to the soul of the man by any means, and Bogart properly suggests that there is quite a great possibility for Dobbs to do the exact opposite of what he proclaims he will do.
As the three of them proceed Bogart is excellent in being the novice prospector. Bogart stays very believable as he and others try and attempt to find the gold. He's very good in expressing the passion as they keep going but slowly the exasperation and anger that builds up as he reaches his wits end. What is perfect though is when they finally do find the gold and the expression that forms in Dobbs. Humphrey Bogart is terrific in the face that he shows when he finally sees the real gold and knows what it means for him as well. Bogart does not just have Dobbs get excited by the idea of the gold he absolutely is entranced by it. Bogart expresses what this is to him as Dobbs almost salivates over the prospect showing that the gold is having a profound affect on him.
From this point on Bogart's performance is an absolutely brilliant portrayal of a man being swallowed whole by gold fever. He is terrific as he goes from moment to moment slowly showing the insanity growing within him. Bogart's deliberate pace in his portrayal of the change is particularly effective because he doesn't rush any phase of it. At first Bogart inserts little moments where Dobbs becomes agitated, but only moments. He is able to step back from it well enough and he does make it seem like there is some hope that he could possibly get over the fever. He never does get over it only become worse and worse as they go, and Bogart is outstanding in these scenes. It is not just his attitude but his whole physical manner that changes as he becomes paranoid over his gold.
Although Bogart suggests there is some hope for Dobbs at first but as they find more gold and have more confrontations between the three it soon becomes clear there is not going back for Dobbs. Bogart's terrific in his moments of anxiety as Dobbs just keeps voicing his concerns to himself thinking no one can hear him. Importantly he is never one note. He maybe down and suspicious for a moment but he will come back from that. Bogart though never shows him become that same old Dobbs again though. Now even when he comes back from the brink he still always has this intensity in him. It is startling intensity that Bogart brings to his performance from the way he stares to his nervous and the way that everything he says is quick and sharp as to attack anything anyone says.
This performance is amazing the whole film through yet it only gets better by the end of the film when Bogart is able to show that the greed paranoid Dobbs is not the lowest the man can go. The final set of scenes consists of Dobbs and Curtin being left alone with the gold and Dobbs's greed and insanity is only becoming worse as they go along. Bogart is downright frightening as the greed consumes him to being nothing more than man of suspicion and hatred. Bogart's face suggests nothing of any of the possible goodness there was to the man only showing a thieving hateful man in that maniacal grin. Of course Bogart manages to have him go even lower than that in Dobbs's final moments.
What is particularly special about them is the fact that Bogart's does not leave any redemption in him. In the end he becomes a pathetic wreck. Bogart shows still humanity and that is the part that makes the end of Dobbs so powerful. After Dobbs believes he has done something truly terrible Bogart does not portrait it as you might think. There might be a little honest regret for his actions in his scared face but for the most part the fear that Bogart suggests most is in Dobbs is that he might not have done it. Bogart leaves him as no more than a whimpering mess now only overwhelmed by what the gold has done to him. Bogart makes him a hollow shell of man with that always haunted expression leaving Dobbs in a state of paranoia that he never escapes.
The transformation of Dobbs from the somewhat average man wanting to make his way to a despicable man willing to kill just for gold is one of the strongest aspects of this great film. The reason this part of the story works so well though is that Humphrey Bogart is flawless in his depiction of the transformation. There is not an aspect that seems rushed or forced. Also knowing that he usually plays rather controlled men there is an extra thrill to see him play a man without any self control so effectively. He takes his time and makes it a profound and believable change that brings to life the central theme of the film in a marvelous fashion. It seems like it was quite a shame that Bogart mostly played parts that were well into his comfort zone because this performance, where he is out on a limb pretty much the entire time, he absolutely delivers.