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The Maltese Falcon
Year:
1941
Country:
USA
Genre:
Crime, Drama, Thriller, Mystery, Film-Noir
IMDB rating:
8.2
Director:
John Huston
Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade
Mary Astor as Brigid O'Shaughnessy
Gladys George as Iva Archer
Peter Lorre as Joel Cairo
Barton MacLane as Det. Lt. Dundy
Lee Patrick as Effie Perine
Sydney Greenstreet as Kasper Gutman
Ward Bond as Det. Tom Polhaus
Jerome Cowan as Miles Archer
Elisha Cook Jr. as Wilmer Cook
James Burke as Luke
Murray Alper as Frank Richman
Storyline: Spade and Archer is the name of a San Francisco detective agency. That's for Sam Spade and Miles Archer. The two men are partners, but Sam doesn't like Miles much. A knockout, who goes by the name of Miss Wanderly, walks into their office; and by that night everything's changed. Miles is dead. And so is a man named Floyd Thursby. It seems Miss Wanderly is surrounded by dangerous men. There's Joel Cairo, who uses gardenia-scented calling cards. There's Kasper Gutman, with his enormous girth and feigned civility. Her only hope of protection comes from Sam, who is suspected by the police of one or the other murder. More murders are yet to come, and it will all be because of these dangerous men -- and their lust for a statuette of a bird: the Maltese Falcon.
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Reviews
The dark depths of a treasure hunt
Last night was time to watch "The Maltese Falcon" (1941) again. The lighting and camera work (Arthur Edeson, cinematographer) are exceptional, contemporary with Gregg Toland's in "Citizen Kane", also 1941. Good and innovative technique apparently spreads fast. The camera work gives us sharp and detailed interiors, backgrounds and foregrounds both in focus, achieving a freshness of look that does not age. Many times we see complete figures, head to toe, and bits of ceiling above. A good many low shots appear, such as those capturing Bogart comfortably reclining in his leather chair making a phone call and ponderous Sydney Greenstreet.

This is a film with great and memorable characters. The characterizations allude to two and maybe three homosexuals. Notice how Greenstreet takes Bogart's arm and how he later places his hand on Bogart's knee. His walk and giggle are almost flirtatious. Peter Lorre's character is much more open about his proclivity and Elisha Cook Jr.'s sexuality cloudier. Nonetheless, he is a gunman acting tough who allows himself to be dominated by Greenstreet and pushed around by Bogart. He seems to have a sado-masochistic streak.

The lesser parts add greatly to this film, and they include Bogart's secretary, Lee Patrick, Jerome Cowan's brief appearance as Bogart's partner, and Cowan's wife, Gladys George. They include Ward Bond as a friendly cop and particularly Barton MacLane as a tough cop who promises to be impartial to Bogart, either way. It's always fun to see Walter Huston stumble in with the Falcon baled up.

Mary Astor's seductiveness is not flaunted. Director John Huston treats this subtly when she reclines. At that point, Bogart can't help but lean down and kiss her, enough to suggest what passes between them. After all, if Bogart could go with his partner's wife, why not with this attractive client? He treats it much less subtly when she asks Bogart how she can compete for his trust and help and he grabs her head and kisses her.

As in the last time I watched this, I think Bogart's Sam Spade very early suspected Mary Astor, never really being fooled by her. His jabs at her holding back and at her schoolgirl manner make this verbally clear, but there also fleeting instances when we see it in his eyes in reaction shots. Nevertheless, the attraction was very strong, as is made clear in the closing speech.

The main flaw in this movie is that the story rather lurches along from one conversation to the next, sometimes requiring long speeches to make its complexity comprehensible. The continuity of the action takes a little thought to discern and sometimes it's really elusive.

But the movie has rightly achieved its iconic status as an early hard-boiled and cynical film noir. It was rightly placed in that position by early critics who invented the category of noir. Its emphasis on shady characters in a subterranean quest for a contested treasure who tangle with one another in opaque ways creates one facet of this noir story. These characters wave guns, drug drinks, pretend to be what they are not, and resort to murder if need be. They are obsessed with getting the jewel-encrusted bird. The hero, Sam Spade, is no prince but he does have a code. Although he speaks of bad nights after sending Astor over, he tells us they'll pass. He almost takes pleasure in telling her that he will indeed send her over. There is a certain cruel streak there. He's certainly hard-boiled and callous when it comes to Cowan's death. Any softness is slow to leak out or show. It becomes almost a business matter to him, which is perhaps his way of placing the pain into a place where it won't hurt as much or where he can avoid feeling guilty at cavorting with Gladys George.

A noir film is a marriage of style and content, and there seem to be many ways of achieving this that allow for large variations in both. This makes it extremely difficult to define the category. Noir stories emphasize the darker sides of human passions, closing their characters into prisons of their own feelings, weaknesses, plans, desires and actions. They could be in the middle of a desert and still feel trapped or have been trapped. Those in quest of the falcon are trapped by their own desires. Bogart is almost trapped by attraction to Astor.

This movie is a classic. It will later be matched by a good many others, which testifies to the capacities of movie-makers the world over. But as an early entry that retains its appeal and freshness to this day, it achieves a special status.
2016-06-06
Th Maltese Falcon
This movie was great, as well as the plot and the production of it all. Everything had this feel of smoothness and boldness... The images that was placed in front of me was amazing. I was just very appealing to the eyes. Definitely one of those go to the theatre type of movie. Meaning I would spend money to see it haha. The over all quality of the film was nice, the scenes flowed well and the acting from all of the characters was flawless. When watching I wanted to see this Maltese Falcon that everyone wanted, I wanted to see what the big idea was. And to find out that the one they had was a fake was a bit upsetting but blood pumping as well. I felt like I would go on the hunt to find what was desired by many. The film was also sad too. I say this because it turned out to be a action/ love story. I was really rooting for the romance that was but in place, it was sad to see that the main character had to give up his love for the justice of a fallen friend. Honorable. The facial expression Brigid O'Shaughnessy had while being arrested is and will be forever remembered in my head. You could see the heartbreak in her eyes and all over her face. It was so depressing...I wish she was a good guy but without her facade we would have lost some vital conflicts within herself and as well with the Samuel Spade. It seems as though her betrayal made the climax/story.
2014-10-22
Deserving of its iconic status
John Huston's adaptation of The Maltese is one of the earliest and best films noir. It may not have the prominent chiaroscuro or stylistic flourishes of later noir movies, but it is a gripping story told well, almost perfectly cast (I still cannot decide how I feel about Mary Astor's matronly though calculating femme fatale). The camera is almost always set at a subtle low angle, making the scenes take on a menacing feel, as though anything could happen and no one is to be trusted. Bogart is perfect in one of the two roles that made him an enduring Hollywood demigod, the patron saint of cinematic masculine toughness.

Despite the 1940s setting, TMF's themes of greed and human failing remain relevant. Except for the most superficial details, I would say the film has hardly dated at all and remains the definitive cinematic telling of the classic detective novel.
2017-05-17
Bogart at His Best
This is the greatest detective movie I've ever seen. Bogart's performance was fantastic and his character mislead me throughout the whole film. During the ending of the film, I really believed that Sam was corrupt and was going to let everyone walk. I was especially surprised he arrested Brigid at the end.

My favorite scene of the film was the scene when Joel and Sam first met. The performances by both Bogart and Peter Lorre were great. The way Sam toyed with Joel, even though Joel had a gun on him, was both funny and a perfect look into the cunning and wit of Sam. Throughout the film things Sam was doing to mislead everyone and I feel that everyone could benefit from watching this film more than once.
2014-10-15
See Casablanca instead. . .
for Bogart, Lorre, and Greenstreet, with Ingrid Bergman instead of Mary Astor.

Many other reviews remark upon the historic significance of The Maltese Falcon, and I acknowledge the movie deserves props for Bogie's turn as Sam Spade and for snappy dialog. But I have issues with TMF as a true classic rather than a relic of the early days of film noir.

First, there's the femme fatale and alleged bombshell, Bridget O'Shaughnessy played by Mary Astor, whose performance has makeup an inch thick on it. Totally brittle from beginning to end. No chemistry that I can see between Bogie and Astor, or between Astor and anybody for that matter. Yes, Miles Archer goes gaga over her, because the script calls for him to. I haven't seen Astor in anything else, but surely she's been better elsewhere.

Similarly, Mrs. Archer doesn't come off as worthy of Spade's attentions. She's mostly there to tip us off to Spade's being morally compromised.

Second, I see many references to the menace exuded by Lorre and Greenstreet, but again I don't see it. Casablanca has Nazis in it, so L & G can do what they do well as supporting characters without having to affect stagy menace. These guys ain't exactly Robert Mitchum or Jack Palance or even Edward G Robinson; I actually got the impression that L & G are camping it up.

Third, the quest for the Maltese Falcon just doesn't seem that compelling, even as people are being killed along the way. A great treasure like the "dingus" surely should have more interesting villains than this chasing it. Instead we get cartoonish characters, none more so than the pipsqueak Elisha Cook as Greenstreet's muscle. whom he allegedly regards as like his own son or so he says.

In my opinion a movie about the stuff dreams are made of and the obsessions of those chasing those dreams shouldn't be pausing every so often for a chuckle or two. I don't think TMF ever made up its mind whether the characters should be taken seriously and tried too often to have it both ways.

In sum, I feel like TMF is being graded on the curve. It's good compared to what came before it, but it's nowhere close to being in the same league as Chinatown, where John Huston, TMF's director, conveys the menace that Lorre and Greenstreet don't.
2011-12-28
Bogart, the hero who was exactly right for his time…
The Forties were the years when Hollywood decided that the mystery thriller deserved big-budget, big-star treatment, threw up a new kind of hero who was exactly right for his time: they were the fabulous years which established the private eye adventure as the irremovable all-time favorite in the whole field of suspense… The field was so rich, the choice so lavish in that decade, that it was difficult to know where memory should stop and call "Encore".

As the author of the screenplay, Huston made every effort to do justice, and remain faithful, to Dashiell Hammett's novel… But in remaining faithful, the newest version asked audiences to accept the complicated plot at its full strength and that is where the film's main flaw occurs… Names, murders, and intrigues turn up so quickly that it is extremely difficult to understand exactly what is happening in this tale of an assortment of characters in search of a fabulous jewel-encrusted statue…

Probably in no other film will a viewer find a gallery of such diverse human beings whose perfect1y constructed portrayals remain permanently locked in one's memory…

Mary Astor's Brigid O'Shaughnessy is a striking picture of feminine deceit and betrayal… Able to shed tears on command, she is a confirmed liar who can be as deadly as she is beautiful; she can make passionate love to Bogart, but wouldn't hesitate a moment to kill him if it suited her plan… Her performance is surely one of the screen's most brilliant portrayals of duplicity masked with fascination…

Sydney Greenstreet, in his movie debut, was equally memorable as the menacingly mountainous man behind the search for the elusive black bird, and almost stole the picture… Cunning, determined, appreciative of the fine arts, Greenstreet—who seemed to get more dangerous as he got more imperturbably polite—is a man who would devote his entire life to a single quest if need be…

Peter Lorre's Joel Cairo was a resolute picture of classic villainy… With curled hair and impeccably clean dress, he is an unpredictable accomplice of Greenstreet, difficult to deal with…

But it is Bogart's portrayal of Sam Spade that remains classic in its construction… Obviously cynical, he still maintains his own code of ethics which he adheres to faithfully… He is doubtful, but not foolhardy… He is courageous, but not without fear… Spade uses everyone he comes in contact with… He wins not because he's smarter than his enemies, but because he is the only character in a central position… Spade is every bit as ruthless as the crooks who try to use him… His tactics in dealing with them, however, are necessary for his survival...

His treatment of the two women in the film seems equally as harsh, but neither is a wide eyed innocent and both attempt to deceive him in one manner or another… His exchanges with Brigid O'Shaughnessy are electric... Their mutual attraction is undeniable... But Spade will play the fool for no woman… He is a loner, but he has contacts, and knows where to go for what he wants… Even with very little money, he is totally incorruptible… He has no apparent friends… He is laconic, but he can throw a wisecrack as fast as he can throw a punch...

"The Maltese Falcon" molded the image we remember of Bogart all through the early years of the Forties—an image elaborated upon and reinforced in "Casablanca," and the one which all Bogart fans remember with great affection and admiration…
2005-04-22
Maltese Falcon
I really enjoyed watching The Maltese Falcon. Film Noirs are always exciting to watch to me. It takes place in San Francisco and is about two partners, Sam Spade and Miles Archer, who are both detectives. A woman by the name of Miss Ruth Wonderly entered their office one night in hopes of hiring them to help her find her sister that is missing. Chaos breaks out the night Mrs. Wonderly came and asked them for help. Archer was killed while he was tailing a man. Nobody is who they say they are and Sam didn't realize what he had gotten himself into when he agreed to help Mrs. Wonderly. People are dying all over the place and people are put in danger all because they were in search of a golden statue of a falcon. Sam confronts "Mrs Wonderly" who was now known as Brigid O'Shaughnessy at the end of the movie about killing Archer where she admits that she did but begged him to not turn her in. Sam ended up turning her in and ending her life of crime and destruction that she was living. The lighting changes a lot throughout the movie as well as the lengths of long and short takes. They both change a lot throughout the film. The Maltese Falcon was entertaining to watch!
2015-05-12
The First Real Film Noir
There is just something about a dark and gritty film that I love. When I was finally able to watch this film, it all made sense to me. Humphrey Bogart had gained my respect after I had seen Casablanca, so when I saw this, I had high expectations. Thankfully, he lived up to them, as his role of Sam Spade was excellent. I was hooked from the opening sequence, and the use of the low key lighting really sets the tone for this film. It is in the lighting where I found that grittiness that I love in a film. This film is one of the best when it comes to telling a compelling story, and especially in leaving an impact on society. That being said, how could you not want to go watch this film? It will be one of the best decisions of your day when you do.
2014-05-08
Our Private Conversations Have Not Been Such That I Am Anxious To Continue Them
Sam Spade and Miles Archer run a private detective agency in San Francisco, and are hired by a Miss Wonderly to find her sister, who has eloped with a man named Thursby. That night both Miles and Thursby are shot in separate incidents, Wonderly disappears and Sam is the police's chief suspect for both murders. Who killed them, and why ?

Like only a handful of other movies, it's hard to overestimate The Maltese Falcon's huge influence on the crime genre in specific and cinema in general. Of course there are films which preceded it about private eyes, slippery femme fatales, shifty suspects and twisting plot lines. It's not even the original screen adaptation of Dashiel Hammett's classic 1930 novel (Roy Del Ruth first filmed it in 1931, and it was remade again in 1936 as Satan Met A Lady). This version however combines an astonishingly assured performance by Bogart with an outstanding supporting cast, a brilliant head-scratching script by Huston and superb direction to create perhaps the definitive crime picture, and paved the way for many memorable film noir and gangster classics to follow. It's also important to note the small scale of the film - Bogart and Huston were well respected as a supporting actor and writer respectively, but it was Huston's debut as a director (arguably one of the best ever) and it made Bogart a huge star and cemented his reputation as a hard-boiled tough guy. The screenplay is very faithful to Hammett's riveting book, with only minimal abridging for such a deliciously deceiving story, and as with all the best crime fiction it's really all about the people, and what drives their darker personas. Bogart plays a fabulous thin line between good guy, world-weary cynic and dangerous bluffer as he plays off everyone out to chisel him, on both sides of the law. He is aided by one of the most memorable support casts I've ever come across; Astor is sensational as the serial liar/lover who's constructed so many false identities she's not sure of anything anymore, Lorre is superb as the dapper Levantine Mr Joel Cairo, all perfumed accessories and aloof mannerisms, Greenstreet is unforgettable as the corpulently wily Kasper Gutman ("By Gad sir, you are a character."), and arguably best of all is Cook as the psychotic gunsel Wilmer, who seems constantly poised to explode but instead suffers every indignity at the hands of Spade. The players bring Hammett's rich and strange characters to vivid life with such craft and intensity it's almost impossible to imagine anybody else portraying them. The rumpled detective has become such a staple of books and movies it's easy to forget its origins, but Bogart here will always be the definitive private eye. Crisply photographed by Arthur Edeson (who also shot Frankenstein and Casablanca), this is an unmissable forties classic and one of Huston's best movies. It's also a truly amazing book you must read, although in my view two of Hammett's other novels, Red Harvest and The Glass Key, are equally sensational. Trivia - the one-shot-no-lines-die-on-the-sofa scene-stealing character of Captain Jacoby is played by the great Walter Huston, the director's father.
2015-04-26
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