And now, to finish off the month of “Noir-vember,” we have the classic 1941 film The Maltese Falcon, starring Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Gladys George and Peter Lorre!
At first, the case seemed simple enough. Private eyes Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) and Miles Archer (Jerome Cowan) were hired by Miss Wonderly (Mary Astor) to help find her sister, who was with Floyd Thursby. But Miles is quickly killed, and so is Floyd, the man that he was trailing at the time. The police suspect Sam in the second killing, but can’t do much. Sam meets with Miss Wonderly again, who reveals that her story was false and that her real name is Brigid O’Shaughnessy. Not long after, Sam is visited by Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre), who thinks Sam might have a bird statue that Floyd was carrying. In a second meeting with Joel, Sam brings in Brigid, but they are interrupted by the police, who take in Joel for questioning. Sam soon meets Kasper Gutman (Sydney Greenstreet), who is also interested in the statue, and tells Sam what all the fuss is about. He tries to bring Sam in, but decides against it when Joel comes to him. However, Sam ends up with the statue, forcing Kasper and his crew to come to Sam’s terms.
The movie was based on a story by Dashiell Hammett (who was also the author of The Thin Man) that had been written for Black Mask magazine before being put together as a novel in 1930. It was filmed shortly thereafter in 1931, with another version coming just five years after (although retitled as Satan Met A Lady and altered to be more of a comedy). By the time the 1941 film came around, it was given to first-time director John Huston, with hopes to star George Raft. However, in one of a series of career mistakes, he decided against it, and the role went to Humphrey Bogart (not the first time that a role he declined went to Bogie, nor was it the last). John Huston went to great lengths to plan out how he wanted to film it, since he had a limited time and budget to work with. Due to his preparations, filming went very well, and finished a few days early and under budget.
Honestly, it’s hard to go wrong with this movie! It’s considered by some to be one of the first official film noirs, and while I don’t know enough to dispute that, I definitely think that everything works so well with this movie. Humphrey Bogart just fits the part so well, and you can easily see how he brought a bit of the character of Sam Spade to the role of Philip Marlowe in The Big Sleep a few years later. Of course, the rest of the cast works well, and the story certainly keeps you on the edge of your seat, even when you’ve seen it so many times before! And it’s just as fun when you start to recognize some of the other actors and actresses who became bigger later, even if only for some of their TV roles, like Ward Bond in Wagon Train, or Barton MacLane from I Dream Of Jeannie. Personally, among film adaptations of Dashiell Hammett’s novels, I’ll take The Thin Man, if only because I prefer screwball comedy compared to straight drama. That being said, obviously The Maltese Falcon is no slouch! As I said, this is a great movie, and easily recommended, whether you’re a fan of the film noir genre or not!
This movie is available through Warner Home Video on Blu-ray (either individually or as part of the four-film Best Of Bogart Collection) and DVD.
Film Length: 1 hour, 40 minutes
My Rating: 10/10
List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections
Peter Lorre – My Favorite Brunette (1947)
Sydney Greenstreet – Christmas In Connecticut (1945)
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