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The Maltese Falcon
Die Spur des Falken

USA 1941
produced by
Hal B. Wallis (executive) for Warner Brothers
directed by John Huston
starring Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, Elisha Cook jr, Gladys George, Barton MacLane, Lee Patrick, Ward Bond, Jerome Cowan, James Burke, Murray Alper, John Hamilton, Walter Huston, Creighton Hale, Charles Drake, William Hopper, Hank Mann, Jack Mower
screenplay by John Huston, based on the novel by Dashiell Hammett, music by Adolph Deutsch

Sam Spade, Maltese Falcon

review by
Mike Haberfelner

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Bridget O'Shaughnessy (Mary Astor), a beautiful but mysterious woman, enters the office of private eyes Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) and Miles Archer (Jerome Cowan) and asks for discreet protection while she meets some shady character. Archer, always a ladies' man, promises her to do the job himself ... but the next day, Archer turns up shot dead, just as dead as the shady character Bridget was meeting - and Spade finds himself in a heap of trouble, especially since the police figures he might have killed his partner since he had an affair with his wife (Gladys George).

Out of necessity, Spade starts to investigate, and soon he stumbles over a few shady characters like the effeminate Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre), the pompous Guttmann (Sydney Greestreet), and his thug, the not especially clever Wilmer (Elisha Cook jr), and he finds out that everything seems to have to do with some bird that everyone supposes to be in his possession - but his investigations are not made any easier by the fact that Bridget keeps telling him one lie after another, even though she knows that he knows that she is lieing. Ultimately though he finds out that the falcon everybody is after, the Maltese Falcon, is supposed to be a small sculpture made of massive gold and covered by priceless diamonds - but to obscure its value, it has been painted blyck and now looks like a nice but insignificant sculpture to the untrained eye.

Eventually, the falcon is even delivered to Spade, which puts him in a great bargaining position and gives him the opportunity to play the others against each other - and before you know it, they agree to give him Wilmer as the fall guy for Miles' murder ... which Wilmer finds less than funny and thus turns against the others and makes a getaway.

When Spade hands over the falcon to Guttmann and Cairo, they have to realize that it isn't the genuine article but just a replica made of plaster. The two men, who have looked for the falcon for 17 years, leave, realizing they have to go back to start - but they run right into the arms of the police.

Now finally, things seem to be falling together for Spade and he realizes that it had to have been Bridget who shot his partner, and he even gets her to confess. She tries to appeal to his heart and tries to bribe him, but in the end, he hands her over to the authorities, despite the fact that he has fallen in love with her.

 


More than any other film, The Maltese Falcon, an early and seminal film noir, has defined the image of the hard-boiled detective, thanks to Dashiell Hammett's novel as well as John Huston's flawless direction and of course a great acting job by Humphrey Bogart, who up until now was known mainly as a supporting actor, mostly portraying gangsters of one sort or another but feels right at home in the role of the ambivalent (anti-)hero that would become his trademark role.

In short, Bogart in one of his best roles, a great ensemble cast, tight direction by John Huston (whose first film this was) and a great script full of witty dialogue as well as great source material all see to it that The Maltese Falcon is nothing short of a masterpiece.

 

An interesting note: Despite the fact that this adaptation of Dachiell Hammett's Maltese Falcon is by and large seen as a landmark achievement, the book was brought to the screen twice before, as The Maltese Falcon in 1931, with Roy Del Ruth directing, Ricardo Cortez and Bebe Daniels in the leads and Dwight Frye as thug Wilmer, and as Satan Met a Lady in 1936, directed by William Dieterle, Warren William and Bette Davis playing the leads.

 

review © by Mike Haberfelner

 

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Robots and rats,
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love and death and everything in between,
Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

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Tales to Chill
Your Bones to
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a collection of short stories and mini-plays
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Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

the new anthology by
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Out now from
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directed by
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written by
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starring
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out now on DVD