THE MALTESE FALCON – part 1

THE MALTESE FALCON

A guy without a conscience! A dame without a heart!

A REVIEW

Part 1

THE MALTESE FALCON is a 1941 American film noir/mystery/thriller scripted and directed by the great John Huston. It stars Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, and Sydney Greenstreet.

THE MALTESE FALCON is based on a novel of the same name written by Dashiell Hammett – who happens to be one of my most favorite, if not favorite, writers of hard-boiled detective stories.

The story had been made into two previous movies – THE MALTESE FALCON (1931) and SATAN MET A LADY (1936). The less said about either of these movies the better.

Samuel Dashiell Hammett worked as a Pinkerton Detective, which is where he gained the experience to write his detective stories. He is also a veteran of both World War I and World War II. Starting out as a writer for pulp magazines he went on to author such works as THE GLASS KEY, THE DAIN CURSE, THE THIN MAN, and of course THE MALTESE FALCON – all of them and more having been made into successful films. Some folks think THE MALTESE FALCON is his best work. I’m kind of partial to THE DAIN CURSE but let’s not quibble.

Cast

Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade; Peter Lorre as Joel Cairo; Mary Astor as Brigid O’Shaughnessy; and Sydney Greenstreet as Kasper Gutman
Gladys George as Iva Archer
Lee Patrick as Effie Perine
Ward Bond as Detective Tom Polhaus
Elisha Cook Jr. as Wilmer Cook
The Black Bird as the Maltese Falcon
It appears as if Peter Lorre is wondering why director John Huston is muscling into their cast photo.

This was John Huston’s directorial debut. What a start! During his preparation for the film he planned each second to the last detail. He wrote instructions for himself on the screenplay for shot-by-shot setups that included sketches for every scene. In this way things proceeded smoothly.

Warner Bros. executives were happy with Huston’s screenplay but because he was a first-time director they put restrictions on him. He only had six weeks to film and a budget of $300,000. They let him know that if he went over budget he would be looking for a job.

This is why Huston did not leave anything to chance. By providing the cast with such a detailed script they were able to rehearse with little intervention. The script was so fine-tuned that almost no line of dialogue was eliminated in the edit. One could read the screenplay and visualize the finished film.

Huston shot the entire film in sequence – except for some exterior night scenes. The shooting was so smooth that there was extra time for the cast to relax and enjoy themselves. The director had set aside an entire day to shoot one elaborate moving camera sequence. The sequence itself lasted only seven minutes but was complicated. They nailed it in one take on the first try and took the rest of the day off. Huston took Bogart, Astor, Bond, Lorre and the others to his gold club to relax in the pool, dine, drink, and talk until midnight about anything except the film. Because of days like this the movie was finished two days ahead of schedule and $54,000 under budget.

A special treat for director John Huston was having his father veteran actor Walter Huston appear in a cameo role as Captain Jacoby.

WARNING! FROM THIS POINT ON THERE ARE SPOILERS!!

Sam Spade and Miles Archer are partners in a detective agency in San Francisco. The two are partners but it is obvious Spade doesn’t like Archer very much. Maybe that is why he had an affair with Archer’s wife.

You can tell by the look on Sam Spade’s face that he doesn’t like his partner very much.

A classy dame walks into their office who calls herself Wonderly but later goes by Brigid O’Shaughnessy. She wants them to protect her from a man named Thursby and by that night everything has changed. Archer is dead and so is Thursby. The cops think Spade did one or both of the murders. Either he killed Archer because he had found out about his wife having an affair or he killed Thursby to avenge his killing his partner.

Sam Spade had an affair with his partner’s wife. Yecchh! Why bother?

In any event Brigid appears to be surrounded by some pretty dangerous characters. There’s Joel Cairo (I love that name) – who uses gardenia-scented calling cards.  There’s Kasper Gutman – whose enormous girth and faked civility hide an evil heart. There is Wilmer Cook – the kid who thinks having a gun makes him a man. Brigid’s only hope of salvation comes from Sam Spade – who is probably more dangerous than any of the others.

Brigid behind bars of an elevator. A foreshadowing of things to come.

There is mystery – who killed Archer and Thursby? There is suspense – what is it all about? And there are more murders – poor Captain Jacoby. All of this because these dangerous men – and woman – all lust after a priceless black statue – the Maltese Falcon.

“The stuff that dreams are made of!”

That is it for now gang. Thanks for sticking with me and come back for part 2 when I finish my review of THE MALTESE FALCON. It’s got thrills, it’s got chills, and it’s got Bogie. What more can you ask for?  

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