- Directed by John Huston (Directorial Debut)
- October 3, 1941 (New York City) / October 18, 1941 (United States)
After his partner is murdered, a jaded detective becomes involved in a plot to obtain a very valuable legendary statue.
The Maltese Falcon is a classic film involving greed and deception and murder all in an attempt to get a legendary and invaluable statue. The film features Humphrey Bogart in a screen persona defining role as jaded detective Sam Spade. When you think of Bogart this is probably one of the first movies that pop into your head.
This is just an amazing cast in a fantastic film. People of this caliber in something of this quality do not often come together. Sydney Greenstreet. Peter Lorre. And of course Humphrey Bogart. And to prove that Ward Bond did movies that did not include John Wayne he shows up here as well. Seriously though, it is a credit to the quality of the film as well as the talent of the cast and director that this film is still discussed 80+ years later.
Interestingly The Maltese Falcon is such a great film that most do not realize that it is a remake of a 1931 film of the same name. Yep. Supposedly both films are similar with any differences due mostly to the ’31 film being pre-code and this being post-code. Ten years between versions is not that long and that it overshadowed the original so quickly is amazing.
This The Maltese Falcon has withstood the test of time. It is about characters. It is about quick wits. It involves sophisticated storytelling. It contains great acting. Humphrey Bogart is a legend. He is just fantastic Sam Spade. He is so good that he IS Sam Spade. Spade is a tough private detective whose cynicism serves him well throughout.
Spade is not a wholesome Johnny Law type of character. He is about as impure of a hero as you could get at the time. In fact it is outright shown that there is an a romantic attraction between Spade and his murdered partner’s (Jerome Cowan as Spade’s partner Miles Archer) wife Iva (Gladys George) but that little bit comes to nothing in the film. That was edgy stuff back then. Spade is the template for the hard-boiled detective.
As good as Bogart is in his role, I honestly feel that Sydney Greenstreet as Kasper Gutman steals every scene he is in with Bogart. And this was his first film appearance. The man was in this film as well as Casablanca. He was not quite the scene stealer in Casablanca that he is here, but he is good in both. Gutman is a man who has spent years carefully tracking the Maltese Falcon through history and physical location. As close as he is to it now he is hungry to finally have it.
Peter Lorre (also in Casablanca with Bogart) is one of those old Hollywood faces that you probably recognize but cannot quite place. The man did a great deal and his unique performances made him memorable. This is no different. As Joel Cairo he is Gutman’s rather creepy lacky. He is not the kind of person you want to deal with.
Mary Astor is Ruth Wonderly/Brigid O’Shaughnessy who is the woman that pulls Spade and his doomed partner into the whole plot. Wonderly/O’Shaughnessy tells Spade one fib after another and this does as much to reel him in as does wanting to find out who killed his partner. As the story goes along she becomes more truthful with Spade as he learns more but never actually tells him the whole truth.
Ward Bond is police Detective Tom Polhaus, the great Elisha Cook Jr. is Gutman goon Wilmer Cook, and Walter Huston (John Huston’s dad) is in an uncredited part as Captain Jacoby.
There is a great deal of the old rapid patter dialogue of classic films here, but it is mixed in with a much slower delivery. What could have been an odd combination works well and is what gives The Maltese Falcon part of its unique identity.
There is a lot going on this story. This movie is jam packed with plot yet does not feel overstuffed. There is a fine line between a great deal and too much and this movie comes right to the edge. And it moves at a brisk enough piece that there are no dead spots.
The Maltese Falcon is one of the shortest lingers in my collection. Some movies can stay unwatched for years and actually collect dust on my unwatched shelf/pile. I am glad I did not wait. I was hooked from the opening moments until the very end and at several points rewound the movie to catch something I missed. Normally if I think I missed something I will wait in the hopes that it gets recapped in some way.
The Maltese Falcon is a great piece of old Hollywood filmmaking. It is a classic mystery thriller that everyone should see!