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The Maltese Falcon (1941)

NR 100 minutes

Directed by John Huston
Written by John Huston

Starring
 · Humphrey Bogart
 · Mary Astor
 · Sydney Greenstreet
 · Peter Lorre


Review by Reel American Hero (Mike Keskeys)

For years when you think of all time actors that personify Hollywood cool,  the name of Humphrey Bogart comes up on the short list.  And for good reason too, with movies such as Casablanca and The African Queen to his name, you just can't touch that.  But it's his role as Sam Spade in the film noir classic, The Maltese Falcon that people usually think of after Casablanca as his best role. 

And surprisingly, it's a film that I've never seen until just now despite my being a huge fan of the genre, but the opportunity to watch it came up last night, and watch it I did.  And I have to say, this movie deserves the reputation it's gotten over the years.

 

Smarts

 
 89%

The Maltese Falcon that film buffs know and love today is a remake of an adaptation (two of current Hollywood's favorite things in one) of a novel by Dashiell Hammet.   John Huston directed the story of Sam Spade(Humphrey Bogart)  and the web of mystery that surrounded the titular falcon, which was a jewel encrusted statue given from the Knights Templar to the King of Spain in the 16th century. 

Spade and his partner Archer (Jerome Cowan) get called to a case by Bridget O' Shaunessy (Mary Astor) which seems to be about protecting her sister, but it soon turns out that there is no sister, and two people are soon dead including Archer.  Soon Sam Spade gets caught up in the actual case, involving the titular mcguffin, and has to deal with the other men trying to claim the Falcon as their own, including Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre-M, 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea), and Karl Gutman (Sydney Greenstreet-Casablanca).

 

John Huston made a classic his first time out as a director, his adaptation of the novel and his direction are true examples of the film noir genre, it's got everything, a femme fatale, a cool as ice hero, rapid fire dialogue, and double and triple crosses.  All the cliches of the genre could very well come from this one movie, but how they're handled is just cinematic perfection here.  And since it's a movie of the 1940's nearly all the action here has to be conveyed by the dialogue, which all just flows perfectly here it doesn't matter that it's an extremely talky movie, you're right there with the characters, but that would all mean nothign without a great cast of actors to bring these words to life.

  I've got to say you just can't touch Bogart in this movie, nor can you faze him it seems, as his character remains cool no matter how much the odds are stacked against him.  I loved the scene in which he goes from being held at gunpoint by Peter Lorre, to disarming him, all with a lit cigarette in his mouth.   Peter Lorre does an outstanding job in this movie as well, playing the whimpering secondary villain Joel Cairo.  But it's Sydney Greenstreet's Gutman that really stood out for me.  It would not surprise me  one bit if Marvel Comic's character of The Kingpin was based on Greenstreet's performance here, as a large, powerful man who prefers to remain behind the scenes if at all possible and leave the dirty work to his henchman. 

The score by Adolph Deutch (Some Like It Hot) is hit and miss, some parts of it being borderline iconic and really ehhancing the moment, while others it feels about as generic as they come.  But what really brings the movie to life is the cinematography of Arthur Edeson (Casablanca), his low lighting, off kilter angles at just the right moments, most notably during the scene where Spade gets slipped a Mickey in his drink by Gutman, and the camera swerves as we see in his perspective just as everything goes blurry.  Would not surprise me if all subsequent shots like this were all taken from this film.

 

 

Popcorn

 
 94%

 

   Another thing I loved about this movie is how it's not the traditional cliches in the movie.  There's a femme fatale, but she's far from ice cold, if anything she's as scared as she is selfish, mostly playing everyone in sight to save herself, never actually in control.  And even Gutman he's not really that bad a guy, he just wants that statue and is willing to pay his people almost anything to get it.   

 Here's a fun fact of a sidenote, Peter Lorre's voice, was the inspiration behind the voice of Ren Hoek of The Ren and Stimpy Show fame.  I'm surprised I never caught on to that before growing up because I was well aware of Peter Lorre, well more like Mel Blanc's impersonation of him that he used in many a cartoon, but the voice is pretty distinctive.  But as soon as I heard Lorre exclaim 'You moron, you fool!'  it just hit me, which I just had to look up to confirm.  This is neither here nor there, but more trivia for you, Stimpy's voice from that show was inspired by Larry Fine of The Three Stooges.    Yet I digress..

 

Final

If you're a fan of the film noir genre as it exists today with such films as L.A. Confidential, than you owe it to yourself to see where the genre came from.  And there is no better example of the genre than 'The Maltese Falcon'.  It's got great performances, fast paced dialogue, and some excellent cinematography.  You really can't go wrong with this film.  As Sam Spade says at the close of the film 'It's the stuff that dreams are made of'


939 Words Published: 25 July 2009

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