THE MALTESE FALCON. (1941) BASED ON THE BOOK BY DASHIELL HAMMETT. SCREENPLAY BY/DIRECTED BY JOHN HUSTON. MUSIC BY ADOLPH DEUTSCH. CINEMATOGRAPHY BY ARTHUR EDESON.
STARRING HUMPHREY BOGART, MARY ASTOR, SYDNEY GREENSTREET AND PETER LORRE.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
I had the great pleasure of seeing this film on the big screen recently and, I must say, it nearly took the sight out of my eyes, as we say here in Ireland. It was a brilliant life-affirming experience, in other words, haha. It’s one of those films about which people sigh and say: ‘They don’t make ’em like that anymore.’ They certainly don’t, folks. They certainly don’t.
Leading man Humphrey Bogart plays a blinder here as Sam Spade, the private investigator in early ‘Forties America who talks real fast and looks real slick in his sharp dark suit and refers to women as ‘dames’ or ‘broads’ while knowing that, whatever you call them, they’re always trouble. You never know whether he’s going to make love to them or sock ’em in the kisser. As it was the ‘Forties, it could really go either way…!
Sam is the quintessential film noir detective about whom words like ‘hard-bitten,’ ‘hard-boiled’ and ‘gumshoe,’ meaning private eye, are bandied about. Sam Spade is so hard-bitten it’s almost scary. No-one, but no-one, gets one over on Sam. He’s just not made that way. I’d say he came out of the womb talking real fast-like and and cutting a nice sweet deal for himself with the midwife.
He’s sharp as a tack and as smart as paint and he’s nobody’s fool. He suspects everyone he meets of being on the make and on the take and, nine times out of ten, he’s probably right. He’s handsome in a rugged, manly kind of way and altogether way too cool for school as he takes on a small group of dodgy characters who are all searching for the titular ‘Maltese Falcon,’ an historical little ornament worth more than a few bob to whomever gets his mitts on it.
Peter Lorre is terrific as the nattily-dressed and camp-as-Christmas Joel Cairo, the first person Sam meets who’s looking desperately for this little gee-gaw. The whole audience laughed out loud when Cairo demands for the second time that Sam put his hands behind his neck and submit to a search of his rooms in case he’s hiding the Falcon somewhere. I won’t tell you why that’s funny, but you’ll laugh yourself when you see the movie.
Sydney Greenstreet, a stage actor making his film debut here at the age of sixty-one, earned himself an Oscar nomination for his performance as ‘the Fat Man,’ a wealthy auld fella obsessed with finding the jewel-encrusted statuette known as ‘the Maltese Falcon.’
He’s terrific to watch as he grapples verbally with Sam, no slouch himself in the talking stakes, and calls him ‘a real character’ and sets his underling Wilmer on him. An Oscar nomination (for Best Supporting Actor) for your first screen performance is no mean feat.
I’m only surprised that Humphrey Bogart didn’t get one for his own blisteringly hot turn as Sam Spade, Private Dick Extraordinaire. He would’ve totally deserved it. I liked Lee Patrick too as the faithful and unfailingly discreet female secretary that every Private Dick needs to have watching his back, and the two cops were great too. Sooooo ‘Forties…!
Now for the love interest. I’m afraid I didn’t like Mary Astor in the role of Brigid O’Shaughnessy. (She didn’t sound remotely Oirish, for one thing…!) Her one-sided hairstyle was a disaster and I would have liked to see someone softer, blonder, curvier and, let’s face it, sexier in the role.
I didn’t like all her umm-ing and aah-ing and faffing about, talking all the time without really saying a damned thing that made any sense. I don’t know why Humph put up with her nonsense for so long, frankly. He should have turned her out on her ear. Or said to her what he said to Joel Cairo:
‘When you’re slapped, you’ll take it and like it…!’
I kind of wish he’d said that to me, haha. It’s not domestic violence if a leading man in a ‘Forties crime drama slaps you, after all. It’s just the way they did things back then. Isn’t it…?
This magnificent film, a triumph of scriptwriting, was selected for inclusion in the Library Of Congress’s National Film Registry in 1989, which means that it was considered to be ‘culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.’
Damn straight. There’s a reason that this film is constantly reaching the high numbers in people’s ‘Best Films Of All Time’ lists. It’s a superb film noir with guts, balls and heart and real fast talking and you know what else?
‘It’s the stuff that dreams are made of.’
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
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