Original Post Date: March 9th, 2012
Author’s Note: I can’t believe I didn’t put in a blurb for Elisha Cook, Jr with the other characters, because he certainly deserves recognition as well. You have my permission to belt me one.
After a brief respite last week, Titan Town is back and ready for more. Yours truly has not been getting enough sleep at night, and my dreams have suffered the consequences. Unlike some of the characters in our next film, I haven’t been dreaming of a mysterious black bird. Rather, I have been dreaming of a day when I am finished with my educational pursuits and can put my feet up without having to worry about term papers, group assignments and participation grades.
For me, the end is in sight. By the end of next week, I hope to have completed graduate school. Between now and then, I have a few more papers to write. So, I should warn you that you may not be hearing from me until then. In the meantime, however, enjoy this film and have a 5-10 page response paper prepared for my return. Just kidding. (But, no, really.)
“People lose teeth talking like that. If you want to hang around, you’ll be polite.”
– Sam Spade
“Why start now?”
Hey, DT! Convince me! So, why…: The Maltese Falcon?
You mean…I actually have to attempt to convince you to watch what is regarded as one of the greatest mystery films of all time? Well, ok. For starters, The Maltese Falcon is regarded as one of the greatest mystery films of all time. In fact, there are those who consider it to be one of the greatest films…ever. It is also and the first one to be considered “Film Noir.” Based on the 1930 novel by Dashiell Hammett, The Maltese Falcon offers scores of unforgettable characters, such as the tough as nails private detective, Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart), the femme fatale (Mary Astor) and a cast of mysterious criminals, Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre), Kaspar Gutman (Sydney Greenstreet) and the gun-toting youth, Wilmer Cook (Elisha Cook, Jr.)
The Maltese Falcon has it all: snappy dialogue, numerous twists and turns, and a plot that requires multiple viewings if you ever expect to get to the bottom of it. Mystery lovers and film lovers alike have embraced this film and helped it carve out a piece of silver screen history. The film was nominated for 3 Oscars in 1942, including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (For Sydney Greenstreet) and Best Writing, Screenplay (for writer John Huston). Those who haven’t uncovered the secrets of The Maltese Falcon are in for quite a treat.
The story unfolds around private detective Sam Spade, who is approached by new client Miss Wonderly (Astor). Wonderly commissions Spade and his partner, Miles Archer, to get her sister back from a dangerous character named Floyd Thursby. When things go wrong (as they tend to do), Spade learns that the situation is quite a bit more complicated than he originally suspected. The tangled strings of the web lead to a mysterious, black figurine….and the criminals who are prepared to kill in order to obtain it. Obviously, this story gets fleshed out quite a bit more before it’s all said and done. I can’t explain it for you. For starters, it would take a lot of explaining. Also, I’m not 100% certain myself.
Now that you’re here, check out:
I’ve mentioned the characters briefly, but it’s impossible to overstate their importance to this film. Granted, author Dashiell Hammett is the master. This is his world, after all. But stars truly aligned and contributed to make the 1941 version of this film much more memorable than its 1931 counterpart:
Sam Spade (Bogart): What do I need to say, here? When you think “private eye”, you think Sam Spade. He’s smart, tough and can be kind of a prick. Above all else, though, he clings to his own code of beliefs and values.
Spade served as the inspiration for the countless private eyes and detectives that followed in his footsteps. And, while Bogart himself had made many prior film appearances before this one, it is The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca (1942) for which he is best remembered.
Brigid O’Shaughnessy (Astor): Ah, yes. The femme fatale who excels at luring the hero in, and then manipulating him into getting what she wants. Spade detects some flaws in her tale from the moment she sets foot in his office, but are these lies harmless….or deadly?
Joel Cairo (Lorre): Known for a career built on some creepy, troubled performances…Lorre turns in another winner as Joel Cairo. In The Maltese Falcon, Spade is approached by Cairo as a potential buyer for the mysterious statuette. Due to his mannerisms, tendency to use scented business cards and the way he is spoken to/about by the other characters in the film, Cairo’s homosexuality is hinted at throughout the film.
Kaspar Gutman (Greenstreet): Seemingly residing as the brains of the outfit believed to be seeking after the priceless falcon, Gutman also appears to be….the body. A rotund mastermind, Gutman has been searching for the artifact for years and will not let anything (or anyone) get in his way.
This film marks Greenstreet’s silver screen debut at the age of 62. What followed was a career of 24 films…9 of which also featured Falcon co-star, Peter Lorre. Not bad, eh?
Who brings a DVD to a gunfight? You do (If it’s The Maltese Falcon):
This film is more of a mystery/film noir than a no holds barred, adrenaline fueled thrill-ride. So, if you’re craving action, you may want to look elsewhere. With that said, there is still plenty of grit to be found here. After all, you don’t claw your way to the top of the search for a priceless artifact by shaking hands, do you? Expect arson, gun-play and fisticuffs galore. Besides, how can you turn down a film with lines such as, “When you’re slapped, you’ll take it and like it! *slap slap slap*”?
You also have a golden opportunity to work up a mental sweat, as well. Try to keep up with Spade and solve the case…if you can. Who killed who? Why? How do these characters really know each other? Just how much can Spade trust O’Shaughnessy? Are her feelings for him real, or is she just using him for The Falcon? And how is Gutman so large when he’s been travelling the globe for 17 years, searching for the black bird? Only time will tell….(for some of these questions, anyway. I still don’t know about Gutman, and I sat through the credits!)
This is the end…
In short, if mysteries are your thing and you haven’t seen The Maltese Falcon, you haven’t gotten the full experience. Even if you’re not a big “whodunnit” fan, it’s worth taking some time to watch what is considered to be one of the greatest films ever. That’s high praise when you take a second to consider the classics that we love to watch again and again. The Maltese Falcon has had a tremendous impact on pop culture all across the board, so you might be pleasantly surprised.
Take a shot of whiskey, and join Spade on his quest for the bird. Just check your pockets afterward and make sure you still have your wallet. He’s dealing with some crafty characters. In the end, maybe you’ll have a new appreciation for the genre, or for classic movies in general. And maybe you’ll find a falcon of your very own. “Heavy. What is it?” asks Detective Tom Polhaus, regarding The Falcon. Spade’s reply? “The, uh, stuff that dreams are made of.”