I want to be upfront about my feelings toward “classic” movies. I tend to be very specific when it comes to films I like pre the 1970’s. The primary reason is the acting style. I have always preferred a more naturalistic approach and find many films, especially ones of the 1950’s and earlier, challenging to watch for their heightened performances and showy dialogue. 


Before you get your panties in a bunch, there are certainly a great many films pre-1970 that are very dear to my heart. Some are even in my Top 20 of all time. But for those who want to get up on your soapbox and take me to task about the “Golden Age of Cinema,” I submit to you that there were just as many terrible films made back then as now, possibly even more because they kept churning them out in the heyday of the studio system. 


With that said, THE MALTESE FALCON is one that I love. 


The definitive “classic” of the genre, it ushered in an era of high quality film noir. Directed by John Huston, it was his first film and one of the first to place Humphrey Bogart in a good guy role. 


With a screenplay also by John Huston, the THE MALTESE FALCON was the third attempt at adapting the book for Warner Bros. It had previously been made in 1931 with Ricardo Cortez as Sam Spade and then again in 1936 (this time titled SATAN MET A LADY) with Warren Willis and Bette Davis. Neither film was particularly well received and SATAN MET A LADY was essentially a comedy. 


By far the greatest adaptation of the Dashiel Hammet novel, the 1941 version stars Humphrey Bogart as ace detective Sam Spade and Mary Astor as the femme fatale Brigid O’Shaughnessy. Supporting actors include Peter Lorre, Ward Bond and Sydney Greenstreet in his first feature film (He, Lorre and Bogart would appear in other films together including CASABLANCA). 


The story is a web of lies and deceit all in the name of tracking down the titular “Maltese Falcon” a priceless relic that has been lost in time, but rediscovered and desired by many. But the falcon itself is a MacGuffin, a plot device to motivate the real story, which is about greed and the lengths people will go to get what they want. This is what makes this film such a masterpiece. 


A breezy film from start to finish, the rapid-fire dialogue and stylized direction from Huston elevates the film to one of the greatest in cinematic history. 


THE MALTESE FALCON is a MUST SEE MOVIE and you can hardly call yourself a cinephile if you have not seen it.

THE MALTESE FALCON (1941)

MARCH 23, 2014

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