Monday, June 13, 2011

The Maltese Falcon (1941)

".... The stuff dreams are made of."

- Three dead men, three breathing thieves, one burning ship, and a private detective thrown into the entire mess - over one black bird. This is The Maltese Falcon!

The Maltese Falcon is so professionally assembled that it is amazing to think of it as legendary director John Huston's first film.... but facts are facts. The first of many great John Huston films to come, The Maltese Falcon consists of nothing less than quality film-making in every area. John Huston's Academy Award nominated script does Dashiell Hammett's novel well; inordinately good all-around with particularly artful dialogue (and more than one unforgettable wisecrack).

The same level of skill Huston implements off the set for the film's script is also implemented in his forming of the film's actual visual presentation. The Maltese Falcon is shot in a very creative fashion; while borrowed from often by future detective thrillers and films noir it contains a uniqueness all its own that prevents it from becoming a casualty of the clich├ęs it develops. The overall dark and laid back yet glamorous look is quite nice and Huston employs a great use of angular shots that really add to the film's atmosphere.

The entire cast impresses as well. One will notice the many familiar character actors of the day throughout the film: Barton MacLane, Ward Bond, and Elisha Cook Jr. give memorable performances and the portrayals of Joel Cairo and Kasper Gutman by Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet, respectfully, are of iconic quality (Greenstreet being nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor). Somehow ignored by the Academy, Mary Astor gives a stunning portrayal of the devious Brigid O'Shaughnessy. Initial viewings immediately place her as one of the best screen femme fatales in movie history and subsequent viewings reveal the extent of the vast levels of her intense, layered, and cryptic performance.

As good as everything that is a part of The Maltese Falcon is, what takes this film across the goal line is a phenomenal Humphrey Bogart. Not exactly the Hollywood icon that we all understand him to be by 1941, Bogart would forge his iconic status with a fantastic performance in The Maltese Falcon. As the smooth-talking and no-nonsense private detective Sam Spade, Bogart defines his classic acting style with a ruthless manner and endearing wit. Bogart's Sam Spade is so sharp in this film that there is an amount of certainty in editor Thomas Richards being cut himself while he was cutting the film together! Humphrey Bogart is simply fantastic and carries the film even further; The Maltese Falcon just would not - could not - be the same without him.

Undeniable in its classic status and entertaining to the fullest, The Maltese Falcon is a film you just do not want to skip. It has, time after time, stood the test of time and for good reasons: John Huston created a wonderful film, Humphrey Bogart created a wonderful screen character, and it, simply put, is "the stuff dreams are made of."

CBC Rating: 10/10

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