I’ll own up before I begin. I love Humphrey Bogart films.
And this is where he gets his first major role.
This film is subject to enormous attention, a Google search on “The Maltese Falcon” generates 1,030,000 hits. It’s popularity probably stems from the following reasons as described by the Moderntimes website:
The Maltese Falcon was John Huston’s first directorial effort and it went on to become a early Film Noir classic. It also provided Humphrey Bogart with his first significant role as a leading man, and he is matchless as the inimitable Sam Spade.
The film stars Humphrey Bogart and Mary Astor. Supporting actors include Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet and Elisha Cook Jr. For a full cast list visit the IMDB entry for “The Maltese Falcon”.
The plot is straightforward enough, but the outcome of Sam Spade’s actions is not. He is the hero (actually an anti-hero in a number of respects) so in theory things should come out well in the end, but John Huston keeps you dangling.
The Moderntimes website has a great description of the entire film, almost blow by blow. Just don’t visit if you don’t like spoilers. However, the information on the filming, casting and comparison to the earlier film versions, makes a good read.
Bogart is gritty, egotistical, bad but good, and decidedly sly as Sam Spade. Mary Astor’s character, Brigid, deserves a slapping from a modern woman perspective. She plays on her femininity hiding a decidedly nasty interior under a remarkably innocent, “butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth” exterior.
Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet are great in their roles as Joel Cairo and The Fatman. The scene where Cairo visits Spade’s office for the first time is just hilarious. I’m not sure that it was meant to be, but it is. Clearly Cairo is effeminate, and apparently in the book is openly gay – just try getting that past the censors in 1941 – and he is played beautifully by Lorre. The Fatman is also another great portrayal by Sydney Greenstreet, so visually unthreatening yet so completely ruthless.
I did find the film slightly odd and a little disjointed, especially around Sam’s relationship with his just-murdered partner’s wife. Watching this for the first time with no prior knowledge of the book it wasn’t as smooth as it could have been.
On the whole I enjoyed the film and the actors’ performances, but can only manage a rating of 2 to 2.5 out of 5.