A rare bird, the prized one and only. This third film version of the Dashiell Hammett novel was propelled into the ranks of popular classic by a stunning directorial debut from screenwriter John Huston. This was also Bogart's big chance as a star/leading man and he is peerless as private
eye Sam Spade, a cynical rebel-hero entangled in a mass of hissing vipers.
While trying to investigate the murder of his partner, Miles Archer (Cowan), Spade finds himself surrounded by a number of eccentric characters: the mysterious Brigid O'Shaughnessy (Astor), the effeminate Joel Cairo (Lorre), the huge Kasper Gutman (Greenstreet), and Gutman's psychotic gunsel
Wilmer (Cook)--all greedily fighting for possession of a statue of a falcon containing priceless jewels. From the superb casting (it was the 61-year-old Greenstreet's film debut) to the textbook perfect direction, every aspect of THE MALTESE FALCON revealed the surprisingly assured hand of its
novice director. A seminal moment in the development of what would come to be known as film noir, Huston's faithful adaptation helped establish the cynicism, corruption, and moral ambiguity that would mark the genre, while his visuals--although not nearly as dark as what would follow--showed a
cramped, stifling, claustrophobic world from which there was no escape. Huston has a field day laughing at greedy corruption and treating the plot with amused insolence; often it's funny to us, too. Lorre's gardenia-scented little crook versus Cook's would-be tough guy, obsequious sugar daddy (to
Cook) Greenstreet meeting Bogie's snarls--these make us laugh. Mary Astor has one howler bit when she kicks Lorre, but otherwise she embodies the plot's dark, bottomless center. Piling lie on top of lie, Astor's portrayal keeps us guessing right up to the end. Gladys George is the classic noir
widow--you've seen this bit parodied countless times--here's the real thing. Ditto Patrick's doggedly devoted secretary (it's nice to see her playing a dame that's not cheap for once). And that's Walter Huston, John's distinguished father, who delivers the bird to Bogie.
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- Rating: NR
- Review: A rare bird, the prized one and only. This third film version of the Dashiell Hammett novel was propelled into the ranks of popular classic by a stunning directorial debut from screenwriter John Huston. This was also Bogart's big chance as a star/leading m… (more)