|Hey, I didn’t see this at the Book of the Month Club!|
One Magnificent Bird is chock-full of info about both Hammett and the films—including the fact that the name “Dashiell” is apparently pronounced “Da-SHEEL, at least according to TCM’s beloved Robert Osborne. I swear, ever since I became a Hammett fan back in my teens, I’d never heard the “Da-SHEEL” pronunciation before. Of course, I usually just read Hammett’s name, as opposed to hearing it said out loud, but the few times I did hear the name “Dashiell” pronounced, it was always as “DASH-ell.” Go figure! Nit-picks aside, all kind of fascinating folks with lore about Hammett’s life and the creation of his fiction are interviewed in One Magnificent Bird, including, among many others, Hammett‘s granddaughter Julie Rivett; writer/directors Larry Cohen and Peter Bogdanovich; Frank Miller; Henry Rollins; actors James Cromwell and Michael Madsen, presumably interviewed for the documentary because they’ve starred in such hard-boiled crime films as L.A. Confidential and Reservoir Dogs; Eric Lax, Humphrey Bogart’s biographer, who also provides an excellent commentary track for the superb 1941 TMF DVD; and Joe Gores, author of the mystery novel Hammett, filmed in 1982 by Wim Wenders, starring Frederic Forrest (The Conversation) in the title role; and Elisha Cook Jr—Wilmer Cook in his final role as a cabbie!
|Dr. Cairo is no match for our man Sam!|
Think he makes house calls?
The first film version of The Maltese Falcon came out in 1931, directed by Roy Del Ruth (Ziegfeld Follies; Born to Dance). It was known variously as both The Maltese Falcon and Dangerous Female, but for convenience’s sake, let’s call this version Maltese 1. This 1931 version was reviled by reviewers, but it was a big hit with moviegoers during those Pre-Code days! Our private eye protagonist Sam Spade was played by Ricardo Cortez. Born Jacob Kranz in Austria, Cortez came to Hollywood during Rudolph Valentino’s heyday, so the publicity machine turned him into a Latin lover type, albeit without the cliché Latin Lover accent. Cortez’s films and TV appearances included films I Am a Thief; Behind Office Doors; The House on 56th Street, among others). Fun Fact: Cortez’s brother Stanley Cortez was twice nominated for Oscars as Director of Photography, for The Magnificent Ambersons (1943) and Since You Went Away (1945), as well as an American Society of Cinematographers, USA Lifetime Achievement Award! Screenwriters don’t always agree with the original authors, and Hammett was no exception. Still, like many writers, they were paid by the word, so they were quite at peace with padding the word-count when necessary. Hey, writers have to eat, too! So here’s Hammett’s description of Sam Spade, straight from Chapter 1 of The Maltese Falcon:
|Sam sure knows how to reassure |
a client, especially pretty ones!
Sam doesn’t look much like Humphrey Bogart, does he? For that matter, neither did Warren William’s character in the second film version, Satan Met A Lady (1936), but we’ll discuss him and that delightful underrated comedy (yes, a comedy!) in our next installment! In any case, unlike Cortez or William, both of whom concentrate on the Lothario aspect of Spade’s personality, Bogart had Spade’s cynical, wily-yet-basically honorable attitude down perfectly—more about that when I discuss the 1941 version in depth in our upcoming big finale; but I digress! In Maltese 1, Cortez is all smooth moves and toothy smiles, which he flashes even while he’s trying to speak! By any chance, did Cortez have a contract with a big toothpaste company?
|"Iva" idea Hot Toddy's too clingy for Sam’s liking!|
I’m always intrigued at the elaborate wording of the credits of films of this era, like “Screen Play and Dialogue by Maude Fulton & Brown Holmes.” Don’t screenplays automatically have dialogue? Holmes is also credited with the script for Satan Met a Lady (1936) which I also think of as Maltese 2, and which you'll see sometime next week. Good thing the writers left the writing to John Huston for the classic 1941 version! Like many early talkies I’ve watched, I found Maltese 1 had a slow pace. It’s only 78 minutes long, and yet to me, the time seems to crawl by for my 21st century attention span. Having said that, I found the 100-minute Maltese 3 1941 version seemed to fly by because I was so caught up in the crackling intrigue and the dazzling performances. Still, I’m impressed with how closely the 1941 version held, having me spellbound with suspense and snappy dialogue.
|Just how squeaky clean is Miss Wonderly?|
|Hold onto your hat, Wilmer, they’re selling you out!|
As portrayed by Bebe Daniels (42nd Street), Ruth Wonderly came across to me as more like a miffed flapper than a beguiling, mercurial femme fatale. Cortez utters the famous line to Daniels about “the throb you get in your voice…” when she begs for Sam’s help, but her so-called throb is barely perceptible. Indeed, Sam cheerfully mocks Ruth like a he's teasing a bratty little sister; certainly no match for the palpable throb in our beloved Mary Astor’s voice in the 1941 masterpiece!
Joel Cairo gets upgraded to the Eurotrash Dr. Cairo, as played by Otto Matieson (Surrender!; Beau Ideal). He’s not as memorably colorful as Peter Lorre in the 1941 version, but he’s still just as overdressed and exotic. Dr. Cairo also tends to inexplicably turn up out of nowhere in Sam’s apartment when Lt. Dundy and Det. Sgt. Polhaus (played here by Robert Elliott and J. Farrell MacDonald) show up, which doesn’t work as well as the 1941 version with Sam, Dr. Cairo, and Ruth; somehow I simply didn’t feel any sense of urgency or suspense.
Then there’s Dudley Digges as Caspar Gutman, the formidable “Fat Man.” Digges tries hard, but he comes off as more of a slimmer, sweatier Falstaff than Sydney Greenstreet. On the positive side, Dwight Frye, Dracula’s Renfield, adds another great supporting role to his repertoire as Wilmer Cook, Gutman’s gunsel in every sense of the term!