Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Three Faces of The Maltese Falcon Part 2: Satan Met a Lady (1936)

Dashiell Hammett’s best-selling mystery novels became even hotter than ever when Hollywood adapted them for the silver screen.  The Maltese Falcon was now reworked into a screwball comedy, Satan Met a Lady (1936), starring Bette Davis and Warren William.  Like they say, if works, milk it for all its worth!  I kind of think of this version as Maltese Falcon 2, Sam Spade’s playful, mischievous sister. Still, I must admit I have a personal soft spot for this particular …Lady, because this film was:
  1. The first movie Vinnie and I saw after our daughter Siobhan (“Shugie” to our loved ones) was born in New York City, in 1996.  This also meant that:
  2. It was also the first movie I had ever watched on Turner Classic Movies. I think folks were still calling it Turner Classic Movies instead of TCM at the time! 
NYU Medical Center, the Manhattan hospital where Shugie was born, had its own cable TV system, and the channels included TCM (Grease was on, as I recall).  Interestingly, the hospital also happened to have a TV channel where they seemed to constantly run 101 Dalmatians (yes, the original animated Disney version; accept no substitutes!).  A visiting friend quipped that a film about puppies in peril in a plot to kidnap Dalmatian puppies might not be the best film  choice for an anxious new mom…but I digress!
Many people bad-mouth Satan Met a Lady, but I think it’s only because many people don’t seem to realize this version is supposed to be played for laughs!

From the start, I found Satan Met a Lady to be madcap fun, starting with our own Sam Spade manqué Ted Shane (William) , who’s being run out of town almost literally on a rail.  William Dieterle (Portrait of Jennie; The Devil and Daniel Webster) worked from Brown Holmes’ screenplay, but this time they made a few changes to make it more rib-tickling.  This was also where Arthur Edeson practiced for his future stint as The Maltese Falcon’s Director of Photography, as an assistant on Satan Met a Lady.

Fun Fact:  Ricardo Cortez and Warren William each played Perry Mason in the movies (no, not the same movie; see, I told you he was racy!).

Bette Davis as “The Beautiful Valerie Purvis:
“Do you mind very much, Mr. Shane, taking off
your hat in the presence of a lady with a gun?”
But it’s a fresh young *Bette Davis* who gets top billing here as wily Valerie Purvis, or as she’s often described: “The beautiful Valerie Purvis” (any relation to G-Man Melvin Purvis, John Dillinger’s foe?).  Played by the fabulous Ms. Davis, she could be Brigid O’Shaughnessy’s witty, bantering sister.  Satan Met a Lady and The Maltese Falcon have more in common besides being loosely inspired by the same Dashiell Hammett novel: in Satan Met a Lady, our rakish hero is played by Warren William from Three on a Match; the 1930s Perry Mason movies; and Gold Diggers of 1933, among others.  William plays racy detective Ted Shane, a man so racy that the spelling of his name sometimes plays hide-and-seek.   Maybe it’s to keep his creditors at bay!

Shane gives The Lovely Valerie Purvis her gun,
a kiss, and a promise!
They say it’s always five o’clock somewhere, but in…Lady, William always looks and acts like a fun-loving troublemaker no matter what time it is!   Sheesh, Shane’s even more of a tomcat than Ricardo Cortez was in 1931!  William and Davis play off each other most enjoyably as they seek out, not The Maltese Falcon, but rather an ancient ram’s horn rumored to be stuffed with fabulous jewels.  They’re aided and abetted by a rambunctious supporting cast, including:

Will Shane and Travers have to pass the hat
to get the legendary Ram’s Horn? 
*Arthur Treacher* —  I must confess I first knew who Treacher was from his Arthur Treacher’s Fish & Chips franchise in the 1970s, with its tag line “The Meal You Cannot Make at Home,” as well as seeing him on the big screen at our local bijou in Mary Poppins when I was a kid.  Appropriately enough, in Satan Met a Lady, Treacher plays another character named Travers—what are the odds?  Here, Treacher is transformed from a Peter Lorre type to Travers, a somewhat bumbling English gentleman crook.

*Alison Skipworth* — Often paired with W.C. Fields, Ms. Skipworth began her career on Broadway, and continued in such films as The Devil is a Woman and Dangerous (both in 1935). “Skippy,” as her friends and colleagues called her, essentially gets a sex change here, since her character was originally Kaspar Gutman.  I like Ms. Skipworth’s take on the character, the jolly yet slyly dangerous Madame Barabbas; even her Biblical name is cool!   Shane and Madame Barabbas have something of a friendly-adversary relationship.  I got a kick out of the scene where each of them proved the other each was too clever to let the other one slip them a Mickey Finn.

*Porter Hall*  — The ill-fated Miles Archer and his restless wife Iva in The Maltese Falcon are now Mr. and Mrs. Ames, played briefly but entertainingly by Hall, best known here at Team Bartilucci HQ as Macaulay in The Thin Man, and Jackson, the “Medford Man” in Double Indemnity.   Ames’ hot wife Astrid—soon to be Ames’ widow— is played by lovely big-band singer/actress *Wini Shaw,* popular on stage and screen, including her success on The Ziegfeld Follies and her Broadway triumph in Call Me Madame!

Don’t  let buffoonish  “Kenny-Boy” and his silly beanie fool you,
 he’s a killer!  Would his Auntie Madame Barrabbas lie to you? 
*Maynard  Holmes*
  —  Instead of gunsel Wilmer, Madame Barabbas’ sharpshooting right-hand man is her obnoxious, buffoonish, beret-wearing nephew Kenneth, or as his Auntie calls him, “Kenny Boy.”  Hey, at least he loved cats!  Holmes was also in Dead Reckoning; Somewhere in the Night; The Lady from Shanghai (though he unfortunately didn’t get screen credit).

*Marie Wilson*  —   Of all the wacky characters in Satan Met a Lady, my favorite was Marie Wilson  redoing trusty secretary/receptionist Effie Perine as the endearing cutie Miss Murgatroyd, a cheerful blonde uber-ditz.  Her cute little squeak of surprise/distress always cracks me up!  Both her film versions and TV versions of My Friend Irma were smashing successes, in addition to her voice work on the 1970 animated Hanna-Barbera sports comedy Where’s Huddles?

*Olin Howland* was a character actor from the silent era until Howland’s death in 1959.  I myself always enjoyed Howland in his 1930s Perry Mason films, often playing Coroner Wilbur Strong or Dr. Croker.  (Don’t you just love these names?) He was also a scene stealer in THEM! as the drunk offering our heroes to “Make me a Sergeant, charge the booze!”, as well as the ill-fated old man in The Blob.

Zesty quips abound, including:

Valerie:  “Do you mind very much Mr. Shane, taking off your hat in the presence of a lady with a gun?”

Shane, discovering Ames has been murdered: “It’s the first time he ever did anything in an appropriate place.”

Shane (cheerfully) to Miss Murgatroyd when it seems she’ll be out in the cold with no job:  “Have you finished packing all your things?...And all the things that weren’t yours, but that you thought you could use?

Miss Murgatroyd: (flustered): “Yes—um, I mean, I’m all packed.”


  1. Ha! Sounds like there are some great lines in this flick.

    Warren William is one of my faves. He can be charming and smarmy, and always very smart.

    Dor, you've made me want to see this movie... I wonder if it ever shows up on TCM? I will check the schedule.

    Thanks for another fun review!

    1. Ruth, a Happy Hello and Happy New Year for 2014, my friend! SATAN MET A LADY turns up once in a blue moon on TCM, so look sharp! :-) As usual, I discovered Warren William backwards, seeing SATAN MET A LADY before I heard of his Perry Mason films and his Lone Wolf films, among others! I'm glad you enjoyed SATAN MET A LADY, too!

  2. This is the film that introduced me to both Warren William and Marie Wilson (plus Olin Howland in the cast. What's not to like?). Once you accept the idea of this film as a frothy comedy it all falls into place (and can just about stand on its own alongside that other watchamacallit movie featuring Humphrey Whoozis). No one seems to be taking the murders very seriously (even the newspaper which, halfway through the film, provides its readers with a blow-by-blow account, Sort of a scorecard of the unfolding crime).

    William proved he could hold his own as a light-hearted slinger of the old suave (managing to steal a bit of William Powell's "Thin Man" thunder. A pity he couldn't have been cast as Nick Charles' black sheep brother or something).

    1. Michael, as always, I like the way you think, you clever gent! You and I are definitely on the same page with your comment: "Once you accept the idea of this film as a frothy comedy it all falls into place." As for your quip about how ...LADY "can just about stand on its own alongside that other watchamacallit movie featuring Humphrey Whoozis," don't be too hard on Bogie; he's a steady worker! :-) All kidding aside, I'm glad you enjoy this comedy as much as we of Team B do. I also got a kick out of your idea about William Powell as "Nick Charles' black sheep brother." The mind boogie-woogies! :-) Thanks for joining the "3 Faces of The Maltese Falcon," and stay tuned when we post the classic 1941 version of THE MALTESE FALCON sometime in the not-too-distant future! :-)

  3. I've always found that there is an inherit humour to "The Maltese Falcon" and it was certainly worth exploiting for "Satan Met a Lady". I really fell for the tag team of William & Porter. It was a shame knowing that Archer/Ames wasn't long for this world. The only false note for me is young Ms. Davis. She seemed a little uncomfortable to me; unsure of how to commit one hundred percent to the comedy. I'm more than happy to watch the film again for a possible reassessment.

    1. Happy New Year, dear Caftan Woman! I hope you and your family are happy and well as 2014 gets underway. I'm pleased that you too enjoyed the humor of both SATAN MET A LADY and THE MALTESE FALCON; both movies won me over back when I was a young'un wry, with the cheeky humor in both films adding to both films' various delights. True, Bette Davis was still a tad wet behind the ears, but I enjoyed young Bette's performance, considering her great films to come. I guess it's kinda like seeing a talented kid starting to blossom into star. I like your reassessment idea; kinda like the blog version of "Duelling Banjos!" In any case, I always look forward to your blog posts and comments, as always! :-)

  4. I hate to admit that this adaptation finishes third for me, but it had no shot at first and I really think the pre-Code version is underrated. I still enjoy this version quite a bit! This is a tough one to watch when most everyone has seen the later classic first; obviously it doesn't compare. And SATAN'S rep isn't exactly helped by looking at the period reviews--it was pretty roundly despised from the get-go, dismissed as lacking mystery and not being funny. Bette Davis ripped it later on, as she seemed to do with all of her more routine early movies, especially the ones she didn't star in. Personally, I do find SATAN funny and that might be the first step to embracing this one. Some of the actors (Marie Wilson, Maynard Holmes, Arthur Treacher, even Warren) used to rub me wrong, but their almost manic over-acting grew on me the more I watched it. Everybody (except perhaps Bette) seems to be having a lot of fun here, unrestrained to a point that leaves you wondering where director William Dieterle was during it all, but once you're willing to join their party-like atmosphere it's a good time! Warren's Ted Shane reminds me quite a bit of his Perry Mason in the middle two movies he starred in in that series around this same time and Olin Howland's presence surely helps that idea along for me. I enjoyed Alison Skipworth in this one too, especially her banter with Warren William.

    Very glad you have a soft spot for it yourself! Enjoyed your coverage, especially the actor-by-actor section at the end.

    1. Cliff, all of us here at Team Bartilucci HQ are glad you joined our MALTESE FALCON conversation with your wit and affection for all 3 of these MALTESE FALCON films in their unique ways! I can certainly understand why you'd prefer the 1931 version of the film, but I'm also glad you toohave soft spot for SATAN MET A LADY, too, with its own zany, loopy charms! I'm delighted you enjoyed our actor-by-actor section at the end. As they say, a good cast is worth repeating! :-) Thanks for your kind kudos, Cliff, and Happy New Year, and we hope 2014 is treating you and yours well so far!

  5. If you watch SATAN MET A LADY as a straight detective movie it's one of the worst movies ever made. If you watch it as a screwball comedy with some mystery elements thrown in, then its fairly tolerable. I don't like it as much as you do, Dorian, but it has its charms and there is a breezy, agreeable air about it....just as long as you put the Hammett original out of your mind.

    1. Kevin, I'm glad you dropped by Team Bartilucci HQ to weigh in on SATAN MET A LADY! Although I enjoyed it more than you did, I agree with you that it does works better as a wacky screwball comedy-mystery than it would played straight. Dashiell Hammett probably wouldn't have appreciated ...LADY, but it's always fun to compare and contrast just for the fun of it.

      Stay tuned, because in the near future, we of TALES OF THE EASILY DISTRACTED will be posting the classic 1941 classic, and we hope you'll enjoy it! Thanks for joining our discussion of "The 3 Faces of The Maltese Falcon," Kevin, and we hope 2014 is being good to you so far! :-D

  6. Hi Dorian! I have to say that I am such a die-hard lover of the John Huston/Bogart Maltese Falcon that it was hard for me to find any love for Satan. But I guess if you go into it expecting comedy and with no other expectations, it's pretty cute. In any event, your review was lots of fun and now I look forward to the REAL Falcon article -- LOL!

    1. Becky, my friend, I assure you that I too am a die-hard lover of the 1941 Huston/Bogart classic, too, big-time! While I've been enjoying checking out the 3 different versions of Dashiell's Hammett's classic tale, I'd say SATAN MET A LADY was the goofiest version, as long as we view it as a screwball comedy, and you know I love comedies! :-) Thanks for your thumbs-up to ...LADY, Big Sis, and I hope you'll enjoy the full-tilt, accept-no-substitutes 1941 version with director Huston, my gal Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, Elisha Cook Jr., the whole bit! :-)

  7. Hi, gang! For some reason, our dear pal and fellow blogger Yvette Banek hasn't been able to send her comments to TotED! Don't you hate when that happens? To catch up, here's what Yvette had to say:

    "Dorian, recently my comments won’t go through on your blog. I can write it out but I can’t get the thing to accept it. Anyway, here’s my comment for your latest post:

    "I confess!!! I’ve never seen SATAN MET A LADY even though I adore Warren William. So I’m lining it up on Netflix or maybe, if I’m lucky, I’ll find it on YouTube.

    I did see the Ricardo Cortez version last year (and wrote about it on the blog) – Cortez being a late in life affectation of mine. Ha.

    LADY! Don't you hate when that happens? Yvette was kind enough to send me her comments. Here it is, bless her:

    Hi, gang! For some reason, our pal and fellow blogger Yvette Banek hasn't been able to send her comment to me about SATAN MET A LADY! Don't you hate when that happens? Yvette was kind enough to send me her comments. Here it is, bless her:

    "Dorian I loved the post, loved the quips and loved the lines. Good stuff.

    Thanks for the heads-up, my friend! I always enjoy your posts, and I hope your computer will behave itself again soon! :-D

  8. hi!
    fun review as always, I love all the actor bios you include and this one is no different, in fact those are always a highlight for me because I love to learn more about those lesser-knowns. I think you almost have to separate this one from The Maltese Falcon legend and Bogart movie to really enjoy it on its own, since it's so different that it doesn't fit people's expectations. And I do enjoy it, Warren never disappoints me.

    1. Kristina, my friend, many thanks for your rave review of SATAN MET A LADY! I'm glad you enjoy my mini bios on the cast; as they say, a good cast deserves repeating. So many swell actors, including the character actors I love. who all too often don't get the kudos they deserve. I'm especially glad you and the folks in the yearly WHAT A CHARACTER! Blogathon. And I agree with you that SATAN MET A LADY is a different breed of cat; heck, Warren William himself is one of a kind! :-)