"In 1539, the Knight Templars of Malta, paid tribute to Charles V of Spain,by sending him a Golden Falcon encrusted from beak to claw with rarest jewels...but pirates seized the galley carrying this token and the fate of the Maltese Falcon remains a mystery to this day...."
|Open your Golden Gate,and get me Rice-A-Roni!|
1941 version of John Huston’s The Maltese Falcon
film as a writer and director, as well as being the third big-screen adaptation
of Dashiell Hammett’s seminal detective novel about cynical San Francisco
private detective Sam Spade, and how he gets embroiled in the quest for the
Maltese Falcon, a black statuette that might be worth a fortune—or get the
adventurers killed—or maybe both! The cast is a perfect quartet of crime—and
the best, as many film fans agree! Check out this great Rogue’s Gallery:
as Sam Spade.
Kids sure grow up fast! Who’d
have thought Maud Humphrey’s darling baby boy, born on Christmas Day to a
patrician New York City family, would become a Best Actor Oscar-winner
particularly known for his roles as tough, complicated men, as well as
eventually having a happy marriage with his co-star Lauren Bacall until Bogart’s
death from cancer in 1957.
(one of Team Bartilucci’s favorites) as the alluring but
treacherous Brigid O’Shaughnessy. Fun Fact:
Take a good look
at the scene where Joel Cairo is leaving the theater; the movie marquee is for
The Great Lie,
for which Mary won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar!
More about Mary shortly…
Sam Spade’s ill-fated partner. The busy Cowan was also the
District Attorney in Miracle on 34th Street,
as well as
Torrid Zone; Mr. Skeffinington; There’s Always a Woman;
and many TV
as Kaspar Gutman, a.k.a.
“The Fat Man,” whose benevolent chuckles thinly
disguise his ruthlessness. Ironically, despite his great performances with the
famous husband and-wife team of Lunt & Fontanne, Greenstreet was a nervous wreck
when it was time for his very first scene in the film, despite his many years as
a renowned stage actor! On the Maltese Falcon
set, Greenstreet begged
his co-star: "Mary, dear, hold my hand. Tell me I won't make an ass of meself!"
Huston was holding his breath, too! Luckily, Greenstreet performed his first
scene flawlessly, and the renowned stage actor became an in-demand character
actor and film star! Greenstreet was always a trouper despite his chronic
illness, the kidney disorder Bright’s Disease, bless him. (I’m
reminded of a gag by another of my favorites, the humorist and screenwriter S.J.
Perelman: “I have Bright’s Disease, and he has mine!”
But I digress….)
as the exotic and wily Joel Cairo, he of the gardenia scent,
among other things. Lorre became a star in Fritz Lang’s searing drama M,
Alfred Hitchcock’s original 1934
version of The Man
Who Knew Too Much.
As an in-demand character actor, Lorre’s many roles
ranged from dramas to comedies, including Crime & Punishment;
All Through the Night;
My Favorite Brunette; Casablanca;
several pairings with
Greenstreet and Lorre, including
Lorre was also the first James Bond villain, playing the evil Le
Chiffe in a 1954 TV version of Casino Royale
in the series Climax!
(The decidedly un-British Barry Nelson played “Jimmy Bond”!)
as Wilmer Cook, Kaspar Gutman’s weaselly henchman and gunsel (a word of many
meanings). Whether the 5-foot-five Cook was comical, sinister, or poignant, he
was always memorable and often a scene-stealer in such films as The Big Sleep; I Wake Up Screaming; The Killing; Electra Glide
so much more! Fun Fact:
Lee Patrick and Elisha Cook Jr.
were the only cast members to reprise their original roles in the 1975 comedy
spoof/sequel, The Black Bird,
which Vinnie will be discussing!
Lee Patrick as
Effie Perine, Sam’s trusty secretary and kind yet firm
voice of reason. She too was a multifaceted actress, shining in such hits as
playing bigoted boob Mrs. Upson; The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao;
Dangerously They Live; Caged; Mildred Pierce;
as Iva Archer, Miles Archer's hot but clingy widow, who's hoping to become Mrs. Spade, even though Sam's just not that into her! Ms. George earned an
Oscar nomination for
the Word for Carrie.
She was also in Flamingo Road
and The Best Years of our Lives.
|Meet Miss Wonderly...Or is it LeBlanc? |
O’Shaughnessy?! Heck we'd retain her anytime!
The 1941 version of The Maltese Falcon
proves the old adage: “The third
time’s the charm!” No wonder John Huston’s taut, wryly cynical take on Hammett’s
tale put Huston on the map as a writer/director. His version has the best of
everything in one terrific package: the best private eye thriller; the best
Dashiell Hammett movie adaptation; the best remake; and the best nest-of-vipers
cast, including the
signature Humphrey Bogart role/performance!
been a completest when it comes to watching all three versions of The Maltese
for the past few weeks, and it’s been interesting and fun to watch
all three versions to compare each of them, but let’s face it, the 1941
version is the best; accept no substitutes! Once I settled in to watch the DVD
(because I never get tired of that, either), I said out loud, “Now this
is more like it!” Even the opening credits are better, with the fabulous
Maltese Falcon statue glaring in shadowy profile as Adolph Deutsch’s brassy main
title music blares. Musical director Leo F. Forbstein really nailed it this
time, blending suspense, foreboding, and wry wit. The fateful falcon’s
background story scrolls up, lending “The Black Bird” a mythical aspect that the
previous movie adaptations lacked. It’s no wonder John Huston’s take on
Hammett’s tale put him on the map as a writer/director. For my money, the 1941
version has the best of everything in one package: the best private eye
thriller; the best remake; the best Dashiell Hammett novel-to-movie adaptation;
and the best nest-of-vipers cast, including the signature Humphrey Bogart
|Cairo tries to eliminate the middleman, the fool!|
Granted, I’m biased, but to me, Huston’s powerhouse 1941 cast makes the previous
casts look like rejects from high school class productions of the film, and not
good ones, either! That said, don’t confuse those with writer/director Rian
Johnson’s fascinating Hammett-influenced high school noir
that’s a blog post for another time! Huston’s actors were born to play these
characters. The cast is perfection; even the great Walter Huston shows up,
doing a memorable cameo for his son John as the ill-fated Captain Jacobi!
Huston’s lean, mean pacing and striking visuals come broodingly alive, thanks to
Director of Photography Arthur Edeson and his expressionistic images. Thomas
Richards’ editing is right on the mark. I love the way the overall faithfulness
to the novel makes me feel like Huston & Company opened the book and shook it
until the characters fell out and started filming! In the One Magnificent
documentary, it’s claimed that Huston and/or his secretary typed the
exact dialogue straight from the book into script form. I can believe it!
|Ah, shadows, a classic element of film noir!|
As I said
earlier, Humphrey Bogart may not look like Hammett’s “blond satan,” but he’s got
Sam Spade’s attitude down perfectly. Besides, he’s Bogart,
with all the
toughness, charisma, and wry humor that implies. What’s not to love? Indeed,
The Maltese Falcon
was the film that truly made Bogart a full-tilt star
at last. Even if I’d read Hammett’s novel before I saw the 1941 film back in my
high school days at dear old St. Catharine Academy in the Bronx, Bogart’s
star-making performance would still be engraved on my brain. Bogart deftly
balances toughness, trickiness, and tenderness, but he never lets his tender
side make a sap out of him, unlike Ricardo Cortez’s Sam Spade or Warren
William’s Ted Shane, both of whom apparently live to chase skirts, and seem to
be trying just a little
too hard in my opinion. Then again, some people
might say, “Hey, nice work if you can get it!” But as far as I’m concerned,
Bogart’s performance as Sam shows him to be as sexy as he is tough and wily,
enough tenderness to show he’s not made of stone. Women are
drawn to Sam out of his sheer charisma and strength of character, not just
throwing themselves at them willy-nilly. Somehow, he doesn’t seem to need to
at it. Now isn’t that more fascinating and appealing than a guy who
aggressively pitches woo at dames until they give in out of sheer exhaustion?
|Sardonic Sam tells Miles Archer, "You've got brains. Yes you have."|
But not enough for Miles to dodge a bullet! R.I.P!
In an early scene with Brigid, Sam has a line about how all he has to do is
stand still and the cops will be swarming all over him. Substitute “women” for
“cops” and the line would still be accurate! But Mary Astor's career was nearly
during her long career, due to public scandal in the mid-1930s.
First of all, Mary, who was still quite young at the time, was sued for support by her greedy
parents. Later, she was unfairly branded an adulterous wife by her vindictive
ex-husband during a custody fight over Mary’s daughter—what nerve! Luckily, Mary was able to turn her lemons into lemonade when her performance in
The Maltese Falcon
brought her well-deserved accolades! As the
quicksilver Brigid, Mary’s watchful eyes, elegance, and that beseeching throb
in (her) voice as she enlists Sam’s aid makes her utterly fascinating. She's totally believable as an avaricious adventuress with a prim, sweet façade—a woman who
would kill a guy as soon as kiss him, and keep him guessing about her intentions
until the bitter end! That’s what made Astor and Bogart such a great team in
both The Maltese Falcon
and Across The Pacific
that year. In
Bogart and Astor’s capable hands, Brigid and Sam are two wily, street-smart
people who are onto each other, yet also into
each other! (As I’ve
mentioned elsewhere at TotED,
Mary Astor looked and sounded
remarkably like my late Auntie Joy back in her youth—and if you knew what a
stylish, rambunctious pair my late mom and Auntie Joy were, you’d know that’s a
big compliment!) Let’s face
it, The Maltese Falcon
is another one of those superbly-cast films that
doesn’t have a bum performance in the bunch. By the way, not to sound
like a prude, but after the way women fawned over our hero in the first two
films, it was refreshing to see Effie being both friendly and
professional with Sam. Sure, there’s warmth
between Effie and Sam, but it stops well short of neck-nuzzling and
|The Hat Squad arrives! Lt. Dundy and Detective Tom Polhaus |
visit Sam after Miles' murder, cracking foxy and such!
Cook Jr. shines in his supporting role as Wilmer. One of my favorites among his
scenes is that brilliant scene where Wilmer is on the verge of shooting the
cool, calm Sam while Wilmer’s eyes fill with tears of rage as he whispers, “Get
on your feet. I’ve taken all the riding from you I’m gonna take.” Vinnie and I
also love the scene where Wilmer comes to after Sam has punched him out, dread
and horror spreading over his face as each of the conspirators stare at him
coldly, in another triumph of skillful editing and Edeson’s photography. When Wilmer comes to, he knows he’s in big
trouble without anyone saying a
powerhouse cast was born to play these characters. Between the perfect
performances (even the great Walter Huston is memorable in his brief cameo as
the dying Captain Jacobi), Huston’s lean, mean pacing and striking visuals
(Arthur Edeson’s expressionistic photography and Thomas Richards’ editing work
beautifully), and the overall faithfulness to the novel, it’s as if Huston &
Company just opened the book and shook it until the characters fell out, then
Bogart doesn’t match Hammett’s description of Sam Spade as a “blond Satan,” but
he’s got Spade’s attitude down perfectly, and besides, he’s Bogart!
What’s not to like? Bogie deftly balances toughness, trickiness, and tenderness,
but he never lets his tender side make a sap out of him. I find Bogart’s Spade
sexier than skirt-chasing Ricardo Cortez or Warren William in the previous films
because the dames are drawn to Bogie because of his sheer charisma and strength
of character, as opposed to him aggressively pitching woo at them until they
give in from sheer exhaustion. In an early scene with Brigid, Spade has a line
about how all he has to do is stand still and the cops will be swarming all over
him; substitute “women” for “cops” and the line would still be accurate!
|"Sam, are you sure we can trust Miss
She keeps asking for Prince Albert in the can!"
Mary Astor’s supposed so-called "shady-lady" past informs her spot-on performance as quicksilver Brigid
O’Shaughnessy, but it’s her watchful eyes, elegance, and that beseeching “throb
in (her) voice” as she enlists Spade’s aid, making her so fascinating and
believable as an avaricious adventuress with a prim, sweet façade—a woman who’d
kill a guy as soon as kiss him, and keep him guessing about her intentions until
the bitter end. That’s what made Astor and Bogart such a great team; in their
capable hands, Brigid and Spade are two wily, street-smart people who are onto
each other as well as into each other.
in The Maltese Falcon
shines, from Bogart and Astor to Ward Bond
and Barton MacLane
(also Team Bartilucci
as Sgt. Polhaus and Lt. Dundy, to to Gladys George as the clingy, vindictive Iva
Archer, to the only cast members who reprised their roles in the otherwise so-so
1975 sequel/spoof The Black Bird.
Elisha Cook Jr. as gunsel Wilmer Cook
and Lee Patrick as Spade’s trusty secretary Effie Perine. After Spade’s
tomcatting with Effie and other babes in the early films, it's kind of refreshing that
Effie’s interest in Spade here is a bit more professional than personal. Sure, there’s warmth between them, but it stops well short of neck-nuzzling and
|"Hey, Brigid, what do you want to do tonight?"|
"I don't know, Sam, what do you want to do tonight?
Greenstreet and Peter Lorre come closest to stealing the show. As Kasper
Gutman, Greenstreet blends menace with avuncularity, his voice a cultured
growl. Greenstreet’s performance is so assured, it’s hard to believe The Maltese Falcon
was this veteran stage actor’s first movie job, but it’s easy to see why he
earned a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination. Huston also earned a Best Screenplay Oscar, though Mary Astor wasn't nominated. Happily, she soon had her own Best Supporting Actress Oscar for The Great Lie! The Maltese Falcon
Greenstreet an in-demand character actor and one of cinema’s most memorable
villains, especially in his team-ups with Peter Lorre. Lorre’s witty, sly
performance as the smoothly effeminate yet ruthless weasel Joel Cairo is a
marvelous addition to the rogues’ gallery of lowlifes Lorre played over the
course of his long career. After The Maltese Falcon's
the great cast
worked together in various combinations in many movies, including Casablanca.
|Brigid: "What else can I buy you with?" SOLD!|
I’ve always wondered what a Maltese Falcon
sequel would be like. Can you imagine a caper film
sequel following Gutman and Cairo to Istanbul, with Sam on a case and wily Brigid somehow getting the gang back together for one last caper?
|Meet Kaspar Gutman, a man who likes talking with men|
who like to talk. But is his talk cheap?
|Poor Captain Jacobi! But at least it gave Walter Huston a swell cameo!|
|Wilmer has a rude awakening as the rest of the gang gives him the Hairy Eyeball!|
|Sam: "The stuff dreams are made of." Tom: "Huh?"|
(I love that Tom gets the last word, and unwittingly at that!)
has so much memorable dialogue, often laced with sardonic humor, that I’d be
virtually transcribing the whole script if I quoted all my fave lines. Here at Team Bartilucci HQ, we often quote such ...Falcon
lines as “The cheaper the crook, the gaudier the patter;” “When you’re
slapped, you’ll take it and like it!” (not that we've ever done so, being gentle folk despite our goofiness) have often been jokingly quoted. Then
there’s Gutman’s deliciously ironic toast with Spade: “Here’s to plain speaking
and clear understanding.” Plain speaking and clear understanding with this
band of greedy, duplicitous cutthroats?! Good luck! But it’s fine with us,
because the talk’s a joy to listen to; as Gutman continues: “I distrust a
closed-mouthed man. He generally picks the wrong time to talk and says all the
wrong things. Talking is something you can’t do judiciously unless you keep in
practice.” The Maltese Falcon
has one of cinema’s greatest last
lines, Spade’s answer when Polhaus asks what the statue is: “The stuff that
dreams are made of.” (To which Polhaus replies, “Huh?” Good old Ward Bond,
getting the last word!) I also love the climactic scene with all the principal
players, especially the dialogue between Spade and Gutman about how to go about
getting what they want: “If you kill me, how are you gonna get the bird? And if
I know you can't afford to kill me, how are you gonna scare me into giving it to
you?” By the way, Perry Mason fans should keep an eye out for TV’s Perry
co-star William Hopper in a brief early role as a reporter!
line: The Maltese Falcon
is truly “The stuff that dreams are made of”!
from TCM’s Scott McGee & Sarah Heiman)