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USA 1941
Directed by
John Huston
1941 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

The Maltese Falcon

John Huston's deft directorial debut is an example of the Hollywood studio system at its best. The plot about a band of villains pursuing a legendary jewel-encrusted statue of a falcon is hokey stuff but there's a great line-up of cast members including Peter Lorre, Sidney Greenstreet, Elisha Cook Jnr,, Mary Astor and, of course, Humphrey Bogart as Dashiell Hammett's famous gumshoe, Sam Spade. Bogart had been a stock player in the 1930s but this film established him as a star and he never looked back.

Warner Brothers had made versions of the Hammett novel twice before, in 1931 with Ricardo Cortez as Sam Spade, then in a comedy version, Satan Met A Lady in 1936. Bogart’s hard-bitten-but-honest, fast-talking detective with a way with the dames is much truer to the Hammett model and ushered in a new kind of anti-hero with innumerable descendants.

Huston, who also wrote the wordy script, directs with panache and subtlety handling Spade’s prowess as a pantsman (he was not only bedding his partner’s wife but also wins the favours of Mary Astor’s Brigid O'Shaughnessy) without upsetting the Production Code that typically made such subject-matter off-limits. Unfortunately Astor, who started her career in the silent era is a rather straight-laced performer and lacks the vampish quality of Hollywood femmes fatale like Marie Windsor or Veronica Lake and is the film's greatest weakness (indeed this was her last major role) but Bogey carries all before him and Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet (making his first movie appearance) make for entertaining support players (the combination worked so well together that the three were re-united twice more - in Casablanca (1942) and Passage To Marseille (1944). Rather oddly, Cook who was in his late thirties at the time is cast as a twenty year-old 'kid".

FYI: The first two atom bombs, "Fat Man" and "Little Boy," were named after Greenstreet’s and Cook’s characters in this film.




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