The Maltese Falcon
Zach Davis

Directed by: John Huston

Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Gladys George, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, and Lee Patrick

John Huston's The Maltese Falcon took us to a place that many films, cartoons, and television shows would parody for years to come.  The cheesy dialogue wouldn’t have worked today.  For its time, however, The Maltese Falcon offered a fresh vision of a back alley world.  As a film noir, Huston’s first motion picture captures a dark, shadowy San Francisco marked by lies, greed, and murder.

The film starts with a prologue explaining that there was a magnificently jeweled Golden Falcon that was supposed to be a tribute from the Knights Templar of Malta to Charles V of Spain in the mid-16th century.  On their way home from the holy war, the Maltese Falcon was lost in the midst of a pirate attack on the very galley where this prized possession was being held.  To this day, the prized falcon's whereabouts are unknown.  The film then cuts to San Francisco in 1941 where a woman named Miss Ruth Wonderly (Mary Astor) meets private investigators Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) and Miles Archer (Jerome Cowan).  She hires them to help her investigate the disappearance of her sister.  Specifically, she believes that an incredulous man by the name of Floyd Thursby is involved and wants him tailed.  Archer is put on the case.

Very soon after, however, Archer is found dead.  Thursby follows suit just a few short hours later.  With rumors circulating about his affair with Archer's wife Iva (Gladys George), Spade becomes one of the prime suspects for both murders.  Unbothered by the suspicions swirling around him, Spade just wants to get to the bottom of these murders.  He sends his secretary Effie (Lee Patrick) out to track down Mrs. Archer and get the facts straight.   But first, he is visited by a man named Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre).  Cairo offers him $5,000 to help locate an artifact that was supposedly in the possession of Thursby.  Spade is intrigued by this proposition, but Cairo suddenly pulls a gun on him.  Now, Spade has gotten pulled in deeper into this dangerous situation.

After no harm comes from Cairo, Spade returns to talk to Miss Wonderly who he now discovers to actually be Miss Brigid O’Shaughnessy.  During their conversation, he learns that she too was pulling a ruse.  With the police closely watching Spade and the many players making moves around him, the confident detective calmly navigates San Francisco's underbelly and is introduced to Cairo’s boss Mr. Kasper Gutman (Sydney Greenstreet).  During their encounter, Spade is finally clued in on the real motivation behind all of this mayhem, the long lost Maltese Falcon.

From Bugs Bunny in Looney Tunes to Peter Faulk in Murder By Death, Humphrey Bogart’s Sam Spade has been parodied time and time again in pop culture.  Despite being one-dimensional, it's quite an iconic role.  He never seems to slow down or show fear.  He just always has his mind on the case.  However, his scenes with Mary Astor do take away from the movie for me, and I don't blame Bogart.  In her role as Brigid O’Shaughnessy, Astor seems very stiff on camera.  I understand that she is supposed to be giving us a naïve con artist, but her performance doesn't feel natural.  She looks as if she’s up on a stage and not on camera.  Also, she could have shown some semblance of emotion when Bogart kissed her or made a display of affection for her.

As always, Peter Lorre is a scene stealer as Joel Cairo.  Hilariously, he can be tough in one moment and cowardly in the next.   I laughed quite a bit as he oscillates between the two personas seamlessly.  Somehow, he can slip into most of the roles he tackles even with his recognizable voice and face.  As the menacing villain Kasper Gutman, Sydney Greenstreet does a great job as well.  Greenstreet can embody a dark character better than most actors of his era.  In his portrayal of Mr. Gutman, his greed and maniacal lust for the Maltese Falcon are made abundantly clear throughout the movie.

There's nothing much to say about the cinematography of the movie as the shots are pretty straightforward.  You can say the same thing about the editing.  From a filmmaking standpoint, there's nothing new or impressive from Huston's The Maltese Falcon.

I do recommend that you hunt down that prized golden falcon for yourself.  Before you do so, however, make sure your grab a couple cold ones, because it will make the trip just right.  The Maltese Falcon gets a 0.06% rating.