Brilliantly written, perfectly cast, handsomely shot and edited, The Maltese Falcon (1940) refuses to grow old. Director John Huston's startling debut film served as a blueprint for the countless hard-boiled films noir that would follow it after World War II. This saga of greed, intrigue, and deception surrounding the search for a valuable statue owes much to the pungent, acidly witty dialogue and colorful characterizations lifted from author Dashiell Hammett's 1930 novel. But the film is also driven by Humphrey Bogart's defining performance as private detective Sam Spade -- a character so past the point of basic cynicism that he actually relishes the spectacle of human depravity. The supporting cast is no less dazzling. Sydney Greenstreet's obese gentleman crook, Peter Lorre's effete scoundrel, Mary Astor's scheming femme fatale, and even Elisha Cook Jr.'s punk gunman are flawlessly etched film portraits. Huston's direction is so economical and efficient that despite the often byzantine intricacies of the plot, the film never bogs down in narrative exposition. (Watch how fast Huston has Bogart rattle off pertinent information at the film's climax.) Although Huston went on to an acclaimed and influential directorial career that saw him make The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The African Queen, and many other films, The Maltese Falcon remains his masterpiece.
Adapting Dashiell Hammett's novel -- and staying as close to the original story as the Production Code allowed -- first-time director John Huston turned The Maltese Falcon into a movie often considered the first film noir. In his star-making performance as Sam Spade, Humphrey Bogart embodied the coolly ruthless private eye who recognizes the dark side of humanity, in all its greedy perversity, and who feels its temptations, especially when they are embodied by a woman. While Huston's mostly straightforward visual approach renders The Maltese Falcon an instance of early noir more in its hardboiled attitude than in the chiaroscuro style common to other films noirs, the collection of venal characters, colorfully played by Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, and Elisha Cook, Jr.; Mary Astor's femme fatale; and Bogart's morally relativistic Spade pointed the way to the mid-1940s flowering of noir in Billy Wilder's Double Indemnity (1944), Otto Preminger's Laura (1944), and Howard Hawks's The Big Sleep (1946). A critical as well as popular success, The Maltese Falcon was nominated for three Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Screenplay, establishing Huston as a formidable dual talent and Bogart as the archetypal detective antihero.
|Source:||Warner Home Video|