Tuesday, February 15, 2011

For the Love of Film (Noir) - The Maltese Falcon


Original dust jacket art for the 1931 novel.

In 1930 the novel The Maltese Falcon was published. The gritty gumshoe Samuel Spade would pass into legend and inspire generations of readers. Warner Brothers bought the rights and the first film adaptation of the novel would come to the screen in 1931 with Ricardo Cortez as Spade and Bebe Daniels as Miss Wonderly.




Title Lobby Card from the 1931 version


The film was "remade" in 1935 as Satan Met a Lady with Warren William and Bette Davis. The plot was twisted so much by the writer assigned to the project that it's quite a different film and it's also a comedy. As charming as Warren William is (especially as Philo Vance or Perry Mason) he's not the Sam Spade of my dreams.


1941 US 1-sheet
Warner's art department used publicity stills from High Sierra for Bogart
and pasted Mary Astor's head on Ida Lupino!

The 1941 (and 3rd) remake by John Huston is widely considered to be the best version out there. It's certainly one I *never* tire of; each repeat viewing fills me with delight and awe. Huston's script is tight, taut and very witty. Huston took such care with the script and his notations much as Hitchcock did with his storyboarding on hos own films. There was little wiggle room to make edits from Huston’s vision. It is, in my opinion, a masterpiece. Not a single wasted frame.

The cinematography by Arthur Edeson (who started in the silent era) is dark, moody and spectacular.

The cast is absolutely letter perfect.

In a series of really stupid career moves, tough guy George Raft turned down the lead of Samuel Spade (he also nixed High Sierra and Casablanca) much to the benefit of rising Warner contract player Humphrey Bogart. Of course, hindsight being 20/20, trying to imagine Raft as Spade today is almost laughable. Bogart was already riding the crest of success from his performance in High Sierra. His Sam Spade is wiry, cagey, tough, not one who suffers fools and is “not as crooked as he appears to be.”

Peter Lorre as the delicious and effete Joel Cairo. One can almost see the cloud of gardenia following him. Stage actor Sydney Greenstreet made his film debut as Caspar Gutman and what a film debut it is. A less stagey actor than John Barrymore (at this point in his long career) Greenstreet’s mannerisms and vocal inflection bring a smile. No matter how nasty he is underneath, you cannot but help liking this greedy man.

Contract player Lee Patrick shone as the all-knowing Effie Perrine. “You worry me Sam.” Gladys George was wonderful as the pathetic and very adulterous Widow Archer. She being Sam’s latest squeeze; a squeeze that he dearly wants nothing more to do with.


A fabulous publicity shot for The Maltese Falcon Bogart and Lee Patrick


The smaller parts are rounded out with Elisha Cook Jr. as the gunsel Wilmer. Jerome Cowan as Miles Archer. Ward Bond as Tom Polhaus and Barton MacClane as Lt. Dundy. In a surprising bit of casting, Huston’s father, the great Walter Huston blessed the project with an unbilled cameo as Captain Jacoby. Huston’s cameo is something that eluded me for what must have been my first 15 viewings of the film, I am ashamed to admit. Now I wonder how I ever missed it was him.

This leaves us with the Brigid O’Shaunnessy of Mary Astor. Bogart’s Spade says it best of all, “You’re good, you’re very good. I think it’s the throb you get in your voice when you say ‘Be generous Mr. Spade.’” Astor was not first choice, thankfully Geraldine Fitzgerald turned it down.

"I’ve always been a liar.”

The film has been on the festival circuit for decades, it’s constantly played on Turner Classic Movies, it’s been issued on VHS, LaserDisc, and multiple DVD releases, now including a blu-ray. It is a film that is universally loved, it’s a landmark film noir. It is a factory made film of such quality, it’s something one thinks that could only have been made in the golden age of the studio era.


The film has inspired in revivals and reissues a plethora of poster art, some of which are shown here. It’s a film that continues to fascinate, delight and inspire. If you’ve seen it, once, twice, thirty times, imagine NOT being able to see it. This is why film preservation is so very important. This is the stuff that dreams are made of.

Be sure to check out fellow blogathoner at limerwrecks who has a post related to the Falcon, today, too.


Japanese Reissue poster from the 1980s

1941 Window Card


Original release French poster


A fabulous German Festival poster from the 1970s



A postwar Belgian poster (note the approval stamp)


A postwar French Reissue

Australian Daybill




A few goodies from your humble blogger's collection, including a Maltese Falcon.





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2 comments:

Tinky said...

It's true: Mary Astor was often semi-wasted, but here she's astonishing (and as you point out surrounded with great performances). The posters are fun--and I adore your collection.

Meredith said...

Loving all the film posters. Especially the german one from the 70s.

I also love that you have a maltese falcon. Great collection!