The Maltese Falcon (1941)
Director: John Huston
Noir is my go-to genre on a rainy night, just as westerns are my go-to genre on a sunny day. Of all Film Noir movies I have seen the Maltese Falcon the most times. It is called the granddaddy of Film Noir, even though there are examples of the genre you could point to from before this one. Before the French called it Noir, they were just simply “B-movies” or hardboiled detective or gangster movies, but once Noir became an actual entity that’s when the genre truly expanded beyond its gangster B-movie roots and you got great surrealist films like “Night of the Hunter”… The Maltese Falcon is on the other end of the Noir spectrum from those movies however. This is a straight up detective story, clearly shot entirely on sound stages. Cinematography wise there really isn’t much to chew on here, aside from some of the standard uses of camera and lighting in this type of movie.
What carries this movie is the star making performance of Humphrey Bogart, who for the first time here appears as a true leading man in what would become his trademark fast talking, faster thinking, and quick moving detective role. Bogart plays Sam Spade, a private detective whose partner is murdered after he takes on a case from the lovely Femme Fatalle of this movie, played by Mary Astor. The other main driving point of the movie is the titular Maltese Falcon, a statue of a bird said to have great power and significance but is ultimately a Maguffin to move the plot forward. Bogart’s regular cast mates Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre (who would both rejoin him in Casablanca a year later)are both hunting for the Falcon as well.
In the meantime Spade finds that he might be falling in love with the aforementioned Femme Fatalle, which is all the more complicated when he finds out that she is the one responsible for killing his partner. Sam Spade can be considered one of the first true anti-heroes. He doesn’t really care that his partner is dead. He works alone mostly anyway, but in Spade’s calculating mind it is bad business in his profession to allow your partner to be murdered and the murderer to get away with it. This build up of tension is what leads to the best scene of the movie, the climaxing final speech that Bogart delivers with high speed emotional desperation and cold hearted chillingness all at the same time. This is prime Bogart.
Daily Inquiry: Who is your favorite classic Hollywood actor, pre 1960s?