RogerBW's Blog

The Maltese Falcon 24 July 2021

1941 noir, dir. John Huston, Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor: IMDb / allmovie. So for a third time the dame hires the private eye to find her sister, who ran off with a man…

And this of course is the one that got everything right. Almost everything. Like the 1931, it stays close to the book, borrowing large chunks of dialogue, though of course censoring things that wouldn't pass the Code. But John Huston, directing for the first time, has the sense to realise that the things you imply can be much more powerful (because your audience is not made up of the innocent lambs that the censors want them to be) than the things you actually show.

So maybe this Spade sleeps with a lot of women, and maybe he doesn't, but (and this contrast is especially clear having seen the two earlier adaptations) he isn't performative about it, he doesn't need to try it on with every woman he sees. So when he does, with Ruth/Brigid, it means something.

Meanwhile Huston and Arthur Edeson have been listening to the German exiles, and rather than the realistic palette of greys in the earlier films everything is BLACK or WHITE. When you turn on a light, it makes more shadows. And Huston has subtlety in his direction: Brigid's expression when Spade is calling the cops on her confederates; the way Wilmer the patsy subtly sneaks out while the others are having a serious discussion, but framed so that the viewer will notice even though it's plausible that the others don't… there's a very specific skill here.

Meanwhile Bogart takes Spade and makes the part his. He didn't have a great range, but he did the thing he did superbly well.

And I think I'm probably in love with Peter Lorre. He is just utterly perfect here. I'm not going to object to Greenstreet, but Lorre just nails every single move, every mannerism, every word.

All right, the noir private eye story should be about honour, and there isn't a dilemma of honour here. Yes, on the one hand, she killed Sam's partner and you don't let that go (and this is the only version of the film that even uses that speech from the book). But on the same hand, it's quite clear that sooner or later she would inevitably use Sam to push herself to a better place, just as she's used all the other men she's ever been involved with, and they both know it even if she isn't admitting it. So it isn't a hard choice for Sam; the alternative to dobbing her in is not "happy ever after" but "a few weeks or months of fun then being found dead in a ditch or sent to the chair". So that part's not quite as effective as it could be. (But the book makes the same misstep.)

Roger's Guns Corner, which I forgot to say in the podcast: there were several models of Webley-Fosbery automatic revolver, the major ones being the 8-shot .38 (as used in the book) and the 6-shot .45. They never made an 8-shot .45 as in the dialogue here. But it's still a really mechanically interesting weapon. On the other hand they last made the things in 1925, and there were probably a lot more of them around in 1929 when the book was written than in 1941…

Once more if you want more of my witterings you should listen to Ribbon of Memes.

Tags: film reviews

  1. Posted by Robert at 03:32am on 25 July 2021

    Agree on all counts.

    Mild trivia I’ve always enjoyed is that Captain Jacoby is an uncredited appearance of Walter Huston, the director’s father.

    Reading the book adds in the Flitcraft Parable. I’ve always wondered if Bogart and Huston could have worked that story into the movie. I like to think they could, it’s the romantic in me.

    Perhaps M needs to feature for Ribbon of Memes.

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 08:53am on 25 July 2021

    It could have been effective in suggesting that, unlike Flitcraft, Spade could change – but this is a remarkably tight film and I'm not sure it would have improved matters overall.

    I'm always up for some Fritz Lang…

  3. Posted by Robert at 05:02pm on 25 July 2021

    May I also recommend the “Goy’s Teeth” section of the movie A Serious Man for a bit that gave me some of that Flitcraft Parable vibe.

    And if you are looking for a book to throw in with the ideas, Joe Gore’s “Hammett” was a read I enjoyed.

Comments on this post are now closed. If you have particular grounds for adding a late comment, comment on a more recent post quoting the URL of this one.

Tags 1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s 2010s 3d printing action advent of code aeronautics aikakirja anecdote animation anime army astronomy audio audio tech aviation base commerce battletech beer boardgaming book of the week bookmonth chain of command children chris chronicle church of no redeeming virtues cold war comedy computing contemporary cornish smuggler cosmic encounter coup covid-19 crime crystal cthulhu eternal cycling dead of winter doctor who documentary drama driving drone ecchi economics en garde espionage essen 2015 essen 2016 essen 2017 essen 2018 essen 2019 essen 2022 essen 2023 existential risk falklands war fandom fanfic fantasy feminism film firefly first world war flash point flight simulation food garmin drive gazebo genesys geocaching geodata gin gkp gurps gurps 101 gus harpoon historical history horror hugo 2014 hugo 2015 hugo 2016 hugo 2017 hugo 2018 hugo 2019 hugo 2020 hugo 2021 hugo 2022 hugo 2023 hugo 2024 hugo-nebula reread in brief avoid instrumented life javascript julian simpson julie enfield kickstarter kotlin learn to play leaving earth linux liquor lovecraftiana lua mecha men with beards mpd museum music mystery naval noir non-fiction one for the brow opera parody paul temple perl perl weekly challenge photography podcast politics postscript powers prediction privacy project woolsack pyracantha python quantum rail raku ranting raspberry pi reading reading boardgames social real life restaurant reviews romance rpg a day rpgs ruby rust scala science fiction scythe second world war security shipwreck simutrans smartphone south atlantic war squaddies stationery steampunk stuarts suburbia superheroes suspense television the resistance the weekly challenge thirsty meeples thriller tin soldier torg toys trailers travel type 26 type 31 type 45 vietnam war war wargaming weather wives and sweethearts writing about writing x-wing young adult
Special All book reviews, All film reviews
Produced by aikakirja v0.1