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on March 24, 2007
Again, Warner Bros. continues to rival other studios with their DVD releases of their classic movies. This time, they've pulled out all the stops for the 1941 version of The Maltese Falcon, the film that practically invented the film noir genre. Although not as packed with bonus materials like some of their other previous Special Edition, they've still put enough material on here to use THREE discs. The set contains a cardboard slipcase packaging two slim DVD cases. Disc 1 is contained in the first case, and the second case contains discs 2 and 3. I won't go into detail on the movie, because I'm here to review the product itself, not the movie.

The first disc contains the 1941 film noir classic, with a newly restored digital transfer. Digital artifacting is minimal if existent. Some film artifacting, such as occasional slight shakiness is present, but for the most part, the transfer is clean and free from flaws. The audio is presented in its glorious original mono mix, which has been cleaned up for this new transfer. An audio commentary is included, but I have yet to listen to it. Also included is a bonus called Warner Night At The Movies, which allows you to view a gallery of short subjects before The Maltese Falcon - the way you would have in 1941. The short subjects included are informative and/or entertaining and even include a couple of short cartoons. But the restored movie is, of course, the main attraction - and what an attraction!

Disc 2 contains a nice surprise - the first two film versions of The Maltese Falcon! The first one is the pre-code 1931 version starring Ricardo Cortez as Sam Spade and Bebe Daniels as Ruth Wonderly. Although this first version is very similar to the 1941 version, it contains a bit more sexual innuendo and suggestive scenes. For many years after its initial release, the film was not allowed to be shown until the late 60's, when it turned up on TV under the title Dangerous Female. The second film is a thinly veiled screwball comedy take on the story titled Satan Met A Lady, starring Warren William as Ted Shane (Sam Spade) and Bette Davis as Valerie Purvis (Ruth Wonderly/Brigid O'Shaughnessy). Despite having all of the characters' names changed and the object of desire changed to a ram's horn filled with jewels, it's obvious what the source material is. Satan Met A Lady's theatrical trailer is included, but not the trailer for the 1931 film, despite the packaging's claim that both versions' trailers are included. Having all three films on this set is a good idea, in my opinion, because it allows the viewer to decide for themself what their favorite version is. Although in my opinion, the 1941 tops both of them, I highly enjoyed the other two films too. Unlike the 1941 version, these versions have not been restored and definitely show their age, with plenty of dirts, spots, and scratches. They're unlikely to be revisited on DVD anytime soon, so this is about as good as they're going to get treated on DVD.

Disc 3 contains all of the 1941 version's bonus materials. Not as packed as most supplemental material discs in Warner's Special Editions, (In fact, a single-layer disc was used for disc 3, and holds approx. 3.5 GB of data.) the bonuses included are quite excellent and informative. Included is a new documentary on the making and impact of the movie, called One Magnificent Bird. Next is the TCM documentary Becoming Attractions: The Trailers of Humphrey Bogart, which includes theatrical trailers for many of Bogey's classics, such as High Sierra, The Maltese Falcon, Casablanca, The Petrified Forest, and Treasure Of The Sierra Madre. The idea is to show Bogart's progression from B-list bad guy to A-list movie star. Another great bonus is the Breakdowns of 1941 blooper reel, which contains some of the greatest old school actors and actresses, such as Bogart, Bette Davis, and James Cagney, blowing their lines - and often using some pretty salty language that couldn't be shown in theaters at the time. Also included are some Mary Astor makeup tests, although I personally don't see the significance. Finally, rounding out this set are three radio broadcast performances - the Lux Radio Theater performance with Edward G. Robinson, and two featuring Bogart, Mary Astor, and Sydney Greenstreet, with Peter Lorre also starring in one of the broadcasts. Approx. two hours of great old time radio to listen to.

This set may disappoint the consumer that has been spoiled by 4-Disc sets of Ben-Hur and Gone With The Wind and the 3-Disc set of The Wizard of Oz. Although I'm one of the consumers that has been spoiled with those releases, in my opinion, The Maltese Falcon's 3-Disc Special Edition stands up alongside these releases beautifully. With THREE movies and around four hours of additional bonus materials, this set truly delivers. If you love old movies, Bogey, or film noir, this is a MUST-have for your collection.
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VINE VOICEon May 6, 2008
The three-disc special edition of the 1941 version of The Maltese Falcon contains some very interesting bonus features: the two previous adaptations of Dashiell Hammett's novel, the first also called The Maltese Falcon (though it was renamed Dangerous Female for TV in the '50s to avoid confusion), and the second titled Satan Met a Lady.

Since the 1941 version (directed by John Huston and starring Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Sydney Greenstreet, and Peter Lorre) is the one considered "definitive," it's not surprising that relatively few viewers realize that was actually Hollywood's third adaptation of Hammett's classic detective novel.

Satan Met a Lady (directed by William Dieterle and starring Bette Davis and Warren William), is by all accounts a disaster (a very loose adaptation by screenwriter Brown Holmes, who co-wrote this version), but the first Maltese Falcon, filmed in 1931 by director Roy del Ruth, is a terrific alternative for viewers who love the story and would just like to watch a different take on it. (Both films are faithful to the source, with few changes.)

The main difference in tone comes from Ricardo Cortez's portrayal of Sam Spade. Cortez's Spade is much more of a ladies man than Bogart's. In fact, the opening scene of the movie shows a woman leaving Spade's office, adjusting her stockings (later, he is shown picking up sofa cushions from the floor). His roving eye (and hand) also includes his secretary, Effie. Una Merkel plays Effie as if she's not only a willing participant in these shenanigans, but is also quite aware of Spade's other dalliances -- including partner Miles Archer's wife Iva (Thelma Todd) -- and thinks it's funny.

That lightness extends to Cortez, as well. He goes throughout The Maltese Falcon with a huge smirk on his face, as if everything going on around him is endlessly entertaining. And I can imagine why. When Ruth Wonderly (Bebe Daniels) comes into his office, he probably already knows she'll end up naked in his bath, in his bed, and in his kitchen. Cortez displays just the right mix of sleaze and charm.

But the only other actor who gives anything close to as interesting a performance is Dudley Digges as Kasper Gutman. Digges gives the role real grease, making him a truly unlikeable antagonist (Greenstreet always charmed even in his most villainous roles, much like Claude Rains, his costar in Casablanca). And I was very pleasantly surprised to find that Dwight Frye (Renfield in the Lugosi Dracula) shows up briefly as Wilmer Cook. He doesn't say much, but just try to look away when he flashes those psychotic eyes.

This Maltese Falcon was made three years before the enforcement of the Production Code that would whitewash movies for the next thirty years. Thus, there are instances like those mentioned above that did not make it into the "cleaner" 1941 version. One major effect this had is when Mary Astor's Brigid O'Shaughnessy proclaims to Bogart's Spade, "I thought you loved me," it doesn't make a whole lot of sense based on what preceded. Here, when Wonderly (who never reveals herself to be O'Shaughnessy, a plot point I always thought was unnecessarily confusing anyway) says the same words, they hold real meaning.

Though quite entertaining in its own right, the 1931 Maltese Falcon is undoubtedly destined to remain forgotten in the shadow of its later remake. I recommend it, however, due to its lighter and sexier tone, handsomer leading man, and almost completely different approach to the same source material. Fans of pre-Code cinema will especially enjoy it, even if they generally prefer a little more noir in their detective stories.
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VINE VOICEon May 17, 2000
Sometimes with a movie everything turns out right. That was the case with this 1941 classic. John Huston's driectorial debut is a masterpiece of film noir, featuring a great performance by Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade. Actually, the entire cast is fantastic from top to bottom, with standout performances from Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre. The story is a classic tale of greed, murder, and manipulation with some surprising plot twists (surprising if you haven't seen it already). THE MALTESE FALCON is one of those movies that you can watch over and over and find something new each time. The picture and sound quality are actually quite good for a film from 1941 as any flaws are minor and inconsequential. The DVD also features the original theatrical trailer, plus a special feature on trailers from Humphrey Bogart movies. This truly is a must-have! Add this DVD to your collection; you will be glad that you did!
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on July 18, 2000
John Huston's directorial debut nails every single possible angle for a great movie: a great hero in Humphrey Bogart's Sam Spade, here making a major transition from the gangster roles that made him famous; a great set of villains, from Sydney Greenstreet's ponderous Gutman to Peter Lorre's effeminate Joel Cairo to Elisha Cook's almost cartoonish gunman Wilmer; a great femme fatale in Mary Astor's Brigid O'Shaunessy; a great hunt, in the quest for the fabled Maltese Falcon. Shot scene for scene out of the novel (with some notable cuts of extraneous material, such as a long story Sam tells Brigid while they're waiting, and Gutman's daughter!), "The Maltese Falcon" is utterly clean, economical film-making with no fat whatsoever (except for Gutman, of course). The movie creates a tense atmosphere from its opening shots, with ironic humor simply acting as counterpoint throughout. The final scenes of revelation, where Sam explains to Brigid his personal code of honor, are as emotionally devastating today as they were fifty years ago. The last shots of the movie, as Brigid descends in the elevator quickly to her fate, while Sam takes the stairs, suggests each character is heading to their own private hell, even if at different speeds. A brilliant movie!
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VINE VOICEon February 21, 2000
Warner Brothers has one of the greatest film catalogs of any studio; yet they don't appear to take their DVD issues very seriously. Who on earth would put "Goodfellas" on two sides of a disc? or not release the "Director's Cut" version of "Eyes Wide Shut" (imagine the added revenue if they had)? or release a slapdash collection of Kubrick's films? or almost never digitally enhance the audio or visual transfer or provide any significant extras? Compared to the deluxe packages that Universal, Criterion, and, even, Paramount has mustered, Warners' issues - all released in cheap and easily breakable snap cases - are a peculiar desecration of a vaunted film legacy.
Case in point: "The Maltese Falcon". Arguably the greatest detective film ever made, Warners at least releases it with a decent video transfer. Unfortunately, the audio synchronizing is off during the last 15 minutes of the movie (by a second but it's still noticable) and I wasn't able to access all the people on the "Cast and Crew" menu (no, it wasn't a machine error, as I tested on several discs thereafter). Moreover, although I enjoyed the "Trailers of Humphrey Bogart" section, it would have been nice if Warners spent the money to create a documentary history of the film the way they did on Universal's "Casablanca" release.
Much ink has been spilt praising "The Maltese Falcon" so I won't go into any panegyrics here. It's just a shame that Warners doesn't take this market seriously enough to put more care into the DVD releases of their finest films.
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Seldom has any novel been so successfully interpreted on screen: in approaching Dashiell Hammett's seminal private-eye novel, director John Huston not only stayed meticulously true to the plot, he also lifted great chunks on the novel's dialogue directly into the script--and then styled the pace, cinematography, and performances to reflect Hammett's stripped-for-action tone. And the result, to borrow a phrase from the film, is "the stuff that dreams are made of." THE MALTESE FALCON is a iconographic landmark in twentieth century cinema.
The story is well known. Private eyes Sam Spade and Miles Archer are employed by an attractive but decidedly questionable Brigid O'Shaughnessy to track down a man named Thursby--but within hours of taking the case both Miles Archer and Thursby are shot dead, and Spade finds himself embroiled in a search for a legendary lost treasure: the figure of a falcon, encrusted with jewels.
The cast is remarkable. Humphrey Bogart made a name for himself first on the stage and then in films with a series of memorable gangster roles, and was fresh from his great success in HIGH SIERRA; Sam Spade, which offered a new twist on his already established persona, was an inspired bit of casting. Mary Astor had been a great star in silent film, but the late twenties and early thirties found her dogged by scandal; perhaps deliberately playing on those memories, she brought a remarkable mixture of toughness, tarnish, and absolute believability to the role of the very, very dangerous Brigid. And the chemistry between Bogart and Astor is a remarkable thing, a simmering sexuality that more glossy casting could have never achieved.
The supporting cast is equally fine. Although a great star in Europe and the star of a number of 1930s films, Peter Lorre was still something of an unknown quanity in American film; Sidney Greenstreet was a minor stage actor with no screen experience; Elisha Cook was a well-liked but neglected character actor. But THE MALTESE FALCON would fix all three firmly in the public mind, and to some extent all three would continue to play variations of their FALCON roles for the rest of their lives.
FALCON is particularly noted as one of several films that craftily circumvented the notorious "Production Code" by effectively implying but never directly stating the various sexual relations between the characters. Spade has clearly had an affair with Archer's wife, Iva; Archer is clearly a man on the sexual make, and leaps at the chance to tail Brigid. Lorre's lines effectively expose Brigid as man-hungry, and the script and situations do everything but flatly state that Lorre's character is homosexual. Perhaps most startling is the implied sexual relationship between Sidney Greenstreet and the hoodlum Elisha Cook, and the concluding implication that Lorre may well replace Cook in Greenstreet's affections. Just as the plotlines swirl and twist, so do the layers of innuendo and the tangles of sexual uncertainty--all of it adding to the film's feel of uneasy decadence and grittiness.
The DVD bonuses are enjoyable but slight--two film trailers and a documentary that uses trailers to show how Warner Bros. marketed Bogart during the 1930s and 1940s. But even if it came without any bonuses the DVD would still be greatly welcomed: although it has not been restored in a computer-corrected sense, this is the finest print I have ever seen of the film, far superior to anything available on VHS. A great film, a true essential, and strongly, strongly recommended.
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on September 13, 2002
THE MALTESE FALCON is my favorite detective movie of all time. It is considered a classic today because so many different facets of the film's making seem to have come together magically in this one production.
John Huston was a screenwriter who wanted to remake the old MALTESE FALCON as his first film as a director. He not only did a superb job in his directing debut but also acted as screenwriter.
The selection of Sydney Greenstreet to fill the role of Kaspar Gutman at age 61 after specializing in playing butlers on Broadway was another fortunate choice. Greenstreet had no previous Hollywood experience.
The most important decision of all was probably to cast Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade after George Raft had turned down the offer. It helped that the film had an all-star array of actors to complement Bogart. It would be difficult to find more suitable picks than Mary Astor, Gladys George, Peter Lorre, Barton MacLane, Lee Patrick, Ward Bond and Elisha Cook, Jr. Even a mere cameo appearance by Walter Huston resulted in an unforgettable scene. The director's father portrayed the dying Captain Jacobi of the La Paloma delivering the Falcon to Spade's office.
THE MALTESE FALCON is certainly not a love story in the style of CASABLANCA. The Bogart characters in both films, however, strike me as being quite similar. I see them both as ordinary men who rise to heroic heights by sticking to a few basic rules of decency - in spite of their many human failings.
I highly recommend THE MALTESE FALCON and am sure that I will no doubt see it again - and again.
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on February 18, 2000
"The Maltese Falcon" is perhaps the greatest detective film ever made. It certainly one of the best films ever made. It is populated by great characters-Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart), "The Fat Man" (Sidney Greenstreet) and on and on. This is also one of the best written films of all time. The dialogue is snappy, cynical, and funny all at the same time. This movie has not aged at all. Unfortunately, while this is a 5 star movie, the quality of the DVD leaves a lot to be desired. There are so many blips, lines and changes in picture quality from scene to scene (and edit to edit!) that it is very distracting. Frankly, this movie deserves a restoration similar that done on Hitchcock's "Vertigo" and the Criterion Collection's, "The Third Man." I'm afraid, that similar to the CD market, we are going to see poor quality transfers to DVD, followed by new re-mastering and restoration processes that will necessitate the re-release of catalog movies on DVD. Therefore, the customer will have to purchase the same DVD twice to get the picture quality great films, such as this, deserve.
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on October 8, 2010
Gorgeous transfer of this classic film. Contrary to popular belief, these old black & white pictures look great on Blu-ray. I subtracted one star due to the relative lack of significant bonus material. Basically, you only get the bonuses from the 1st and 3rd disc of the previous DVD 3 disc set: making of documentary, Night At The Movies program with shorts and trailers, radio plays, etc. Unfortunately, Warners chose not to include either of the two previous adaptations of FALCON, which were on disc 2 of the DVD edition. SIERRA MADRE Blu-ray has comparable extras, but also includes the 125-minute John Huston biography feature. Surely Warner had room on FALCON's Blu-Ray to at least include the 1931 version! Still, for the price, it's an acceptable package.
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on October 29, 2010
I am not going to write about the plot or story. Either you know of this movie or you are not reading this. I want to talk about the Blu-Ray release. There is very little in the way of fluff or "extras". Basically all you are getting is a beautifully restored film with truly magnificent video detail and quality. There is a scene where Mary Astor is facing a fireplace and you can see the faint flicker of the fire on her dress. I checked that scene on two other DVD's and it just does not show up. The blacks are richer and there is long lost shadow detail. The sound is also very good for what they had to work with. Get it, you will like it.
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