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Customer Review

44 of 45 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The original 1931 version is really good, too!, May 6, 2008
This review is from: The Maltese Falcon (Three-Disc Special Edition) (DVD)
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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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jan 3, 2009 1:24:20 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 3, 2009 1:28:54 AM PST
jamco2000 says:
I thought this version really was terrible. I had it on tape and couldn't wait to sell it, It was that bad. It basically is played as a comedy and a bad one at that. It was a flop when it came out and it still is a flop. That's why they put it on the 3 disc special edition! No one would buy it on DVD by itself so they up the price of the set and force you to buy it that way. Smart marketing!

Posted on Dec 13, 2013 1:53:28 AM PST
magellan says:
Very informative review especially on the other versions that I didn't know about, thanks.
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