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The Maltese Falcon
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A gallery of high-living lowlifes will stop at nothing to get their sweaty hands on a jewel-encrusted falcon. Detective Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) wants to find out why--and who'll take the fall for his partner's murder. An all-star cast (including Sydney Greenstreet, Mary Astor, Peter Lorre and Elisha Cook Jr.) joins Bogart in this crackling mystery masterwork written for the screen (from Dashiell Hammett's novel) and directed by John Huston. This nominee for 3 Academy Awards00Best Picture, Supporting Actor (Greenstreet) and Screenplay (Huston)--catapulted Bogart to stardom and launched Huston’s directorial career. All with a bird and a bang!
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Mystery novels and films differ from other genres in that they are like a game between the writer and the audience, with the object being for the audience to figure out the mystery in advance of the ending using clues given by the author. In the case of The Maltese Falcon this doesn't work.The book was too complicated, and a number of characters and plot points aren't revealed until the film is nearly halfway over. At least one can say that by the end of the film it's fairly clear what was going on, the number of lies and double-crosses leaves a number of elements still in the dark for many. It rewards with multiple viewings.
This said, the thing to do is to just sit back and enjoy the film and not try to figure out exactly what is going on. The black and white photography is perfect for the film's atmosphere and the acting is great all around. Bogart is really tough as Sam Spade, but he shows a nicer side as well, tempered by a cynicism that is necessary in his line of work and the world in which he lives. He warms up to Brigid O'Shaughessy (Mary Astor) but still knows not to really trust her. From this breakthrough Warner's decided they could try him as a romantic lead in their upcoming film, Casablanca, a move which worked out rather well for him. Mary Astor gave one of her best performances as Brigid, leaving the audience guessing about her for a long time. Some feel she is not beautiful enough for a femme fatale role, but I feel she's beautiful enough and that the role doesn't require the character to be uncommonly gorgeous. Peter Lorre had been doing alright in a series of Mr. Moto films, but his portrayal of gardenia-scented Joel Cairo made him practically an icon of effete villainy. Sidney Greenstreet had been acting on stage, mostly Shakespeare, for decades before making this, his first film. His 350 pound, elegant Kasper Gutman also made him a dark film icon for the next decade; though he did get a memorably jovial role in Christmas in Connecticut).Supporting actors Lee Patrick (Spade's loyal secretary), Ward Bond (Detective Polhaus) and Elisha Cook Jr. (Wilmer) also are excellent in their roles.
The script is taut and suspenseful and full of memorable quotes including, "It's the stuff that dreams are made of", its sign off line. The film, in fact, is much more talk than action, so its good writing was doubly important. Try it and don't worry about figuring it out until later.
TITLE: The Maltese Falcon (1941) • NR • 1:40:32
Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet
John Huston (Director)
The movie that many film historians consider to be the very first example of "film noir"! (I personally DON'T agree with that assessment, as there are, in my opinion, MANY earlier examples of film noir — such as, Bogie's own Dead End from 1937.) Be that as it may, this is still an EXCELLENT movie — with its collection of odd-ball and/or duplicitous characters, with their various (and, nefarious) motivations, all plotting against one another in order to achieve some nebulous goal! This is the movie that cemented Humphrey Bogart as a superstar actor — and, it also changed John Huston from an erstwhile highly-respected screenwriter (and VERY small-time actor, on the side) into a VERY highly-respected screenwriter, and a MUCH sought-after director (with a slightly-more-frequent bit playing acting career, on the side).
Of the MANY great things about this movie, one of the most important, in my opinion, is that EVERYBODY is perfectly cast — and, consequently, EVERY performance is pitch-perfect (Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet, speaking of just two great examples of that aforementioned perfect casting, very nearly steal the movie). Another important aspect of this movie is its brilliant dialog — sometimes, while re-watching this movie, for the who-knows-how-many-time, I forget about following the plot and just absorb the wordplay between the characters (with the many snide remarks and sly innuendos). HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
See the other reviews for more detail and/or other opinions regarding the plot of the movie.
VIDEO: 1.37:1 • B&W • 1080p • VC-1 (28.6 Mbps)
Let's get the bad news out of the way off the top: Those of you that have seen Warners' glorious blu-ray presentation of Casablanca (1942), and expect that SAME level of visual presentation here, with this release of "The Maltese Falcon" will be disappointed — but, only slightly so. While this movie's image has MANY of the same VERY positive visual attributes as "Casablanca" (namely: excellent contrast and gray-scale, great sharpness and detail, and a total (or, nearly so) absence of artifacts such as black specks, white dots, hair-lines or dropped frames), it also has some negative visual attributes of its own — that were non-existent (or, nearly so) in "Casablanca" (namely: a pervasive, ever-so-slight softness in MANY scenes, and a very few scenes that were overly "contrasty", with very limited gray-scale [yes, I know that film noir is known for its stark, high-contrast cinematography, but these scenes didn't match the appearance of the rest of the movie, and, further, look like they may have originated from less-than-pristine source elements]). OK, that's the "bad" news. Now, for the "good" news: This is still an EXCELLENT transfer to blu-ray. As a person who has owned this movie first on VHS tape and then later on Laser Disc, before purchasing this blu-ray version, I can tell you that this version is a visual revelation, and it looks FANTASTIC! Only a hyper-picky, so-called "videophile" could possibly have a "reason" to condemn the picture quality of this release — the rest of us will simply count our blessings and enjoy the show.
AUDIO: DTS-HD Master Audio Mono (48 KHz, 24-bit)
Again, just like with the audio presentation of "Casablanca", the fine sound engineers at Warner Home Video have done extensive clean-up work on the film's soundtrack, because there are no pops, bumps or hiss to speak of. Also, the dialog is very clear and natural sounding, with all voices being clearly defined and easily understood. However, the transfer's dynamic range is fairly limited, and there isn't any deep bass nor any top-end to speak of (though, the musical score sounds does better than one would expect under the circumstances). Otherwise, considering the age of the source elements and the fact that this is a monophonic, dialog-driven movie from the early 1940s, this film's soundtrack has VERY good sound quality.
EXTRAS: Commentary (by Bogart biographer Eric Lax)
'Making Of' Video (The Maltese Falcon: One Magnificent Bird [SD])
Becoming Attractions: The Trailers of Humphrey Bogart [SD]
Warner Night at the Movies (interactive featurette [SD])
Gag Reel/Bloopers (Breakdowns of 1941 [SD])
Makeup Tests [SD]
Trailers ('The Maltese Falcon' and 'Satan Met a Lady')
Three Radio Show Adaptations of 'The Maltese Falcon'
[SD = Standard Definition]
None of the extras were reviewed.