Friday, February 26, 2016

"The Maltese Falcon"

This past Wednesday evening, we took in the special TCM/Fathom Events showing to John Huston's 1941 classic, "The Maltese Falcon", on a big screen at the Cinemark Theaters.

Having just re-read the book last month (for the first time in over forty years), I was truck by how closely the movie followed the Dashiell Hammett novel, both in plot continuity and dialog.  The screenplay was written by John Huston, and it was his purpose to follow the book as closely as possible.  Two movie versions (1931 and 1936) of the book had already been made and both were terrible.  Huston saw the cinematic possibilities of the story as no one else had before him.  He convinced Warner Brothers to have him direct the movie. The result was a classic.  This was the first directing effort by Huston, who would go on to become one of Hollywood's great directors.  

The plot revolves around the recovery of jewel encrusted statue of a black bird, the Maltese Falcon, but as is often the case in such movies, plot is secondary to the acting, the setting, the dialog, and the mood created by the filmmakers.  And it is an important movie in that it rescued actor Humphrey Bogart from what had been a career of mediocre roles. The part of Sam Spade set the stage for the many great roles that followed for him in movies such as Casablanca, The Big Sleep, To Have and Have Not, Key Largo, Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and The African Queen.  "The Maltese Falcon" is also considered the first example of film noir in America, and, as such, it established the standard for so many movies of this nature in the years ahead.

Also, consider the part of Casper Gutman played by Sydney Greenstreet.  Greenstreet, a stage actor, was 62 years old at the time and this was his first movie role, and he was terrific, getting an Oscar nomination for his efforts.

Just a fabulous movie, and a great experience seeing it in a theater on a big screen.  Incidentally, mark your calendars for April when TCM/Fathom Events will be showing the great "On The Waterfront" as part of this series.

For a final, and more scholarly, and no doubt better written, treatise on "The Maltese Falcon", I give you to this piece written by the late film critic Roger Ebert in 2001.

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