Posted on 9/23/12 01:43 PM
Review Number: 7
The Maltese Falcon - The Academy may well have saw fit to not award this picture any awards for 1941, but time is an immeasurable force sometimes, and time now shows that The Maltese Falcon stands proud as not only a Titan of cinematic entertainment, but also of technical movie brilliance.
The Forties were the years when Hollywood decided that the mystery thriller deserved big-budget, big-star treatment, threw up a new kind of hero who was exactly right for his time: they were the fabulous years which established the private eye adventure as the irremovable all-time favorite in the whole field of suspense‚¶ The field was so rich, the choice so lavish in that decade, that it was difficult to know where memory should stop and call "Encore". The movie itself wrote the book of the crime and mystery drama story. Probably the best written plot in it's genre. No doubt that Bogart makes the character come alive, with that infectious voice and his uncompromising demeanor. But the movie itself is, to say the least, laid the cornerstone for what became known as essential film noir.
The novel, thick with plot, wasn't easy for director John Huston to untangle. Few people who cherish this film can summarize its story in a sentence or two. I'll try. When Sam Spade -- played brilliantly by Humphrey Bogart -- and his partner Archer are hired to tail a rich eccentric by a woman who claims her sister is being unwittingly kept separated from her by the rich eccentric, it seems like just another case. But when Archer and the eccentric are gunned down and all fingers point to Sam Spade for conflicting yet damning reasons, Spade is thrown into a whirlwind of deceptions that all point in one direction: a Maltese statue of a falcon.
The plot is complex to a degree, but really it all makes sense, you do not need to be Albert Einstein to knit the twisters nicely together. The direction from Huston is very good, using almost totally interior shots to increase the tension and the feeling - amazingly this was his first film as director. And the script demonstrates why there are less and less truly great films being released in present day: the writers and directors of the golden age of cinema knew that subtlety works ten times more effectively than the modern in-your-face all-the-time works.
The dialogue is really tough and full of memorable lines, 'When you're slapped you'll take it and like it' probably being the one that everybody remembers. A big reason that the dialogue works as well as it does is down to the fantastic performances from all the cast, although having said that it is dominated by the lead. Bogart summed up his most famous roles for future generations in this one film. He is a complex guy who we're never sure is straight of crooked, he is tough and violent - sleeping with his partner's wife and unafraid of anything. The dialogue fits him like a glove and this is one of my favourite of his performances as it is the one of the ones where he seems to have got everything bang on. Astor is good because, for me, she doesn't fit into the usual role of femme fatale - she is quite needy and demur and that is even more dangerous than the women who are overtly sexual and manipulative, as they were frequently in the later noirs. Lorre is the wonderful, weedy, snivelling character than he does so well and is remembered for. Likewise Greenstreet is a great actor and manages to be overblown without being silly. Cook has a small role but shows his talents in little ways - his reaction when he realises how expendable he is to Gutman is great.
Humphrey Bogart perfectly fits into the shoes of Spade‚"a sleek and sharp sleuth‚"and makes it his own in a manner that only someone of his grit and caliber could. Bogart is in top form right from the inception to the finale, stealing the spotlight in almost every scene that is he is part of. Bogart could only demonstrate his prodigious talent and acting prowess in short bursts during his long "B movie" stint in which he was mostly type-casted as a gangster. The Maltese Falcon was Bogart's big break after years of anticipation and he didn't leave a single stone unturned to prove his mettle. Bogart shows his class and stamps his authority as a performer during the portrayal of Spade: he is ever so quick-witted thanks to his sublime articulacy and his prowess at repartee seems unparalleled; the inherent cynicism in Spade and the perspicacity with which he operates soon became Bogart's trademark and catapulted him to super-stardom.
With a brilliant script, talented direction and some outstanding performances, The Maltese Falcon stands up today as well as it did upon release. The Maltese Falcon is not merely a Noire masterpiece but also a testament to the true spirit of cinema that has kept itself alive despite decades of relentless mutilation and sabotage in the name of commercial movie-making. Despite being devoid of modern-day gimmicks the movie is incredibly high on suspense and holds the viewer in a vice-like grip throughout its runtime. It's a real shame that movies like these are seldom made these days. The tone of the movie is such that it makes suspense thrillers of today appear like kids cartoon.