A striking reminder that noir, in its day, was rebellious. Info
The Maltese Falcon has become such an ubiquitous piece of American culture that it's easy to forget what a rebellious film it was for the era. Dashiell Hammett's novel had already been clumsily butchered twice by Hollywood, but writer/director John Huston wisely chose to stick closely to the source, adapting Hammett's hard-edged repartee to screen. The hard-boiled story of detective Sam Spade going up against a trio of backstabbing criminals searching for a mysterious statue was a smash hit in 1941, despite its atypically unhappy ending and cynical outlook retained from the novel. The Maltese Falcon was Huston's first directed film, and he filled the film with bold camera angles and as much taboo material from Hammett’s novel as he could sneak past the censors. In a time where references to adultery, homosexuality and criminal activities were heavily censored, Huston managed to retain these more sordid elements through allusion and implication.
The Maltese Falcon also benefits from an ideal cast who were not only perfect for its parts but developed great chemistry together. Humphrey Bogart became an iconic star and the stereotypical noir detective because of this movie. Mary Astor's performance as the manipulative Brigid O'Shaughnessy was the most memorable role of her long career. Peter Lorre plays the slimy Joel Cairo through layers of innuendo, and 62-year-old cinematic newcomer Sydney Greenstreet's performance as Caspar Gutman is so joyously malicious it made him an in-demand character actor the rest of his life. The obvious rapport between the cast members helps pull off Hammett's twisting, dialogue-heavy plot, and led to Bogart, Lorre and Greenstreet being teamed up again in Casablanca the following year. An unusually faithful adaptation of a classic detective novel, The Maltese Falcon endures as an entertaining and subtly subversive film of the Golden Era of Hollywood. —Ian Adcock