“I couldn't be fonder of you if you were my own son. But, well, if you lose a son, it's possible to get another. There's only one Maltese Falcon.”
When I think of a hardboiled detective I think of a man in a suit. He is usually a little disheveled from working long hours and possibly from some drinking to help forget the day or unwind. He does not take any shit from people, he has seen it all and does not have the time. He wants to get from point A to point B without any fuss. My though/idea for a detective comes courtesy of the film version of Dashiell Hammett’s story The Maltese Falcon and it’s lead character Sam Spade.
Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) was sitting in his office at his desk when his secretary comes in to tell him that a Mrs. Wonderly (Mary Astor) is there to see him. To put Sam in a better mood the secretary throws it out to him that Mrs. Wonderly is pretty. Same tells his secretary to let the potential new client in. Mrs. Wonderly is indeed very pretty and Sam sits intent listing to her case. Her younger sister has run away with an older man named Floyd Thursby and she needs to bring her sister home. Same takes the case and has Thursby followed by Miles Archer, his partner.
Very early in the morning Sam receives a call that Archer has been killed and to come down to the scene. Same sees all he can and tells the police detective all he can about his and Archer’s case. Instead of going to tell Archer’s wife about her husband’s murder, Sam sends his secretary to do so.
Same goes back to his apartment. It is not long before the two detectives from the crime scene come knocking on his door. They question Sam about going to see Archer’s wife and his whereabouts. Same gets impatient wanting to know why he is getting the third degree. Turns out Thursby was killed and they suspect Sam killed him for killing Archer. Without a warrant and without any real evidence against he tells the detectives to get out.
The next day Sam goes to see Mrs. Wonderly at the apartment she is staying at. She confesses that she is frightened for her life because she is not a very good person and that her real name is actually Brigid O’Shaughnessy. She is also worried that Sam has told the police about her but he has not because he does not know much about her himself. Brigid reveals that she knew Thursby they both just came over from China together with some cargo. She is now afraid that their enemies will be able to track her down.
Back at the office that night Sam is visited by a shady man named Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre). Joel pulls out a gun on Sam and the detective just laughs and manages to knock Joel out. As Joel is out Sam takes a look through his stuff to see what he can get out the guy who pulled a gun on him. When Joel comes to Sam just tells him to get out.
Sam goes to Brigid’s place to tell her about her encounter with Joel. She knows who he is. Sam calls Joel to meet him and Brigid at his place to talk. Joel reveals he is looking to buy a sculpture of a falcon off of Brigid. They both mention a person they call The Fat Man.
In the meantime, Sam notices that he is being followed. After talking to Joel and Brigid Sam tracks down the guy who is tracking him to the hotel where Joel is staying. Sam figures the guy is working for The Fat Man. Sam goes to see The Fat Man (Sydney Greenstreet) who’s name is Kaspar Guttman. Guttman explains the history of the Maltese Falcon and why it is so sought after. As Guttman explains the story of the falcon Sam begins to black out. Guttman had Sam’s drink drugged. Sam comes to hours later on the floor of the room Guttman was staying in.
Sam pieces together that Brigid was behind giving Guttman a fake falcon and also behind the killings of Archer and Thursby.
The cast of this film is perfect. I am not a huge fan of Humphrey Bogart but I wound up really liking him in this. To me Bogart as Sam Spade is the ideal detective. Whenever I think of what a typical detective looks like I think of Bogart as Spade. Mary Astor was perfection as Brigid O’Shaughnessy. She is also the ultimate femme fatale in how a femme fatale acts. Brigid was manipulative and that is usually what the femme fatales in Film Noirs are. I think Astor as Brigid set the precedent for femme fatales, not so much in looks (do not get me wrong Astor was a very pretty woman she was not Ava Gardner or Gene Tierney gorgeous) but in her attitude and the way her character was manipulative and how she carried herself. Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet are staples of Warner Bros character actors. They both played the same types of characters over and over again but I never mind seeing them do so because they were so good at it.
This was director John Huston’s directorial debut. What a debut it was! Huston’s direction is incredible. He filmed the story from different angles. One of my favorite scenes is when the detectives come to speak to Sam. Huston filmed it looking over Sam’s shoulder to get his point of view. That was not normally done. The focus was always on the main character/actor. Scenes like that were usually filmed from a side angle where you can see all the characters/actors. I loved that scene it was genius. You can see the seriousness in the eyes of the detectives and the way Sam does not really react he just sits there calmly and listens.
When I first watched The Maltese Falcon I was just beginning my journey into the classic film world. I remember buying it when it was released in a special DVD collection. I also remember not really caring for it very much most likely because I did not really understand it. Years later and having watched so many more classic films since then and appreciating them more, I really liked and enjoyed The Maltese Falcon. Everything about The Maltese Falcon is perfect. The dialogue is straight out of Dashiell Hammett’s novel it is quick and witty and biting and sharp. The direction and the acting is flawless. If you have yet to see The Maltese Falcon do yourself a favor and go watch it as soon as you can.