Maltese Falcon, The (1941)

The Maltese Falcon (1941), directed by John Huston.

"You know... falcon."

A circle of thieves, swindlers and killers, hunting for a legendary treasure, meet their match in a San Francisco private eye.

The fictional hard-boiled private detective lives in the shadow world between law and crime; he can't go too far to the dark side or he'll be in jail or dead or simply out of work. Sam Spade is comfortable with the criminals and often seems as amoral as they, but in the end he ties up all the loose ends and is square with the law again. Did he really fall for Brigid? Not hard enough, it would seem.

The score is pretty whimsical for a tough-guy crime film, clueing us that it's all in fun. Often called film-noir, which seems a huge stretch, although I don't care that much about definitions and categories. The music becomes more dramatic in the final part, after Spade is drugged and kicked in the head.

Folklore has it that Hammet slipped "gunsel" past his editor, who thought it meant "gunman" rather than "catamite". It's clear, even in a Code-compliant film, that Wilmer, Gutman and Cairo are all sweet on each other.

"The stuff that dreams are made of." It's been a long time since I read the book; was "stuff" the word he used?

"When you're slapped you'll take it and like it!"

John Huston's and Sydney Greenstreet's first film.

The great dilemma is always Dashiell Hammett / Sam Spade / The Maltese Falcon vs Raymond Chandler / Philip Marlowe / The Big Sleep (1946). Bogart is a connecting link in the films. I side with Chandler, but that's for another day. Even he said Hammet was "the best".

Available on Blu-ray. The grayscale is a good improvement over the DVD. The detail is also better, but not as dramatic an improvement as with other recent b&w classics.

"You're a good man, sister."