The Maltese Falcon (1941)

maltese falcon poster 1941 movie
10 Overall Score
Story: 10/10
Acting: 10/10
Visuals: 10/10

Classic detective film


Movie Info

Movie Name:  The Maltese Falcon

Studio:  Warner Bros.

Genre(s):  Mystery/Suspense/Drama

Release Date(s):  October 3, 1941 (Premiere)/October 18, 1941 (US)

MPAA Rating:  Not Rated

maltese falcon cairo sam spade peter lorre humphrey bogart

Don’t worry, I’m feeling pretty safe. You are some of the most inept criminals I’ve ever encountered

San Francisco private detective Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) is pulled into a mystery when a woman named Brigid O’Shaughnessy (Mary Astor) comes to him under an assumed identity with what seems to be a typical assignment.  With a dead partner and the police asking questions Spade must find the truth.  Spade discovers O’Shaughnessy is tied up with a man named Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre) and a mysterious moneyman called Kasper Gutman (Sydney Greenstreet), and that the truth might be unveiled with something called the Maltese Falcon.

Directed and adapted by John Huston, The Maltese Falcon is a mystery suspense thriller and often cited as the prototype for the noir detective film.  The movie is an adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s 1930 novel that was originally serialized in Black Mask magazine in September of 1929.  The film was nominated for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Greenstreet), and Best Adapted Screenplay.  The film was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 1989.

When you think of classic crime thrillers, The Maltese Falcon often comes to mind.  With a no-nonsense detective that toes the line of right and wrong, a femme fatale, and gun-toting thugs, the movie has everything you’d expect…but it is also kind of odd.

maltese falcon statue sydney greenstreet peter lorre mary astor

Crap. I was wrong. This is the Malted Falcon…It’s just a giant Whopper

Sam Spade isn’t particularly likeable though his overall actions are legal and justified.  He’s sleeping with his partner’s wife, he barely cares when his partner is killed, and there are some serious moral issues that you can question if Spade actually was considering making other choices.  This is wrapped up with a rather intricate mystery that is eventually spelled out for viewers but still requires thought to follow.

The other odd aspect is the three main “villains” played by Greenstreet, Lorre, and Elisha Cook Jr.  Though not stated outwardly in the film, it is implied that they are all homosexuals which was extremely unusual at the time.  While Lorre’s description is more overt (he’s described as having a perfume scented card), Gutman and Wilmer’s relationship is a bit understated…but things like Wilmer crying when Gutman is will to sell him out and the use of the term “gunsel” to refer to Wilmer which sometimes considered a homosexual vulgarity depending on its use.

The cast is flawless.  Bogart plays Spade to the max and though the portrayal has folded back in on itself to almost be a parody, it is important to remember that Bogart really crafted the role.  She works, but I think Mary Astor is a bit of an odd choice for the femme fatale, and I wish we had gotten to see more of Spade’s secretary played by Lee Patrick.  Peter Lorre is always creepy and continues to show his ability here while the movie was stage-actor Greenstreet’s first film role which he kills.  I like the young gun Elisha Cook Jr. who can’t get a break as he tries hard to be a big man through the movie.

maltese falcon sam spade brigid oshaughnessy humphrey bogart

Just because you’re making that ugly cry face doesn’t mean I’m not going to turn you in.

The film kind of sets the tone for future noir movies.  With San Francisco as a backdrop (a common noire location), the movie does deal in shadows but is brighter than later films.  The movie just feels more noir than it is visually, and the makers of thrillers that followed took the visual tones and ran with them.

The Maltese Falcon is a classic of the cinema and a “must see” if you’ve never seen it.  The film is highly influential and one of those movies that helps you understand other films, stories, and characters (something that Hammett also helped craft through his original novel as well).  If you haven’t seen The Maltese Falcon, it is something you must rectify…it is the stuff that dreams are made of.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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