Top 100 Movie Review: No. 093 – The Maltese Falcon (1941)

Ranked 093 on the IMDB Top 100 Movies.
Watched February 2019.

Cast: Humphrey Bogart (Samuel Spade), Mary Astor (Brigid O’Shaughnessy / Miss Wonderly), Gladys George (Iva Archer), Peter Lorre (Joel Cairo), Barton MacLane (Lt. of Detectives Dundy), Lee Patrick (Effie Perine), Sydney Greenstreet (Kasper Gutman)
Director: John Huston
My rating: 8 / 10

Worldwide private detective Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) gets more than he bargained for when he takes a case brought to him by a beautiful but secretive Miss Wonderly (Mary Astor). As soon as Miss Wonderly shows up, trouble follows as Sam’s partner Archer (Gladys George) is murdered and Sam is accosted by first Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre) and later Kasper Gutman (Sydney Greenstreet) demanding he locate a valuable statuette. Sam is quickly entangled in a dangerous web of crime and intrigue as he must find the one thing they all seem to want: the Maltese Falcon.

What’s to Like
Classic black and white movie, the suspense, the dialogue, original classic crime noir, the femme fatale, the mystery of the Falcon, the hard-boiled private detective Sam Spade.

What’s not to Like
The apparent lack of emotion or concern Sam displays for the death of his business partner. The difficult to believe love connection between Sam and Brigid given the circumstances and deceit.

The plot of “The Maltese Falcon” revolves around the black bird, said to be made of gold and encrusted with jewels, has been stolen in Turkey and men have and will kill for it. Sam and his partner get involved because Miss Wonderly (later revealed as a false name) hires them to follow a man said to be holding her sister (all of which is a lie).

This is probably one of the earliest movies to have a cunning femme fatal who regularly plays the innocent woman but who is playing just as hard as the man to enrich herself and caring less about the consequences. In fact with the exceptional of Sam’s secretary everyone is hard noised and self absorbed. All the man players turn on each other at some point in the movie.

A significant moment of the movie that shows just how tough and unsentimental Sam is comes right at the end, Brigid (previously called Miss Wonderly) is about to be collared for murdering Sam’s partner. She says she loves him. She asks if Sam loves her. She pleads for him to spare her from the law. And he replies, “I hope they don’t hang you, precious, by that sweet neck. The chances are you’ll get off with life. That means if you’re a good girl, you’ll be out in 20 years.” Sam goes onto explain it is a bad look if even doesn’t do something to avenge his partners death. Sentiment doesn’t move this man, Sam Spade is cold and hard and turns on his client and temporary partner, playing her for a confusion like she attempted to play him with the damsel in distress.

The best thing you can say about Sam is he isn’t obsessed with finding the Maltese Falcon for greed, unlike the others, but to solve the mystery and outsmart everyone else. An enjoyable movie clearly ahead of it’s time which introduced the crime noir from novels into movies.

Academy Awards

  • Best Picture – nominee
  • Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Sydney Greenstreet) – nominee
  • Best Writing, Screenplay (John Huston) – nominee

About Nathan

A World traveller who has so far experienced 71 countries (76 by June 2023) in this amazing world.
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