Movie Notes: The Maltese Falcon
= 5 stars
Starring Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor
Directed by John Huston
Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) is hired by to search for a woman’s missing sister, and the trail leads to unusual, unexpected places.
- Bogart as the cynical detective Sam Spade, equal parts hero and cad, keeps the plot appealingly unpredictable. His loyalties shift depending on whom he’s talking to, and it’s always unclear whose side he’s on other than his own (looking for a “fall guy” to keep his reputation clean).
- Oddball, shady characters Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre) and Caspar Gutman (Sydney Greenstreet), whose desperate pandering and grubby hands clawing at an object of desire make movie history. And then there’s the duplicitous femme fatale Ruth / Brigid (Mary Astor), who even by film’s end, it’s unclear which of her scenes were sincere or further manipulations.
- Every character is not what they initially seem, and even the nature of the jewel-encrusted Maltese Falcon itself is kept (literally) under wraps.
- John Huston employs a Hitchcock-esque level of simple direction, where stark black and white imagery, unusual camera angles, and a careful awareness of what to reveal vs. keep hidden, consistently underline this shady, distrustful world.
- The final scene where Spade decides where his loyalties lie, containing just Bogart and Astor – you can see Bogart’s wheels turning in his head as he chooses his next course of action and proceeds with conviction.
- Takes place in San Francisco; references to Bush and Stockton streets.
- Extremely dialog heavy; not much action. The various characters’ intertwined interests and deceitful manipulation is sometimes convoluted and confusing.
There’s a crushing scene where certain individuals board an elevator, destination down to purgatory. Spade’s only comment is “the stuff that dreams are made of” – is this in reference to the treasure or the girl? We’ll never know – the effect of the bleak events is barely hinted at on Spade’s face – and further transforms him into the epitome of the “hard boiled detective.” Highly recommended.