The Maltese Falcon (1931)

  • Title:  The Maltese Falcon (1931)
  • Director:  Roy Del Ruth
  • Date:  1931
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers
  • Genre:  Mystery, Film Noir, Drama
  • Cast:  Ricardo Cortez, Bebe Daniels
  • Format:  Standard, Black and White
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“This is murder and don’t you forget it!”  — Police Detective Dundee

This film is one of two earlier versions of Dashiell Hammett classic mystery included on the Warner Brothers three-disc special edition of the classic Film Noir version starring Humphrey Bogart from 1941.  I actually avoided watching it for over a week.  However, it wasn’t as bad as I feared it might be.  It’s no classic, but it’s not a disaster either.

Richard Cortez plays Sam Spade as a hopeless flirt, who trades quips with his secretary and is definitely having an affair with his partner’s wife (something alluded to in the 1941 edition, but definitely toned down).  Archer, moreover, knows about his wife’s indiscretions.   The only woman Sam doesn’t seem to flirt with, is his client, Ms. Wonderly.

Since we actually see Archer in this film, he’s slightly more sympathetic.

Watching the 1931 version of The Maltese Falcon is very much like watching a stage play version of a favorite film.  Much of the dialogue is the same or recognizable, but it’s delivered completely differently by a different crew of actors, none of whom are well-known.  I didn’t mind flirty Sam Spade, though Bogart gives a much more nuanced and haunted performance.  Bogart’s Spade is a man on the edge.  Cortez breezes through the film like he’s having a grand  time, and even reminded me a bit of Errol Flynn.  Bebe Daniels, in a way, I actually liked better than Mary Astor.  At least she’s fairly straight-forward, even when she’s lying to Sam.  (This version drops her multiple identites from the plot).  But the bit players – Cairo, Gutman, even Wilbur are very bland here.  The 1941 version is much better with Peter Lorre, Syndey Greenstreet and Elisha Cook Jr.

This film is much shorter (around 71 minutes), and less complicated.  And, like a play, many larger (more expensive to film) scenes are dropped or mentioned but not shown (we never see Archer’s body, or the burning of La Poloma, the ship that brings the Falcon to San Francisco).  Also cut is some of Sam’s wondering around the streets of his city, thinking things over.

  • Recommendation:  Skip it, unless you happen to get a free version as an extra, then you may as well watch it.
  • Rating:  2.5 Stars
  • Next Film:  Mary Poppins
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