The Maltese Falcon (1941)

  • Title:  The Maltese Falcon (1941)
  • Director:  John Huston
  • Date:  1941
  • Studio: Warner Brothers Pictures
  • Genre:  Drama, Mystery, Film Noir
  • Cast:  Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, Elisha Cook Jr.
  • Format:  Black and White, Standard
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“That’s good coming from you. What have you ever given me besides money? Ever given me any of your confidence, any of the truth? Haven’t you tried to buy my loyalty with money and nothing else?” — Sam Spade

“Our private conversations have not been such that I am anxious to continue them. Forgive my speaking blunting but it is the truth.”  — Joel Cairo

“I’ll tell you right out, I’m a man who likes talking to a man who likes to talk.”  — Kasper “The Fat Man” Gutman

The Maltese Falcon, based on Dashiell Hammett’s novel almost defines the genre of Film Noir, though for Noir films, I prefer Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity. The Maltese Falcon is a tad long, and rather confusing, even after several viewings (and I have seen this film several times over the years). However, it still does have many Noir hallmarks:  the snappy, fast dialogue, the designing woman (or femme fatale), and introduces the Noir staple of the tough-as-nails, but honest, private detective.

Bogart, and the rest of the cast, which includes Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre, as well as Elisha Cook, Jr. and Mary Astor are all good, and excellently cast in their roles. And this film is from the heyday of Warner Brothers, when the studio turned out dozens if not hundreds of Noir films (including their gangster films) a year. This is also a breakout film for Bogart, moving him from day player at Warner’s (oddly enough often playing “heavies” simliar to Cook’s role in this film) to leading roles.

The plot, involving the chase for the the Falcon (often called “The Black Bird”, and once, by Spade, “The dingus”), is more of a McGuffin — the real plot, and the driving force of the film is the murder of Spade’s partner, Archer, at the beginning of the film. This murder is nearly forgotten until the end, when the audience discovers that Sam hasn’t forgotten, at all, what happened to Archer. And, despite the fact that Sam may have had an affair with Archer’s wife (or she at least has a crush on him, she pretty much throws herself at Spade, while still in Widow’s Weeds), he still considers it his duty to do something about the murder of his partner, no matter what. Sam is an honorable man and will keep his honor, whatever the cost. Thus it is the conclusion of the film that is excellent and memorable.

The look of the film is great, and it’s set in atmospheric San Francisco, which helps, though I doubt it was filmed there.

Overall, The Maltese Falcon is one of those classic films one just really needs to see, and appreciate and occasionally re-watch. For such a dark film, enjoyable isn’t really the correct word, but it is a very good film, and an important contribution to Film Noir.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  4 of  5 Stars
Next Film:  The Maltese Falcon (1931)

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Casablanca

  • Title:  Casablanca
  • Director:  Michael Curtiz
  • Date:  1942
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers
  • Genre:  Classic, Drama
  • Cast:  Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre
  • Format:  Black & White, Standard
  • R1, NTSC

“What in heavens name brought you to Casablanca?” – Cap’t Louis Renault
“My health, I came to Casablanca for the waters.” – Rick Blaine
“The waters?  What waters — we’re in the desert.” – Cap’t Renault
“I was misinformed.” – Rick

“What’s your nationality?” – Maj. Strasser
“I’m a drunkard.”  – Rick

“Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world — she walks into mine.” – Rick

“I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here.” – Cap’t Renault
“Your winnings, sir.”  – Waiter
“Oh, thank you very much.”  – Cap’t Renault

Casablanca is one of the best movies ever made.  Like all great movies it is still enjoyable after repeat viewings, and can even become more enjoyable because of the anticipation of favorite lines, scenes, and events.  The movie, after a brief audio introduction, swiftly carries you into it’s world.  Casablanca: Crossroads of the world, filled with refugees from war-torn Europe hoping to beg, borrow, or steal enough to obtain exit visas and passage on the plane to Lisbon and from there passage to America.  Part of what Casablanca does so well is not only the main plot of three “little people”, but the small side plots:  the older German couple who have finally obtained passage and are practicing their imperfect English; the woman who sells her diamond tennis bracelet – for far less than it’s worth because she’s desperate for money (and the broker knows it); the pickpocket; the young girl who asks Rick if she should trust Cap’t Renault and do a “very bad thing” so she and her husband can escape Casablanca.  There is a real sense that everyone in Casablanca has a story – and it may be as compelling as the story of Rick, Ilsa and Victor Laszlo.

But at the heart Casablanca is about Rick, Ilsa, and Victor – three good people caught in a mess.  Rick – the cynic, who “sticks his neck out for nobody,” Victor – hero of the people, who escaped a German Concentration Camp and is leader of the underground free French.  And Ilsa – the girl they both love and have loved at different times.  The film is about Rick’s journey from cynic to unlikely hero, but there’s an edginess to the movie – the audience doesn’t know what Rick’s final decision will be.  Part of this may have been the cast didn’t know, supposedly the script was unfinished and the movie was made on the fly.  But even if that wasn’t so, and even when you have the final scene with all it’s perfect dialogue memorised – you’ve seen this movie that often, the film still manages to have a sense of surprise to it, a sense of anticipation, and it creates a world that envelops you.  It truly is a brilliant, brilliant film.

Also – Casablanca is filled with great lines, those quoted above, and gems like Cap’t Renault’s “I’m only a poor, corrupt official,” or his “Major Strasser has been shot – round up the usual suspects,” not to mention Rick’s speech to Ilsa at the end of  the film, and the last line of  the film as well.  Totally classic!

Besides the sparkling script – the film is filled with great images as well:  Ilsa’s hand knocking over the champagne glass as Rick kisses her as the Germans match into Paris; the rain washing away the ink of Ilsa’s note to Rick; the close-up as Cap’t Renault drops the bottle of  “Viche Water” into the trash.  And light and shadow is used so well in the film.  Ingrid Bergman looks so beautiful, especially when she walks into Rick’s the lighting on her face makes her practically glow.  But shadows and half light are also used well.  Mist and smoke are used to enhance the visual image:  the smoke obscuring Rick as he gets on the train in Paris, and the mist and fog shrouded airport at the end of the film are two examples.  Another of my favorite scenes is when Victor leads all of  Rick’s Cafe’ Americain in singing the Marseillais to drown out the Germans who are singing De Fatherland, especially Yvonne crying.

And Rick – Richard Blaine, who “sticks his neck out for nobody,” who at the start of the film does nothing to help poor Ugarte (Lorre), despite his pleas, and despite him saying Rick’s the only one he trusts – an action which later results in Ugarte’s death.  This is the man who is the noble one at the end of the picture – he’s the one who gives up love for something greater, and because he knows the woman he loves – loves someone else.  I just love this movie and could watch it again and again and again.  Which is often the best compliment a work of art can have – to make you want to experience it over and over again.

All in all – just about a perfect movie.

Recommendation:  See it!  Own it!
Rating:  5 (out of 5) Stars
Next Film:  Charade