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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 12.24%
Average: 4.08%
Pretty Bad: 4.08%
Total Crap: 4.08%

3 reviews, 31 user ratings

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Maltese Falcon, The
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by Jay Seaver

"The template for every private dick since."
5 stars

"The Maltese Falcon" straddles the line between pulp fiction and film noir like few other films. The black statue of the title is a fantastical target for the film's motley crew of thieves and scoundrels, and ancient treasure suggesting far-off places and high adventure. It's not in some mysterious European vault, though; it's in Los Angeles, and none of the people involved in the caper are particularly high-minded.

Certainly not Miles Archer, a private detective who is putty in the hands of a woman (Mary Astor) who claims to be seeking her missing sister. The next morning, though, Archer's dead, and even as his business partner Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) is unceremoniously having the office door re-stenciled, he aims to find out why. The trail leads to a pair of hoods (Peter Lorre, Elisha Cook Jr.) and a collector of rare antiquities (Sydney Greenstreet), all looking for a black statuette originally belonging to the Knights Templar.

Bogart is at his best when doing the right thing doesn't necessarily come easy to him, and Spade is far from a saint. He doesn't waste any time mourning over his dead partner, nor does he flinch at guns in his face. Bogart plays Spade drier than usual, with a bit of a mean streak where Marlowe was playful. He describes avenging his partner as a vague obligation, and the way he seems equally at ease among cops and crooks makes the audience wonder whether he just doesn't care about the law and justice, whether he does care but has to wear a mask of amorality in order to survive in his environment, or whether the life of a private investigator has eroded his sense of right and wrong so that he's somewhere in between, heading in the wrong direction. At times, Bogart projects cynicism, at times common sense, and it's the audience's sad job to figure out where the line between the two lies.

He's mixed up with a fine set of scoundrels. Mary Astor, for instance, who is so convincing as the damsel in distress at the start of the story that she retains our good will even as the things her character initially hides from the detectives are revealed. She gets under our skin by not vamping it up as a femme fatale, even though she could have easily gone that way. Peter Lorre is weasally perfection as Joe Cairo, the sort of henchman who constantly and ineffectually plots for his own gain. He and writer/director John Huston have a little fun playing up a sort of petty rivalry with Elisha Cook's Wilmer; there's something a little more than vaguely gay about both characters, which at the time the film was made would translate to "sneaky and disreputable". It's a different take, and gives a different feel compared to standard toothpick-chewing toughs.

Also making an impression as alpha villain Kasper Gutman is Sydney Greenstreet. It's Greenstreet's first screen role (though he was already in his sixties) and he makes us wish he'd started a little earlier. His Gutman is a classic antagonist in part because he contrasts so well with Bogart's Spade, being mountainously large, well-spoken, and happily committed to his goal. When they're on-screen together, though, you can tell they understand each other all too well, recognizing other intelligent, ruthless people on a quest whose cost is likely not ultimately worth the reward.

Also making his debut, as a director, is John Huston. Working from a Dashiell Hammett novel, he makes a prototypical film noir. We're denied anybody we can like without reservation, and most of the action takes place either indoors or after dark, keeping the natural world from brightening things. He's got a knack for throwing a fair amount of information at us without stepping up to overload - the story has as many players as The Big Sleep, but each step does feel like it's getting Spade closer to the answers, rather than just stringing events together.

When people have imagined a private detective over the past sixty years, Humphrey Bogart is the image most often conjured up. That's in part because he also played Philip Marlowe, but mostly on the strength of this film.

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originally posted: 03/16/06 16:28:07
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User Comments

11/05/16 David Hollingsworth A timeless film noir masterpiece on every level! 5 stars
1/03/12 internet marketing belgium nice very nice post 5 stars
9/02/09 good fella Gets better with each viewing. Not a dull moment 5 stars
4/02/09 action movie fan king kong is a real classic this is a bore even bogart can,t save it 2 stars
11/19/06 rudy excellent,acting, and entertaining, with peter lorrie, and sidney greenstreet as superb cha 4 stars
10/24/06 Veritas A film classic of the highest order. 5 stars
4/10/06 Ron Newbold Great film and an excellent choice to introduce film noir to someone 5 stars
7/25/05 Eric Rollins Bogart was America's best actor and this is one of his best films. 5 stars
7/07/05 John MacKendrick Superb supporting cast and sparkling dialogue make this a winner. 5 stars
6/07/05 Darcy given the era, quite good 4 stars
5/22/05 Cham Not as classic as it's reputation, but great nonetheless. 4 stars
4/19/05 Al Guy Hollywood used to know how to make good movies. 5 stars
1/15/05 Leanne A perfect 10/10 satisfying, entertaining, deeply amusing movie 5 stars
10/13/04 Shit Head sucks asssssss 1 stars
2/11/04 yes, bogart is great, but this film is not--see dead end instead king of cool 1 stars
10/08/03 Lesterwink23 Immortal film noir that has never been equaled. 5 stars
9/13/03 Brennan Tomallo Very Interesting well produced film 4 stars
4/18/03 Jon "Thumb the Toad" Lyrik A cinematic gem. 5 stars
3/14/03 Russell One of the Hard-Boiled Best 5 stars
2/23/03 Al Jones Interesting film suited to the crime genre 4 stars
12/19/02 rue the whirl see "the big sleep" instead 3 stars
11/22/02 ad it's good 4 stars
10/29/02 Charles Tatum I found it a little slow 3 stars
7/30/02 Michael and the Argonauts Yes sir, fucking awesome. Humphrey Bogart may be the cinema's finest thespian 5 stars
12/19/01 Asshole No one could sell that role like Bogart. Movie is pure noir. Awesome 5 stars
10/08/01 Adam One of my favourite all time movies.An absolute classic. Best of class absolute clasic 5 stars
10/05/01 anders foged christensen A real Film Noir classic 5 stars
2/28/01 R.W. Welch Top notch cast doing intriguing story. Best of the genre. 5 stars
3/27/99 little jerry Like Citizen Kane,this film will always stay fresh.Vastly superior to Hawks' The Big Sleep. 5 stars
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  18-Oct-1941 (PG)
  DVD: 05-Oct-2010


  02-Feb-1943 (PG)

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