Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Noir Watch: The Maltese Falcon (1941)

I have no idea when the last time was that I watched this movie.  Likely 7 or 8 years ago when I got the DVD and again right after we moved back to Austin.

It's weird I don't watch it over and over, because there's a perfectly good reason The Maltese Falcon carries the reputation its got.  Smart, ruthless, and lean down to the bone, and with every actor in the film turning in terrific performances, its a great ride.  It carries the tone and at least the echo of Dashiell Hammett's spitfire dialog, and definitely retains the labyrinthine plotting that even Hammett's short stories are known for.

actually, those two guns belong to Elisha Cook Jr., but whatever

The host at the Paramount Stateside pitched it as one of the first movies that would later be categorized as "film noir", and that sounds about right with the 1941 release date and what the picture did for Bogart and private eyes in film.  Not to mention the ending of the film that would signal the sorts of fates that would engulf characters in film noir over the next decade and a half or more.

Greed, lust for the wrong woman (which sort of makes it the right woman in noir terms), shady characters, powerful men and cops left confused and hanging in the wind trying to sort out exactly how this got so messy.

While, no doubt, the Sam Spade we carry in our mind's eye is present, its remarkable to watch Bogart's performance which runs the gamut from a sort of devil-may-care cool customer to an emotional wreck, worn out and hung out to dry.  Pair that with Mary Astor's compulsive scheming and ever changing face as she tries yet another angle, and it's remarkable chemisty.  And how can you go wrong with Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre and Elisha Cook Jr.?*

As America passed out of the Depression and headed for war, I don't know what this movie looked like to audiences at the time.  I assume in a pre-War America, it felt like a detective story and not as much could have been read into it that's been chalked up to post-War noir and what was assumed of masculinity, femininity and trying to find one's way in a post-war world as the culture that would give us Eisenhower and Leave it to Beaver crept ever closer.

John Huston would go on to make a whole lot of great movies AND Angelica Huston, for which we should all be grateful.  I also just learned directed Annie (1982), a fact which is BLOWING MY MIND.  But he also did Asphalt Jungle and Treasure of the Sierra Madre, which should make way, way more sense.

Anyway, if you've never seen The Maltese Falcon, see it.  This is my final chat on noir before we hang it up for a bit, so I figure I'd be doing you a disservice if I did anything BUT sell you on this movie.  

*you can't

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