Monday 15 November 2010

The Maltese Falcon [1941]

The Maltese Falcon remains a screen classic for a plethora of reasons; but if I were to select two reasons for its enduring legacy, it wouldn’t be a difficult task – this incredible directorial debut of John Huston is often considered the first film noir, a genre that would give us some of the greatest masterpieces in American cinema, and this was also the movie that catapulted Humphrey Bogart, mostly restricted to second leads till then, to the zenith of stardom. Adapted from pulp maestro Dashiell Hammett’s hard-boiled book of the same name, The Maltese Falcon has Bogart playing the iconic role of Sam Spade, a sleazy, tough-as-nails, coldly cynical gumshoe, albeit with a strong sense of honour and duty. And he requires all his sanity and razor-sharp mind to be fully intact as he is drawn into a murky battle of wits against a smooth-talking smuggler, callous cops, and a dame who is ready to put a dagger through anyone’s heart provided she gets her share of dough (played memorably by Mary Astor). The serpentine plot keeps you grabbed by the collar right through its crisp length, what with its share of grime, grunge and the grotesque side of human society. Huston’s brilliant direction and screenplay have been superbly coupled here with a subtle but excellent soundtrack, remarkable display of acting, and amazing cinematography with great usage of shadows to create the downbeat mood and atmosphere. Boy what a movie!
p.s. The Maltese Falcon is part of Humphrey Bogart: The Essential Collection, a wonderful boxset release by Warner Bros.

Director: John Huston
Genre: Film Noir/Mystery/Detective Film
Language: English
Country: US


Sam Juliano said...

Yep, Shubhajit! You peel away the gauze here to unveilone of the greatets of all noirs, and one of the form's most iconic lead characters in Sam Spade. As you observe, his hard-edged and cynical countenance is what made him such a magnetic character. It does contend with TREASURE OF SIERRA MADRE and a few others as Huston's best film, and in Peter Lorre, Mary Astor, Sydney Greenstreet and Elisha Cook, Jr. we have have one of the greatets supporting casts on record. But without Hammett, none of this would have ever come down.

Great capsule!

Shubhajit said...

Thanks a lot Sam. Yeah, John Huston had a great body of work, not to forget Asphalt Jungle, which too ranks among the greatest noirs ever made. I completely agree, this truly great work wouldn't have been possible without Hammett's iconic novel. I personally am a huge fan of Raymond Chandler, and liked James M. Cain too. Unfortunately, though I have a few books of Hammett (including Maltese Falcon), I haven't read them yet. When I go home next, I'm planning to grab hold of the volume & start reading.