Saturday, July 26, 2014

2014 Blind Spot Series: The Maltese Falcon

Based on the novel by Dashiell Hammett, The Maltese Falcon is the story of a private detective who finds himself dealing a troubling case that involves the search of a statue that everyone wants. Written for the screen and directed by John Huston, the film is a detective story that would be the inspiration for many ideas of what would become film noir with its unique take on language and character motivations. Starring Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Gladys George, Peter Lorre, and Sydney Greenstreet. The Maltese Falcon is a riveting and stylish film from John Huston.

The film revolves around a private detective who finds himself in the middle of a crazed search for a rare statue that everyone wants as he tries to find out who killed his partner who was tailing a suspect. It all plays into this statue called the Maltese Falcon where it is a statue worth lots of money as the detective Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) wants to know why he’s in the middle of this case where a woman named Brigid O’Shaughnessy (Mary Astor) asks Spade and his partner Archer (Jerome Cowan) to tail a man that would lead to the latter’s death. Yet, O’Shaughnessy is part of a scheme into retrieving this rare statue that a slimy man named Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre) and a determined collector named Kasper Gutman (Sydney Greenstreet) want. With Spade falling for O’Shaughnessy and dealing with the case itself as he finds himself into all sorts of trouble with a lot of twists and turns as there’s very few people he can actually trust.

John Huston’s screenplay definitely plays up to the idea of suspense and language that Dashiell Hammett is known for as a lot of the dialogue is very stylized with its sense of rhythm and in the way the words are said. There’s also some exposition into a lot of the things that happen as well as the story of the Maltese Falcon as the statue itself is a plot device that would become known as the Macguffin. It’s the one thing that everyone wants where Huston knows how to weave the plot into these twists and turns where Spade is often at the center of this crazed search. There is also this conflict in Spade as he falls for O’Shaughnessy even though she is a suspect as his secretary Effie (Lee Patrick) is very suspicious of O’Shaughnessy as she is sort of Spade’s conscience and the one person that he can really trust.

Huston’s direction is very stylish with the way he sets the mood for much of the film where it has this air of suspense and intrigue that continuously looms throughout the film. Huston would use a lot of medium shots as well as some close-ups to play into the drama and suspense while infusing some bits of humor into the film. Much of it would include a few eerie camera angles to play into the sense of style in the way the suspense occurs as there is tension in the film such as the people that Spade would meet. There aren’t many moments of violence as Huston is more focused on just building the mystery as well as play into scenario about what to do when the Maltese Falcon is found. Overall, Huston crafts a very engaging and chilling film about a detective caught in a deadly search to find a priceless statue.

Cinematographer Arthur Edeson does excellent work with the film‘s black-and-white photography to create some unique shadows and lighting schemes for some of the film‘s interior and exterior scenes set at night that would be the basis for the look of film noir. Editor Thomas Richards does fantastic work with the editing as it has a bit of style in the transition wipes while keeping things very straightforward to play into the slow-burn of the suspense. Art director Robert M. Haas does amazing work with the look of Spade‘s office that he shared with his partner to the lavish hotel room that Gutman stayed at.

The gown designs by Orry-Kelly are exquisite for its sense of style as it plays to the looks and personality of the female characters. The sound work of Oliver S. Garretson is terrific for some of the sound effects that are created as well as how it adds to the air of suspense. The film’s music by Adolph Deutsch is wonderful for its for its brooding orchestral score that plays into the suspense along with lush themes for the drama.

The film’s incredible cast include notable small roles from Walter Huston as a police captain, Jerome Cowan as Spade’s partner Archer, Ward Bond as Detective Polhaus, Barton MacLane as Lt. Dundy, and Elisha Cook Jr. as Gutman’s henchman Wilmer. Lee Patrick is wonderful as Spade’s secretary Effie as she is often the one person who is a bit smarter than Spade as she doesn’t trust O’Shaughnessy. Gladys George is terrific as Archer’s wife Iva who thinks Spade killed her husband as she is a former lover of Spade as she isn’t sure what is going on as it plays into Spade’s own suspicions about everything. Sydney Greenstreet is brilliant as the larger-than-life collector Gutman who is eager to have the Maltese Falcon at any cost as he is full of charisma and a presence that is quite intimidating at times.

Peter Lorre is fantastic as the smarmy Joel Cairo as this very flamboyant individual who is very mysterious as Lorre brings that nice sense of sliminess but also charm that makes him so enjoyable to watch. Mary Astor is superb as Brigid O’Shaughnessy as this woman who is the archetype of a femme fatale as she is someone that is quite manipulative while never seeming to get her story straight as she tries to woo Spade into making her feel like a victim. Finally, there’s Humphrey Bogart in a marvelous performance as Sam Spade where Bogart has this intensity and wit to his role that makes him quite cool but also be quite tough as there’s no bullshit about his character yet he isn’t afraid to show some humility as it’s one of Bogart’s finest performances.

The Maltese Falcon is a sensational film from John Huston that features a remarkable performance from Humphrey Bogart. The film is definitely one of the standards in what a mystery should be while making it more about characters and the search for answers rather than action. In the end, The Maltese Falcon is a phenomenal film from John Huston.

© thevoid99 2014


Dan Heaton said...

I'm not a huge fan of The Maltese Falcon. I think that Bogart is great and the supporting players are stellar, but the love story doesn't work for me. Mary Astor just seems really flat and uninteresting. I can totally understand why this is so well-regarded, and I agree that Huston's stylish direction works. It just didn't grab me as much as I expected.

thevoid99 said...

Based on the noir films I've seen so far, I think Double Indemnity and The Third Man are better. This was still an amazing film though it wasn't one of my highlights in my Blind Spots so far.