The Maltese Falcon (1941)

The Maltese Falcon (1941)

based on The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

written and directed by John Huston

Despite having gone to film school, for some reason I was never exposed to this classic noir based on the novel by Dashiell Hammett. Guess I should’ve chosen USC instead of UM. The Maltese Falcon stars Humphrey Bogart as private eye Sam Spade, a tough as nails detective who gets entangled in the search for a priceless statuette after his partner (Jerome Cowan) is murdered.

Writer/director John Huston, in an impressive directorial debut, favors a firm unshowy style that focuses more on the actors and dialogue than on the twisty plot. The film’s absence of likable characters must’ve been striking in 1942, from the duplicitous femme fatale Brigid O’Shaughnessy (Mary Astor) to Bogart’s anti-hero, a morally ambiguous, cynical guy who has no qualms about having sex with his friend’s wife and tells a criminal, “When you’re slapped, you’ll take it and like it. But what truly stays with you is the ending, in which Spade stays true to his “code” and turns O’Shaughnessy in even as he admits he’s fallen for her: “When a man’s partner’s killed, he’s supposed to do something about it. It doesn’t make any difference what you thought of him, he was your partner, and you’re supposed to do something about it.”  Huston and Bogart would collaborate again five more times. You can easily see why.

Rating: ***

Carlos I. Cuevas