Sorry I’ve been MIA for the past few days – I was on a road trip and had limited access to the Internet, so movie watching and blogging were close to impossible. So I will be watching two movies today and two movies tomorrow (hopefully) to get myself back on track with the 30 Day Film Challenge. Also, I know I had mentioned I was going to watch both Kung Fu Panda 1 & 2 to prepare for watching the third movie, and I did watch 1, but will hold off watching 2 until this Friday, because I promised to watch it with two friends.
Film #21 in the challenge is a Hollywood classic, The Maltese Falcon. The 1941 film follows the story of a private detective, Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart), who runs a private investigation firm with his friend, Miles Archer. The two take on a case from Ruth Wonderly (Mary Astor), who says her sister is missing and was last seen with a man named Floyd Thursby. Miles decides to track down and confront Thursby, but both he and Thursby are murdered. All evidence seems to indicate Sam is the perpetrator, but he insists on his innocence and sets out to investigate the murders. Things become stranger when Ruth reappears in Sam’s office with a different name and when a man breaks into Sam’s office with a gun to search for a “black figure of a bird.” Sam soon realizes that Ruth and this man know each other, and that they, along with a “Fat Man,” are after something called “the maltese falcon.” Navigating his way through a web of lies and conspiracies, Sam relies on his wits to get to the bottom of the curious case of the maltese falcon.
The Maltese Falcon is a significant classic because it birthed the genre of film noir and changed the way detective stories played out on the screen. First, it introduced a strangely likable anti-hero. Sam Spade is not your charming, perfect leading man; instead, he is a player who will do anything to bed a woman, and he loves money, always offering his services to the highest bidder. He’s also cold and completely unmoved by emotion. Yet as the film progresses, we find ourselves drawn to Sam. His rough and tough demeanor makes him intriguingly different from other detectives of his time, and although his personality may not be perfect, he is not a lawless ruffian – he still has and abides by his own moral standards. Sam Spade is one of the first detective anti-heroes to be seen in American cinema, but he is charismatic and likable.
The Maltese Falcon also introduced a combination of film techniques that would be associated with the style of film noir. Contrasts between light and dark and the use of strong shadows create a suspenseful atmosphere fitting for this detective film. Shooting from low angles makes the characters look larger and makes them fill up the entire shot, creating a claustrophobic feel that builds up the intensity of the film.
The innovation in characters and visuals make The Maltese Falcon a monumental classic that has endured with critics and movie watchers throughout the decades. While it may not look as exciting as detective films in recent years, as it is black and white and lacks the digital extravagance today’s films have, The Maltese Falcon was remarkably and brilliantly different from other films of its time. It has also made lasting contributions to cinema, affecting how future films in this genre are made.
Aside from its cinematic achievements, I liked The Maltese Falcon also for its plot. While the falcon ends up being a “MacGuffin,” there are twists and turns in the story that make the deduction process intriguing and its characters interesting objects of study.
Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Title: The Maltese Falcon
Director: John Huston
Writer: John Huston
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet
Run time: 1 hr 41 min