#31 The Maltese Falcon

“That’s an attitude, sir, that calls for the most delicate judgment on both sides. ‘Cause as you know, sir, in the heat of action men are likely to forget where their best interests lie and let their emotions carry them away.”
Kasper Gutman

Writer-director John Huston virtually invents the noir genre in his mystery-crime-thriller The Maltese Falcon.

Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) Miles Archer (Jerome Cowan) run a private detective firm. When Brigid O’Shaunessey (Mary Astor) offers them a job following a man named Thursby. Both Sam and Miles immediately suspect that Ms. O’Shaunessey is not being completely honest with them, but the 200 dollars that she has offered them for their services is more than enough to pull them away from their better judgment.

Shortly after taking the case though Miles, along with the mysterious Mr. Thursby, turn up dead. This sets the police after Sam, who they think is responsible for one, if not both, of the murders in question.

This leads Sam to try and discover the real reason that both these men were killed. And his start point, is deciphering the mysterious Ms. O’Shaunessey, a woman that he is quickly falling in love with.

The more that Sam finds out about the two murders the more confused he becomes. All he does know is that everything revolves around an ancient black statue of a falcon.

The film has many interlocking plots that make it almost impossible to give any sort of detailed synopsis. That is not a negative thing though. All the little things that are going on do not detract from one another, as is so often the case. Instead, everything that happens in this film is just one more block that builds toward the climactic finale.

This film is great. It is not as artistic as some of the other films on this list, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t innovative. There are no iconic “Vertigo shots,” or impressive dolly movements. This film’s innovation came from its story, its acting, and its razor sharp dialogue.

Nothing can be said about this film though without mentioning Bogart’s performance. He proved himself to be a bona fide star in this film. The camera could not detach itself from him, and for good reason. Much like in Casablanca, his presence alone is captivating, and that presence is in all but one shot of the film.

Even without Bogart’s performance though this film was quite strong. It’s kind of like Indiana Jones but with less action and better dialogue. The plot is just fantastic enough to capture the viewer’s imagination while still maintaining a firm grip on reality. This is not an easy task but it is one that the film tackles head on and succeeds in accomplishing. It is the stuff of which dreams are made (and it gave us that beautiful end line).