This one was Dana’s pick for films made in the 1940’s. Which is a bit funny (to me) because we had to watch it twice because he fell asleep and missed about 40% of the film the first time around. Which means we had to rent it twice on Amazon. In the future, rewatches on rentals must be completed within 24 hours! The Maltese Falcon is, of course, based on the 1930 novel of the same name by Dashiell Hammett. He also wrote The Thin Man books which became films starting William Powell and Myrna Loy. Their fictional dog, Asta, is a frequent crossword puzzle solution. Anyway, the version of The Maltese Falcon with Humphrey Bogart and Mary Astor is actually a remake of a 1931 film. It’s a classic noir detective movie. Beautiful woman flashing cash walks into the office of a wise-cracking and cynical private investigator named Sam Spade and hires him to find her sister. A few bullets later, Spade discovers the woman isn’t who she claims and there’s something about a statuette of a bird that everyone wants.
I confess I’ve seen this film a handful of times. I also read the book. And I also have to confess that it’s not my favorite. There’s no doubt that it’s a classic film and it’s a great example of a genre. It also has great actors and some fine performances (notably Peter Lorre as Joel Cairo). It’s definitely got a great moody style, but so much time has passed that the scenes have become cliches. That’s not The Maltese Falcon‘s fault, but when you’re talking about films that have been copied and spoofed, Casablanca holds up better. Also, I think Sam Spade is a bit of a dick, and Mary Astor…well, I’ve never liked her in this role. I don’t find her beautiful and she’s got zero sex appeal and zero chemistry with Bogart. I don’t buy her as a femme fatale at all. Imagine Lauren Bacall in this role instead and Yow! She could have done justice to both prissy Miss Wonderly and saucy bad girl Brigid O’Shaughnessy. Astor is so bad that I always assumed (my first few viewings of this movie predate IMDB) she was one of THE Astors and John Huston hired her because her rich family was financing the film. But no, Astor was a stage name, and Mary actually won an Oscar for supporting actress. She also had four husbands and a sex scandal under her belt and she’s far more interesting than I would have expected based on her stick-up-the-ass acting. Mary Astor pretty much ruins the movie for me. For my money, The Big Sleep (1946) is a better noir detective movie, and William Faulkner wrote the screenplay. Yes, THAT Faulkner. If I were going to hire a private dick, I’d hire Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe over Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade any day.
This is one of those films that I had heard about, but really didn’t know what it was about. And after watching if, I have to wonder why it is on the AFI 100 list. The detective is an asshole, the story was bleh, and the film was absolutely boring. This film 100% did not do it for me. Skip this one unless you just have to see what some people consider a classic.