Title: The Maltese Falcon
Genre: Film-Noir, Mystery
Director/Writer: John Huston
based on the novel by Dashiell Hammett
Music: Adolph Deutsch
Cinematography: Arthur Edeson
Elisha Cook Jr.
Both the hallmark and harbinger of Film-Noir fad in Hollywood, John Huston’s thrilling debut feature THE MALTESE FALCON boasts an intoxicating cadence of rapid-fire dialogue exchange and a hard-boiled Humphrey Bogart in one of his most iconic and alluring roles as San Franciscan shamus Sam Spade.
The plot is titillatingly instigated by a demure client, who is referred by the name Wonderly (Astor), imploring Sam and his partner Miles Archer (Cowan) to tail a shadowy figure who might know the whereabouts of her missing sister. But when Miles is croaked in the line of duty and so is the said figure moments later, Sam has to take it on himself to get the bottom of the skulduggery, while being incriminated as a suspect due to his hanky-panky with Miles’ wife Iva (George).
Ms. Wonderly, whose real name is Brigid O’Shaughnessy, soon pleads with the same damsel-in-distress act to Sam, claims that she has nothing to do with those two murders and still needs his help, yet refuses to come clean with the particulars, not until two other parties come on board, the whole enchilada surfaces, one is a Continental man named Joel Cairo (Lorre), another is a rotund spiv Kasper Gutman (Greenstreet, a British thespian and celluloid debutant), with his “gunsel” Wilmer (Cook Jr.). They are all spoiling for the titular falcon figure bedecked with priceless jewels, which gives Sam a grand opportunity to earn a commission fee if he can outsmart all the double-crossing, gunpoint duress and tearful supplication in the name of love, en passant, cops the real killer of his business partner.
Employing most off-scene happenstances to verbal delivery saves the film much budget of action fracas, and entrusts its dramatis personae to have a field day, Bogart, from whose viewpoint the plot hinges on, inhabits a deadly cool persona that is piercingly cynical in his life philosophy and fatally indefatigable to plow on, meantime, never wastes a chance to kiss a beauty even one is rotten in the soul, but sometimes he slips up in letting down his guard too easily, especially in front of Gutman, whose “there are honors among crooks” miens and plummy elocution veils his lethally deceitful nature and Greenstreet is meritoriously rewarded with an Oscar nomination in his very first movie at the age of 60); and Peter Lorre, by turns courteous, menacing and limp-waisted, creates the most comical moment with his about-face when his pocket pistol is returned at his proposal after being knocked out by Spade in his first attempt.
In the petticoat front, Mary Astor is expert at conveying O’Shaughenessy’s cunning duplicity with brilliant timing of evasion, emotional manipulation and unalloyed desperation, and Lee Patrick, in the opposite scale, magnifies Sam’s unsung secretary Effie’s drinking-the—Kool-Aid alacrity without ever betraying her own agenda, a perfect secretary is like gold dust and she is definitely a keeper.
Visually, Huston’s brisk but concise action garnishes the narrative with a transfixing momentum that makes for a gratifyingly compulsive watching, and DP Arthur Edeson impressively flexes his muscles with the stark composition of chiaroscuro that would become the keynote of film noir that reflects the bleak underbelly of human nature and the suspect oscillation of human emotions.