Directed By: John Huston
Written By: John Huston (screenplay), Dashiell Hammett (novel)
This movie is legendary for a number of reasons. It is credited with being the first Film Noir as well as being called one of the greatest detective films of all time. It was the directorial debut of Hollywood legend John Huston and the acting debut of Sydney Greenstreet. Despite all these reasons that make it significant I think the greatest of them was that it launched the career of Humphrey Bogart on to greater things. All of this is beside the point though because this is a great movie. When a movie is great it doesn’t need to be recognized as being significant but simply enjoyed because it is awesome.
I was introduced to this film in a high school film class and credit it almost as much as any film (aside from Casablanca) with teaching me the value of the classics. I would have never paid any mind to a film this old when I was 16 but when I was obligated to watch it I didn’t just get into it but l thought it was really good. It was certifiable evidence right before my eyes that I had been missing out by not looking back to what was accomplished in film before I, or even my parents had been born. As interesting and incredible as the film was I think more than anything the role of Sam Spade played by Humphrey Bogart was what appealed to me.
If Humphrey Bogart needed intro music for anything today he would have to go with that song I don’t know by name “started from the bottom now I’m here.” That song goes well with plenty but Bogart truly was a guy that started at the bottom and worked his way up to the top. For years he was held down by the Warner Brothers and cast in bit parts, usually as a mobster. Viewed as not attractive enough to be a leading man by the execs in charge Bogart spent a long time paying his dues with the studio. Even when this movie was in production he wasn’t wanted for the lead role. After seeing what he was able to do once given the opportunity I don’t know what those guys were thinking and Bogey sure made them look stupid. As Sam Spade he was a straight up badass all the way around. One of my favorite parts is when he disarms Cairo and holds him by the arm for a moment before giving him a knuckle sandwich. It’s awesome for two reasons really, one being the sly smile he has on his face before punching him and the second being that he only hit him that once. Oh the days of honest film making when everyone didn’t have to have a ridiculous knock down drag out fight over everything.
Bogart was great in this movie in every way. He was cool, he was sly, and he charmed everybody involved in a plot bigger than he was. That plot was filled with actors who would become synonymous with the era. To this day I always have the Looney Tunes impressions of Peter Lorre in the back of my head. They pop up every so often when someone I know does something sneaky and I never have anyone around who would appreciate the relation if I pointed it out. I thought Lorre was great in Casablanca but in this film he has a larger and more important part. Only Lorre could play the sly kind of character that gets his gun back only to again try to hold the man who initially disarmed him hostage. I love how he points the gun at Sam Spade again who simply laughs and allows him to search his office because there is no reason to cause a fuss. Lorre was a great actor who like Bogart found great success with this film. He would go on to act alongside Sydney Greenstreet for many more films after this one.
If Sydney Greenstreet was still alive today he would be a shoe in to play The Kingpin in any of the Spiderman films. Greenstreet for all I know was the original influence of the Marvel character who controlled all crime with an iron fist. Greenstreet was a very large man but managed to move with an authority that mirrored that size. He conveyed power with his every word and movement. He was an excellent boss in a film that built mystery up to this big bad guy that was above all the others. He plays a very similar character in Casablanca and although I haven’t seen many of his other films I am under the impression he took this persona to those as well. I didn’t know for sure if he had any influence on the character when I started this post but now having done minimal research I can report that I was right. Not an arrogant way to say it at all right? Actually this is one of those rare moments when a person thinks something not many other are likely to know and it turns out to be right, excuse me while I relish in the feeling. Sydney Greenstreet was actually who The Kingpin was based off of and I can say that with accuracy now. That not only makes Sydney Greenstreet instantly cooler but it makes the part he plays in this movie even more significant.
As the lead actress in this film I thought Mary Astor did a terrific job. She was deceptive and mysterious to keep us guessing until the end. I am not overly familiar with her career beyond this film because the movie so seriously outdates my capabilities as a viewer. I thought she was great in this film though and specifically like how she interacted with Humphrey Bogart. I love in the end how he so casually tells her that she should only get twenty years but that he will be there waiting for her when she gets out. Damn that Sam Spade was a smooth M-Fer.
This film is legendary for so many reason but above all the other reasons is that this film was simply the beginning of something greater. These actors, with Huston at the helm, would go on to make many movies together. I haven’t seen all of them and I am not the person you need to read if you want to know more beyond this film. I consider Humphrey Bogart a personal hero and have since a young age but we don’t own many of his films. John Huston was a legendary figure in film history but we don’t own many of his movies either. Sadly when it comes to Huston the best I can offer is Chinatown. A great film in which he plays a terrific, although deranged part. He was near the end of his career then though and nothing I could have said about him in regards to that film should matter. When it comes to John Huston I want to encourage you to research him on your own. I don’t know enough to tell you anything really significant but if you are a film fan you should study Huston. He was a Hollywood legend who left a major impact on the industry long before you were born.
If you are a serious film fan then I have told you nothing new about this film because you have undoubtedly seen it and have your own opinions. If you are a film fanatic who hasn’t seen this movie then let me encourage you to do so. This is one of the great films that paved the way for the industry when it was still a developing thing. This movie was made in 1941 for crying out loud. If I can watched it over 70 years later and still see so much to appreciate then it is something that is worth your time. Plenty of movies have been great in the last 100 years but not all of them are going to have staying power for the future. This is one of the films that will, it will be a survivor. With this film we will always have a reminder of the talents of Humphrey Bogart, of Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet, and we will always know that John Huston was a man who knew a thing or two about making films.
This movie always reminds me of a young love I had in high school with Ryan. Ryan was always a movie buff. He always liked all of these movies that hardly anyone our age had ever even heard of. What does a girl do when she wants to steal away the heart of a man that loves movies that much? She takes a film critique class. And so I got to watch this movie by taking this class.
Humphrey Bogart is an amazing actor from his era, and left such an impression on movies for the future that came after. I love the over-the-top acting from movies like this and the accents from the women are just beautiful and speak volumes of the era.
This is what I found when searching for a poster for this film. This is cool and all and fits with the style of the time, but it isn’t really original. The typography is nice and it shows that Bogart and Astor are the title characters and that The Maltese Falcon is the title of the film. It would be really fun to recreate this poster one day, just for fun.
NEXT MOVIE: The Manchurian Candidate (1962)