Jerome’s 100 Favorite Movies Ever: The Maltese Falcon

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(Check out the list so far)

The Movie: The Maltese Falcon (1941)

One Sentence Plot Summary: Sam Spade exposes the dangers of greed in one of the greatest film noirs ever made in a story involving murder and a valuable fake falcon.

Why It’s on the List: Part of what makes the film noir genre so fun is the idea of trying to solve the mystery one’s self. The drive of the film, no matter how weird the plot or characters, is the idea that you are going to find out someone has done a very bad thing. Humphrey Bogart is the perfect person to play the lead detective, Sam Spade. He’s not the best looking guy, but he comes across as competent, is always ready with a one liner, and can maneuver his way through the right and wrong sides of the law. 

There are a million noirs from this era, but this is one to make the cut because the story is compelling. Everyone involved is chasing this extremely valuable falcon. They’re willing to pay a lot of money and commit some crimes along the way. Sam Spade does have a partner who gets knocked off very early on, and the rest of the movie is him trying to figure out whodunnit even though it seems he really didn’t like his partner. It’s unclear whether he really loves O’Shaughnessy, whether he really wants the falcon, or whether he likes the cops or not. Up until the very end, Spade and writer/director John Huston keeps you guessing.

This probably puts me in the problematic category, but I don’t really buy Mary Astor as being a knockout. She gives a fine performance and really hits the emotional beats well, but I didn’t buy her as the ultimate desire like an Ingrid Bergman or some other female actors from this era. Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet excel as the heavies of the film. They hold up their end of this hard-boiled bargain. The Maltese Falcon ultimately has a bit of a bittersweet ending as all the main characters except Spade go to jail.

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#problematic:  

*Spade’s secretary Effie has some fun moments, but she’s very much sidelined when things get heavy and apparently has “woman’s intuition” about people.

MVP and Best Performance: John Huston is an iconic director for this and so many other films, but I have to give it to Bogart as he dominates the action and is in 99% of the movie. He had been around Hollywood for a long time and had been either a sidekick or heavy in almost every movie up to this point. This is one of his earliest leading good guy roles and he really only had about a decade of doing that before his passing.

Best Quote: “When a man’s partner is killed, he’s supposed to do something about it. It doesn’t make any difference what you thought of him. He was your partner and you’re supposed to do something about it. And it happens we’re in the detective business. Well, when one of your organization gets killed, it’s-it’s bad business to let the killer get away with it, bad all around, bad for every detective everywhere.” Sam Spade

Is there a sequel? This movie had been made a couple of times before, but this is the most successful version. Bogart didn’t really play in film noirs a great deal after this, which is surprising given the praise this movie has received.

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Follow Jerome on Twitter, and check out Reel BadThe Superhero Pantheon and his new podcast Pantheon Plus.

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