Spade and Archer is the name of a San Francisco detective agency. That's for Sam Spade and Miles Archer. The two men are partners, but Sam doesn't like Miles much. A knockout, who goes by the name of Miss Wonderly, walks into their office; and by that night everything's changed. Miles is dead. And so is a man named Floyd Thursby. It seems Miss Wonderly is surrounded by dangerous men. There's Joel Cairo, who uses gardenia-scented calling cards. There's Kasper Gutman, with his enormous girth and feigned civility. Her only hope of protection comes from Sam, who is suspected by the police of one or the other murder. More murders are yet to come, and it will all be because of these dangerous men -- and their lust for a statuette of a bird: the Maltese Falcon. Written by
Warner Bros. planned to change the name of the film to "The Gent from Frisco" because the novel's title had already been used for The Maltese Falcon (1931). The studio eventually agreed to keep the original title at John Huston's insistence. See more »
(at around 1h 6 mins) "Los Angeles Fire Department" appears on the firefighters' hats. The film is set in San Francisco. See more »
Considered by many film historians as the very first noir film, "The
Maltese Falcon" is cinematically important also for making Humphrey
Bogart into a Hollywood star, and for being the debut of John Huston as
The film's story is complex and convoluted, typical of detective films
of that era, and involves a valuable statuette. The plot stalls and
meanders throughout most of the film, as we encounter an assortment of
strange characters and side issues. But this is not a plot-driven film.
It is character-driven.
And the main character, of course, is PI Sam Spade (Bogart). He's not a
particularly nice guy. He comes across as overconfident and egotistic.
He smirks a lot. But he's tough as nails. And he knows how to nail the
bad guys. A big part of the film is Spade's relationship to femme
fatale Brigid (Mary Astor). They engage each other in a battle of wits.
And there's more than a hint of romantic involvement between the two.
But Brigid is the one who propels Spade into the deceiving and
double-crossing world of bad guys who yearn with greed for the
priceless Maltese Falcon.
Enter Kasper Gutman, that thoroughly rotund and intimidating (in a
gentlemanly sort of way) king of greed, portrayed with verve and
panache by the inimitable Sydney Greenstreet. Gutman, AKA the "Fat
Man", is nothing if not erudite and self-assured. In one scene, Sam
Spade makes a bold offer. Gutman responds articulately: "That's an
attitude sir that calls for the most delicate judgment on both sides,
because as you know sir, in the heat of action, men are likely to
forget where their best interests lie ...".
And Peter Lorre is a hoot as Gutman's mischievous elf, Joel Cairo, who
tries, without success, to threaten Sam Spade, but only succeeds at
getting on Sam's nerves.
The film's high contrast B&W lighting renders an effective noir look
and feel, one that would be copied in films for years to come. Acting
varies from very good to overly melodramatic. The script is very talky.
For the most part, the film is just a series of conversations that take
place in interior sets.
Stylistic and cinematically innovative, "The Maltese Falcon" has
endured as a film classic. I suspect the main reason for its continued
popularity is the continued popularity of Bogart. But I personally
prefer the performance of Sydney Greenstreet, the enticing fat man.
Yet, together they would reappear in later films, one of which would
follow, in 1942, as the classic of all classics.
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