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The Maltese Falcon

THE MALTESE FALCON



USA, 1941


Director: John Huston

Production: Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.; black and white, 35mm; running time: 100 minutes. Released 3 October 1941. Filmed June-July, 1941 in Warner Bros. studios. Cost: budgeted at $300,000.


Producers: Hal B. Wallis with Henry Blanke; screenplay: John Huston, from the novel by Dashiell Hammett; photography: Arthur Edeson; editor: Thomas Richards; sound: Oliver S. Garretson; art director: Robert Haas; music: Adolph Deutsch; musical director: Leo. F. Forbstein; costume designer: Orry-Kelly.


Cast: Humphrey Bogart (Sam Spade); Mary Astor (Brigid O'Shaughnessy); Sidney Greenstreet (Kasper Gutman, the Fat Man); Peter Lorre (Joel Cairo); Elisha Cook, Jr. (Wilmer Cook); Lee Patrick (Effie Perine); Barton MacLane (Detective Lieutenant); Jerome Cowan (Miles Archer); Gladys George (Iva Archer); Ward Bond (Detective Polhaus); James Burke (Luke); Murray Alper (Frank Richman); John Hamilton (Bryan); Walter Huston (Ship's officer).


Publications


Script:

Huston, John, The Maltese Falcon, New York, 1974.

Books:

Davay, Paul, John Huston, Paris, 1957.

Allais, Jean-Claude, John Huston, Paris, 1960.

Nolan, William, John Huston, King Rebel, New York, 1965.

Hill, Jonathan, and Jonah Ruddy, Bogey: The Man, The Actor, TheLegend, London, 1965.

Hyams, Joe, Bogie, New York, 1966.

Benayoun, Robert, John Huston, Paris, 1966; revised edition, 1985.

Cecchini, Riccardo, John Huston, Viridiana, 1969.

Tozzi, Romano, John Huston: A Picture Treasure of His Films, New York, 1971.

McArthur, Colin, Underworld U.S.A., London, 1972.

Sklar, Robert, Movie-Made America, New York, 1975.

Madsen, Axel, John Huston, New York, 1978.

Kaplan, E. Ann, editor, Women in Film Noir, London, 1978.

Kaminsky, Stuart M., John Huston: Maker of Magic, Boston, 1978.

Silver, Alain, and Elizabeth Ward, editors, Film Noir, Woodstock, New York, 1979.

Pettigrew, Terence, Bogart: A Definitive Study of His Film Career, London, 1981.

Giannetti, Louis, Masters of the American Cinema, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1981.

Winkler, Willi, Humphrey Bogart und Hollywoods Schwarze Serie, Munich, 1985.

Hammen, Scott, John Huston, Boston, 1985.

Fuchs, Wolfgang J., Humphrey Bogart, Cult-Star: A Documentation, Berlin, 1987.

McCarty, John, The Films of John Huston, Secaucus, New Jersey, 1987.

Studlar, Gaylyn, editor, Reflections in a Male Eye: John Huston & theAmerican Experience, Washington, D.C., 1993.

Cooper, Stephen, Perspectives on John Huston, New York, 1994.

Luhr, William, editor, The Maltese Falcon: John Huston, Director, New Brunswick, New Jersey, 1996.

Brill, Lesley, John Huston's Filmmaking, New York, 1997.

Cohen, Allen, John Huston: A Guide to References & Resources, New York, 1997.

Cunningham, Ernest W., Ultimate Bogie, Los Angeles, 1999.


Articles:

Variety (New York), 1 October 1941.

New York Times, 4 October 1941.

Times (London), 22 June 1942.

"Huston Issue" of Positif (Paris), August 1952.

"John Huston," in Films and Filming (London), October 1954.

Barnes, Peter, "Gunman No. 1," in Films and Filming (London), September 1955.

Houston, Penelope, "The Private Eye," in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1956.

"Huston Issue" of Positif (Paris), January 1957.

"Huston Issue" of Bianco e Nero (Rome), April 1957.

Archer, Eugene, in Film Culture (New York), no. 19, 1959.

Archer, Eugene, in Films and Filming (London), September and October 1959.

Martin, Marcel, in Cinéma (Paris), no. 64, 1962.

Eyles, Allen, in Films and Filming (London), November 1964.

Mallory, David, in Film Society Review (New York), February 1966.

Taylor, John Russell, "John Huston and the Figure in the Carpet," in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1969.

Schrader, Paul, "Notes on Film Noir," in Film Comment (New York), Spring 1972.

Naremore, James, "John Huston and The Maltese Falcon," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), July 1973.

Gow, Gordon, "Pursuit of the Falcon," in Films and Filming (London), March 1974.

Beal, Greg, and Peg Masterson, in Cinema Texas Program Notes (Austin), 16 September 1976.

Profirio, Robert, "No Way Out," in Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1976.

Guerif, F., in Lumière du Cinéma (Paris), March 1977.

McVay, Douglas, in Focus on Film (London), no. 30, 1978.

Journal of Popular Film (Washington, D.C), vol. 7, no. 1, 1978.

Benayoun, Robert, in Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), 1 October 1979.

Everson, William K., in Films in Review (New York), March 1980.

Jenkins, Stephen, "Dashiell Hammett and Film Noir," in MonthlyFilm Bulletin (London), November, 1982.

Benaquist, L., "Function and Index in Huston's The Maltese Falcon," in Film Criticism (Edinboro, Pennsylvania), Winter 1982.

Johnson, W., "Sound and Image," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), no. 1, 1989.

Maxfield, J. F., "'La Belle Dame Sans Merci' and the Neurotic Knight: Characterization in The Maltese Falcon," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), no. 4, 1989.

Reid's Film Index (Wyong), no. 6, 1991.

Marling, W., "On the Relation Between American Roman Noir and Film Noir," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), no. 3, 1993.

Edelman, Lee, "Plasticity, Paternity, Perversity: Freud's 'Falcon,' Huston's 'Freud,"' in American Imago, (Highland Park, New Jersey), Spring 1994.

Thomson, D., "Junior," in Film Comment (New York), vol. 31, September/October 1995.

Gale, Steven H., "The Maltese Falcon: Melodrama or Film Noir?" in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury), vol. 24, no. 2, April 1996.

Marks, M., "Music, Drama, Warner Brothers: The Cases for Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon," in Michigan QuarterlyReview, vol. 35, no. 1, 1996.

Turner, George, "The Maltese Falcon: A Tale Thrice Filmed," in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), vol. 78, no. 4, April 1997.

Boon, Kevin A., "In Debt to Dashiell: John Huston's Adaptation of The Maltese Falcon," in Creative Screenwriting (Washington, D.C.), vol. 4, no. 2, Summer 1997.


* * *

The Maltese Falcon opens with credits appearing over the falcon statue, which casts a shadow into the depth of the frame. There follows a printed commentary, over the image, about the falcon's history. A shot of San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge, establishes location, and we move to the Spade and Archer sign on the window of their office. The shadow letters "Spade and Archer" appear on the office floor throughout the opening scene. Spade and Archer share the same office, are inextricably linked, and, we discover, even share Archer's wife, Iva (Gladys George). John Huston, in his first directing effort, quickly establishes the link between the two men so that later, when Spade (Humphrey Bogart) denounces Brigid (Mary Astor) for Archer's murder, we understand that it has nothing to do with Spade's like or dislike of his partner. The situation and atmosphere have been economically achieved.

To emphasize the construction of investigation, Huston frequently limits the space in which Spade must move. Spade's office is small; so is his apartment. In fact, in a departure from convention, Huston chose to build some of his sets with ceilings. (The more usual procedure during that period of filmmaking was not to show the ceiling so that lights could be placed above the action and the camera could be free to move upward) Huston also explored a unique style of framing with The Maltese Falcon. Following his own sketches, he set up shots as if they were paintings. For instance, Huston placed characters in the foreground of a shot, their faces often covering half the screen. Frequently, too, the character is not talking, but listening. His reactions thus become more important than those of the person who is speaking or moving.

The Maltese Falcon presented situations that Huston would return to again and again. Spade is the obsessed professional, a proud man who will adhere to a principle unto death. Women are a threat, temptations that can only sway the hero from his professional commitment. They may be wilfully trying to deceive, as Brigid and Iva, or (as in later Huston films), they may be the unwitting cause of the protagonist's defeat or near-defeat. Protagonists in Huston films frequently take risks, gamble with their lives. Spade constantly taunts the mad Wilmer, even using Huston's favourite personal referent— "kid"—to goad him. The taunting is potentially dangerous, but Spade enjoys it.

As Huston was to develop as a director, the image of the ill-fated group that begins with Falcon was to emerge more strongly. Gutman, Cairo, Wilmer, and Brigid are parts of an alliance of greed. They distrust each other but also respect each other. Spade refuses to join the group and survives. The others don't. Huston was to increasingly develop the idea that groups are doomed families, the survivors of which must learn to accept defeat with grace and dignity.

The idea of appreciating expert deception also emerges in Falcon. Bogart's admiration for Brigid's ability to lie is part of his love for her "You're good, you're real good," he says with a smile after a particular lie. In contrast, Spade is scornful of Iva because her lies are so transparent. A Huston hero, like Huston, appreciates wit, intelligence, and a good performance even if they come from a consummate villain.

Although Huston and others have suggested that The Maltese Falcon is almost a line-by-line filming of the novel, there are important technical and sequential, as well as plot and character, differences between the two versions of the story. Hammett's original novel was written and set in 1928–1929; the Huston version is clearly updated to 1940. Also, the conclusions of Hammett's novel is quite different from that of Huston's film. The film ends with Sam Spade watching Brigid disappear through the prisonlike bars of the elevator of his apartment building. Hammett's novel ends with Spade back in his office, where he puts his arm around the waist of his secretary, Effie, and she pulls away from him in confusion because he has turned Brigid in. The novel's last few lines indicate that Spade will have to deal with Iva Archer, who has come to see him again.

Such alterations are, however, less important than the film's dark humor, the deceit and paranoia of its characters, and the brooding darkness and matter-of-fact presentation that made The Maltese Falcon the first clear step into film noir.


—Stuart M. Kaminsky

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