Perhaps "The Maltese Falcon" is not the greatest detective story
ever filmed. But it is hard to find a better one, and much
harder to find a more enjoyable movie to watch.
One could say that "The Maltese Falcon" is full of cliches.
But since the film defines the genre, perhaps the real cliches
are from the later, derivative films. While the characters
may never transcend their well-defined caricatures, it is
hard to complain when the cast is so strong, the dialogue so
crisp, and the characters themselves are so interesting.
"The Maltese Falcon" is a legendary jewel-encrusted statue,
priceless but long since lost. Humphrey Bogart plays a
private eye who gradually gets caught up in the search for
the relic. He is not alone, as Sydney Greenstreet,
Peter Lorre, Mary Astor, and Elisha Cook Jr. are also
involved. All of the latter are ruthless, and will kill
if necessary to obtain the Falcon.
Bogart's is the central character. He is always wise to the
situation, cynical to the core, and always on top.
He is blessed with a personal secretary who will do anything
and everything without questioning why.
He is first hired by Astor, a femme fatale whose story
changes with every scene, and apparently is incapable of telling
the truth. Soon, his partner is murdered and police detectives
are turning up the heat. As Lorre, Greenstreet and Cook
enter the picture, Bogart has to play a dangerous hand,
trying to stay alive and out of jail while locating the Falcon
and (naturally) taking a share of the profits.
Peter Lorre is one of my all-time favorite character actors.
He has a terrific nasal voice and accent. He delivers my
favorite line from the film, "You dirty filthy liar you!"
It cracks me up every time I hear it.
"The Maltese Falcon" was released in 1941, the same year
as "Citizen Kane", and one year before "Casablanca", another
Warner Brothers production that also had Bogart, Lorre and
Greenstreet. The 1940s had so many great films, almost
all of them filmed in black and white. They knew how to
make 'em back then: emphasize cast, script and story, and never
mind the stunts and special effects.
Copyright © 1999 Brian Koller