It’s been a while since I did one of these, so I thought I should pick something rather special. The Maltese Falcon (1941, John Huston) constantly tops polls of the greatest private eye films. It’s a very faithful adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s steely novel, with one of the great film ensembles.
Amazingly, this was Huston’s first film as director. No doubt his job was made much easier by his wonderful cast: Mary Astor as the duplicitous Brigid O’Shaughnessy, Peter Lorre as effeminate Joel Cairo, the expansive Sydney Greenstreet as Kasper Gutman and Elisha Cook Jnr. speaking through clenched teeth as the gunsel Wilmer.
This is the film that convinced Hollywood that Humphrey Bogart could be a romantic lead (in a sadistic kind of way). It’s a brilliant performance, by turns controlled, vicious and sardonic. Bogart is Sam Spade, and this is the film that made him a star.
The trailer displays many of those pleasurable features we’ve identified in others from the period. There’s the outré framing device, here Gutman addressing the audience directly. Look at the way he casts his eyes around, as though surveying those beneath him! Also, there are those wonderful captions describing the actors. I’m not going to spoil these ones. Just watch the video – they’re hysterical and yet magnificent.