Anthony's Film Review

The Maltese Falcon (1941)

The Maltese Falcon is truly the stuff that cinematic dreams are made of...

Humphrey Bogart is one of the greatest Hollywood actors ever, while Dashiell Hammett is one of the greatest crime novelists ever. The 1941 film The Maltese Falcon is a classic that celebrates both of these men. With Bogart playing private investigator Sam Spade in an adaptation of Hammett's novel of the same name, this movie is nothing but a cinematic gem. This is a film that appears in every film connoisseur's list of classic films. You'd be hard-pressed to find a film expert who leaves out The Maltese Falcon in such a list of top films.

I'm not going to go into the plot too much, but I'll at least give you a quick overview. At his office, a woman visits Spade and asks for help in getting her sister away from a crooked man named Floyd Thursby. For Spade and his associate Miles Archer, it sounds like an easy assignment. But things get complicated when Thursby and Archer are murdered. Not long after this, Spade encounters Brigid O'Shaughnessy (played by Mary Astor), a woman who is both beautiful and suspicious, as well as Joel Cairo (played by Peter Lorre), a bug-eyed man seeking a treasure: the Maltese Falcon, a 16th-century bird statuette made of gold and laced with gems. As the investigation goes from a murder mystery to a treasure hunt, Spade also meets Kasper Gutman (played by Sydney Greenstreet), a.k.a. the Fat Man, and the youngish criminal Wilmer Cook (played by Elisha Cook Jr.).

Some movies are enjoyable when the plot is understood and hated when the plot isn't. In my opinion, you can enjoy The Maltese Falcon whether or not you can actually follow this somewhat convoluted story. That's because the true essence of the film is not in the solving of the mystery, but in the performances of the cast. You can't help but be mesmerized by Humphrey Bogart's portrayal of a man who is cold yet cool, focused on his work but also charmed by Brigid O'Shaughnessy, and amoral while ultimately doing what seems right. The rest of the cast is equally superb, especially Mary Astor as a nervous and fast-talking O'Shaughnessy in her first scene.

If you think that's great, just wait for the last 15 minutes of the film. This is where all of the principal characters appear in the same scene and engage in an extended dialogue about the next course of action. Bogart is especially engaging here because he is intense in his train of thought. The other characters are also participating in this spontaneous conversation that just flows so nicely. It's as if Bogart is a conductor leading an orchestra. The dialogue in this scene really does feel like great music.

The Golden Age of Hollywood owes it to films like The Maltese Falcon for giving Tinseltown its glamorous image of fine cinematic art. The film really is that good, and it's almost entirely faithful to the classic novel Dashiell Hammett wrote. The Maltese Falcon is practically flawless like the legendary bird statuette everyone is seeking. This, of course, is where Bogart utters his famous line from this movie, referring to the bird as "the stuff that dreams are made of." Well, if you think about it, the film titled The Maltese Falcon is the stuff that cinematic dreams are made of.

Anthony's Rating:

For more information about The Maltese Falcon, visit the Internet Movie Database.


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