The Maltese Falcon (1941) – John Huston

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Humphrey Bogart stars in this classic film noir that is the first recommendation from the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book for my screening of The Big Sleep.

Dashiel Hammett’s book comes to life under the direction of John Huston, who also penned the adapted screenplay, with gumshoe Sam Spade (Bogart) finding himself in a case that sees him framed for the murder of his partner Archer (Jerome Cowan), possibly romancing Archer’s wife, Iva (Gladys George), working for Brigid O’Shaughnessey (Mary Astor), who seems to lie to Spade from the get go as everyone, including Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre) and Kasper Gutman (Sydney Greenstreet), are trying to track down a priceless statuette… a Maltese Falcon.

In typical noir fashion, no one can be trusted, everyone has an ulterior motive, a hidden agenda, and you have to wonder if any single one of them can be trusted.

Bogart is perfectly cast, and is quite at home in the shoes of a noir detective, he helped to define the entire genre, and he never seems more comfortable than when he has a fedora pulled down over his brow, and watching folks trying to put one over on him.

Huston keeps the story running, and the plot twisting, and things move quickly, as lives are spent, bullets fly, and Sam Spade tries to dig out the truth while keeping himself one step ahead of the police who want to arrest him for the murder of his partner.

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The film looks amazing, even now, Huston’s mastery is shown on the screen, and it looks great, the framing, the acting, the style of the film. And after all this time, I still love it.

Many things have been said about this film over the years, including the fact that with one film, Huston and Bogart almost single-handedly created the film genre of noir. It’s amazing.

I love the dance of dialogue that seems to go around between Brigid and Spade, all emphasized with an undertone of romantic tension, tinted, let’s be honest, doused in a measure of danger.

This film has gone on to influence so many other films that have followed it, but the ones that pop into the foremost of my mind is The Big Goodbye episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Still, the film has left its mark not only on its own genre but countless others.

And it’s films like this that make it so difficult to select a favorite performance of mine from Bogart. Rick in Casablanca is usually my choice, but there’s something so cynical, and yet so at-ease in his turns as a gumshoes, that it’s hard not to say, no, THAT, is my favorite.

This is arguably the film that started one of my favorite genres, and is a great place to be before I dig into the remaining recommendations from The Big Sleep.

What is your favorite noir film?

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