There are some movies that have entered the common vernacular. Say “The Maltese Falcon” and people react. Even if they haven’t seen the film, people can describe the Black Bird, probably know it’s Humphrey Bogart, likely know the main character is Sam Spade, and may even know the final line (or, technically, the penultimate line) of the movie.
Well, if you haven’t seen the film, your missing one of the true classics, a movie that stands tall, even now. While today we think it synonymous “film noir,” stacked with great names like Bogie and Huston, Lorre and Greenstreet, was at the time really quite the low-budget, almost “indie” affair.
It was John Huston’s directorial debut, was Sydney Greenstreet’s first film performance, was a breakthrough role for both Bogie and Lorre who’d struggled in bad guy and bit-part roles for years. It was also the first to usher in the film noir style, and introduced the hard-boiled detective to the screen. As one reviewer said, it took murder out of the parlor room and put it in the back alley where it belongs.
In this new Blu-Ray edition, all the muddiness of previous versions is gone. You can see clearly the hallmarks of film noir–the low angles, the slashes of light, the scenes of grey on black. The action in “The Maltese Falcon” seems to occur in perpetual gloom, in a San Francisco where the sun only appears in the early morning, for a few moments, to come streaming in to light our haggard stars or show us the shadow of “Spade and Archer” from the window glass. This version is so clean, details lost through innumerable transfers are restored to us–the sparks of the electric match Bogie uses, the tulle on Iva’s veil, the tears in gunsel Wilmer’s eyes when he’s pushed to the edge by Sam Spade’s merciless ridicule. This was a joy to watch, just for the shots and the angles, but also because it is so refreshingly dreary; no one tells the truth, no one is the “good guy,” no one can be trusted, and even at the end, when Sam is trying to do the right thing, he’s saddened by his own morality.
This Blu-Ray edition comes with lots of extras, most of which I didn’t have time to go through on this first viewing. But at $15, how can you not have this in your collection?
Oh, and the “final line” of the movie? It isn’t Sam’s pithy pronouncement that the falcon is “The stuff dreams are made of.”
It’s Detective Tom’s response: “Huh?”