Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Vintage Film Review: The Maltese Falcon

I do like a Film Noir.  I love all the high-contrast lighting, the femme fatales, and the cynical anti-hero detectives with their own moral codes and well-stocked home bars.  Humphrey Bogart is the archetypal detective, hard-boiled and flawed.  I couldn't believe I'd never seen The Maltese Falcon, often cited as the first true Film Noir, so when we spotted it on VHS in a charity shop we snapped it up.  (Tip: VHS is amazing for getting to watch videos of old films, you can pick up a player for around £5 in charity shops etc.).

The Maltese Falcon

Released in 1941, the Maltese Falcon is directed by John Houston and co-stars Mary Astor, who I hadn't come across before, but I discovered that she started out in silent movies.  Bogart is the Private Eye, whilst Astor is the shifty client who is acting the role of her lifetime as she tries to get Bogart to help her.  There are murders from the start, and a few unsavoury characters emerge over the course of the story, all trying to get their hands on a priceless statuette.

The Maltese Falcon
From left: Humphrey Bogart, Peter Lorre, Mary Astor, Sydney Greenstreet

I was pleased to see Peter Lorre, whom you'll know if you've seen Arsenic and Old Lace, and Sydney Greenstreet, who went on to play opposite Bogart again in Casablanca.

The Maltese Falcon

It's a bit of an odd film because it's all about conversations; there really isn't that much action, despite the murders (we only get to see one of them briefly on screen).  The tension in this film is in the dialogue between the characters.  The murders, the falcon, they're all backdrop.  There are some gems in the dialogue, especially in the monologues that Bogart gets to deliver, and there's some wonderful humour (my favourite is Lorre's second attempt to search Bogart's office).  I have to say that I didn't warm to Astor.  I found her character a bit tiresome, particularly in comparison to Bogart's stalwart secretary (Una Merkel).

It's an odd film on another level, in that it's a remake that on paper was never going to be a success.  Bogart had been typecast previously in a series of gangster films.  Mary Astor hadn't transitioned well from the silent movies, she wasn't deemed 'sexy' enough for this role, and the script was the same as that used in the 1931 version ten years earlier, as they couldn't afford a re-write.  Against these odds, the direction and acting came together to produce a film that spawned a new genre.

I have to say that it wasn't my favourite Film Noir.  I'm glad to have seen it, but I have seen far superior films in the genre, such as Double Indemnity (1944) and The Big Sleep (1946).  If you want to see the 1931 version then try this link here (I haven't watched it all the way through, so please let me know if it works!). 

Have you seen this film?  What did you think?  Have you a favourite Film Noir?


  1. Yes I have. Always a delight to watch again and again.
    great pics.

  2. I have seen it, but like you, I prefer other film noir experiences. Kiss Me Deadly is superb. xxx

  3. I think I struggle with Film Noir - actually I struggle with a lot of films, they just don't hold me the way books do! I remember trying to watch Double Indeminity and not really getting it, but I'm very easily distracted... I probably just need to put the internet down for five seconds ;) xx

  4. LOL, "well-stocked home bars." Isn't that so true though! ;)

  5. I think I like the idea of film noir more than I enjoy actually watching the movies. They're stylistically so interesting, but they can be a little slow for my tastes. I guess I'm just more of a screwball comedy girl.
    I haven't seen The Maltese Falcon, but I did read the book, which I really enjoyed.

  6. Oh goodness, yes, I seriously adore film noir very much including this awesome movie. I just want to go back to the 30s - 40s and be a sultry femme fatale perched on the end of a brooding detective's desk (yes, I'm uber stereotyping the genre :D).

    ♥ Jessica

    1. Hehehe - Jessica Rabbit! :-D

  7. It's a great film in many ways, but not my favourite noir either. If it counts as noir, my favourite - possibly my favourite film ever - is the Third Man, starring Joseph Cotten and Orson Welles. It's just flawless. Of ones set in America, probably Double Indemnity or The Killers.

  8. I have been considering watching this film recently, so this review had perfect timing! Perhaps I'll watch a few other noir's first, as I am new to the genre. I wonder if anyone has a list of the top noir films for fashionable dames? I like me some dark mystery and everything, but I watch for the fashions most of all if I'm honest!


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