Maltese Falcon - Humphrey Bogart

This classic movie from 1941 is a great Film Noir in black and white. It's based on the 1930s book by Dashiell Hammett. There are spoilers in this review, so be warned.

Sam Spade is a San Francisco detective in 1928 that loves to drink whiskey. His partner, Archer, is knocked off almost immediately, working on a case. It turns out Sam is sleeping with Archer's wife. She really loves him, and was trying to divorce Archer to be with him. He dismisses her casually once she is "free". Sam also keeps his hand on his secretary's knee while she sits on his desk and lights his cigarette for him. She's the dutiful sweet-but-ditzy slave who does anything he wants without question. She even puts up his new girlfriend, Brigid for a few days in her own home. Sam's building an entire harem here.

That's only the beginning.

The core of the problem is a gold Maltese Falcon - tracing back to the Knights Templar many centuries ago. A number of double crossers are trying to get their hands on the gold. This includes Mary Astor who plays Brigid Wonderley / LeBlanc / O'Shaughnessey the multi-named woman. This is made fun of beautifully in the spoof "without a clue".

I love the characters in this story. Lorre is the well heeled gardenia-smelling Cairo. Brigid is a woman who loves to play roles to get what she wants. You've got a Fat Man who serves Sam whiskey each time they chat. Through it all waltzes Sam, who is sharp enough to change his attitude to suit the situation. He tells the DA that he knows he's under suspicion - and that the only way he sees to clear his name is to tie up the events and bring in the murderers all identified.

I love some of the quotes in here - "The cheaper the crook - the gaudier the patter", he says after the gunner makes a snide remark. Sam shows he can move in any circle - he goes up against the police, harasses the lowly gunners and can discuss issues with the educated as well. He can hold off the approaches of sexy women and keep a semi-clear mind.

On the other hand, for all his perfection, he tends to use the people around him without much concern. I love how he shakes up his secretary when she's about to pass out. None of that silly female behavior from her. He ditches the grieving widow, abandoning her completely even though she was ready to get divorced to be with him. The secretary has all sorts of wild demands made on her. "You're a good man, sister" he says to his secretary while abandoning her with a corpse. What's that mean, that she's useful, where a "normal" woman is not? Jeez :)

That's not to say that anybody in this story is a real "good guy". You'd think his love interest might be - but Brigid lies pretty much every second, with lies on lies on lies. Even when she says she's telling the truth, she's lying again. Sam is wise to it and turns her over to the police. "I don't care who loves who, I'm not playing the sap ... you killed Miles, and you're going over for it" he says. He gives his famous speech about having to do what's right.

I like how they show her "behind bars" as she gets into the elevator - and how he refuses to go with her. He takes his own path, with the "stuff dreams are made of" in his hands. As he explains, he might grieve for a few days, but he'll be right back to his cocky self after that. She made bad choices and will live with them. He made all the right choices, is quite happy with his conscience, and heck, he still has 2 women waiting for him.

Dashiell Hammett - Sam Spade
Mystery Book Reviews and Movie Reviews