It looks like just another day at the detective agency for Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) when Miss Wonderly (Mary Astor) walks in requesting his assistance in tailing a man believed to have run off with her sister, but when Spade’s partner Miles Archer (Jerome Cowan) is shot and another body shows up later that night, Sam soon finds himself under question by the police. His gift of the gab can only talk himself out of so many predicaments, as he becomes entwined in a desperate search for a priceless artefact that everyone seems to crave.
When The Maltese Falcon was voted amongst this year’s Blind Spot picks, I knew for certain that I’d save it for November, as this is the month in which many other bloggers celebrate the genre of film noir (noir-vember, right?) and this is one of the most famous film noir examples I know of. It’s also the reason I read the book earlier this year, and I thoroughly enjoyed Dashiell Hammett’s knack for dialogue and plot reveals, but I was even more delighted to discover that it all worked just as well on screen, even if you’ve read the book relatively recently.
It’s no surprise that Bogart makes a terrific Sam Spade, what with it being one of his more famous roles, but he completely nails it. The way he plays every side for his own benefit, his ability to deliver the dialogue (“You can lose teeth, talking like that.”), how he talks slightly differently to the police, women or people trying to kill him, but always with the same sense of superiority, and best of all his grin, which melds from genuine pleasure to something far more evil and calculating just by subtly adjusting his eyes. The rest of the cast is pretty great too, particularly Peter Lorre as Joel Cairo, someone I had no idea was in this but who I was overjoyed to see because I never know what Lorre is going to do with a character.Plot-wise this is an incredibly dense film which, at just over 90 minutes long, moves along at the briskest of paces, never slowing down or including an inch of padding until we need to stop and take a breath during the climax. There’s a new twist or reveal around every other corner, and even when everything looks like it’s been resolved leaving Spade out of it, an impending corpse stumbles through his door to drag him right back inside. As an audience we’re never kept fully within the trust of anyone, even Spade, as he’ll often make deductions based on clues we’ve seen, but haven’t had explained to us outright, so repeat viewings would surely be rewarded.
The climax might be disappointing to some, but I find it perfect and satisfying. In fact I can’t really pick out a flaw in the film at all. It’s enjoyable, well acted, well directed, uses language I enjoy – words like “dingus” aren’t used enough these days – and if I’d seen it a few more times and knew it was something that held up again and again then it’d be a perfect 10 for this one.
Choose Film 9/10