The Maltese Falcon

Bomb Rating: 

Two Americans, the dead John Huston and the dead Humphrey Bogart, decided to exercise their mutual independence in 1941 (when they were alive) and remake this Dashiel Hammett story, although it had already been made twice before (in 1931, and in 1936 as "Satan Met a Lady" with that jezebel, Bette Davis). Given the cartoonish nature of their endeavor, these two misfits should be forever unforgiven as killers of originality. This film is no more than candy for a slow mind, and although a breakout for Huston, it's still little more than a victory for stupidity.

The bible on film noir is simple: Law and order gives way to Freudian dialogue as strangers meet in the asphalt jungle (in this case, San Francisco) and attempt to beat the devil (their own dark desires) while swirling in the black cauldron of fat city. In this case, Sam Spade (Bogart) takes a walk with love and death when Brigid O'Shaughnessy (Mary Astor) shows up and gets him involved with a scheme to retrieve a valuable statue -- the Maltese Falcon. Sam's wise blood is quick to recognize Brigid's phobia of the truth. Also on the trail of the Falcon are Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre), Kasper Gutman (Sydney Greenstreet) and Gutman's henchman, Wilmer (Elisha Cook Jr.).

The large key to the treasure of the mother land is Brigid, who plays the lovesick African queen one minute and, the very next, a wily geisha who tries to seduce Spade, hoping to get her tentacles on the falcon by making him feel like the man who would be king. It seems everyone he meets in this storm of deceit wants to shake Sam down. Lorre shows up, looking, as always, like a "Planet of the Apes" battle survivor. Then comes another visitor, Greenstreet, who's so fat, he could stop a lava flow head on if he stood under the volcano.

As is typical of his performances, Bogart displays all the emotion of a eunich in the Moulin Rouge. After death drives through his partner, Miles Archer, Spade has Iva (Gladys George) paint over Archer's name before rigor mortis even has time to set in. When Archer's wife shows up, it's actually surprising they don't run off to Chinatown to play a little game of "the amazing Dr. Clitterhouse." But Spade has already grown bored with cardinal sin and he's happy to spend his nights beating the old iguana.

In a film full of misdemeanors, crimes and misrepresentation, the worst of them is committed by Huston himself for simply getting so carried away.

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