The Maltese Falcon: Take 1
August 31, 2009 7:04 AM   Subscribe

The Maltese Falcon: Take 1. The classic Humphrey Bogart Maltese Falcon (1941) was the third movie version of Dashiell Hammett's novel. The first movie was made in 1931.

The movie starred "Latin Lover" Ricardo Cortez (born Jacob Krantz) as Sam Spade, Bebe Daniels as Ruth Wonderly, Dudley Digges as Casper Gutman, and Otto Matieson as Joel Cairo.

Since it was a pre-Code movie, the 1931 version is considerably racier than the 1941 version. Sam Spade sleeps with every female character: when Miles Acher's widow sees Ruth Wonderly in Spade's bedroom, she exclaims "Who's that dame in my kimono?" Gunsel Wilmer is explicitly Casper Gutman's boyfriend. Both the 1931 and 1941 version are pretty faithful to the novel, except they both omit the Flitcraft Parable and the novel's ending, where Sam Spade renews his affair with Iva Archer. The 1931 version adds a character that solves one of the story's mysteries; it involves Sam Spade speaking Chinese.

The second version (trailer) was the 1936 Satan Met a Lady, which starred Warren William as Sam Spade Ted Shan, Bette Davis as Ruth Wonderly Valerie Purvis ("she's as harmless as a hungry panther!"), Alison Skipworth as Kasper Gutman Madame Barabas, and Arthur Treacher as Joel Cairo Anthony Travers. In addition to changing the city and all the characters' names, they're looking for the horn of Roland instead of the Falcon. ("A cynical farce of elaborate and sustained cheapness...a farrago of nonsense." From the contemporary New York Times review.) Bette Davis hated the movie and tried to break her contract with Warner Brothers over it. ("I was so distressed by the whole tone of the script and the vapidity of my part that I marched up to Mr. Warner's office and demanded that I be given work that was commensurate with my proven ability.")

"The Three Sam Spades: The Shifting Model of American Masculinity in the Three Films of The Maltese Falcon" from Framework: The Journal of Cinema and Media is an interesting comparison of the three movies and their protagonists.

The Kniphausen Hawk was supposedly the inspiration for the actual Maltese Falcon statuette. The falcon statuette is one of Adam Savage's obsessions (along with dodos) and he sculpted his own replica.

The 1931 version is sometimes called Dangerous Female to distinguish it from the Bogart classic. The three-disc special edition DVD includes all three movies. Warren William, who played the Sam Spade character in Satan Met a Lady, played Perry Mason in a series of films in the earle '30s, and was replaced in 1936 by Ricardo Cortez, the first movie's Sam Spade.
posted by kirkaracha (37 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
Not to be confused with the Maltese Falcon.
posted by adamvasco at 7:09 AM on August 31, 2009


Even with the Hays Code in place, I thought that it was made pretty obvious in the '41 version that Sam was sleeping with all the women in it. "What else is there I can buy you with?"
posted by octothorpe at 7:14 AM on August 31, 2009


The 1931 Maltese Falcon was terrible. And I'm not just saying that because I think that only Bogart could play Spade. For example, I think Nicholson could have done a good job, decades later.

Really, Cortez played Spade as kind of an irredeemable slimeball. Bogart's Spade was both a slimeball and a charmer. I think that's essential to the character.
posted by Afroblanco at 7:15 AM on August 31, 2009


I saw the Bogart version for the first time a couple years ago. I was really surprised at how modern it seemed. Maybe that's because later filmmakers patterned after it somewhat.

Also, Bacall.

And I was surprised when we actually saw the falcon. Somehow I had gotten the impression that it was like the contents of the briefcase in Pulp Fiction--always invisible to the audience. In fact, I think I got that impression from someone explaining PF as being similar to MF. I didn't see any particular similarities, other than that both movies have a McGuffin.
posted by DU at 7:15 AM on August 31, 2009


DU, Bacall was in The Big Sleep, Maltese Falcon started Mary Astor.
posted by octothorpe at 7:22 AM on August 31, 2009


Also, Bacall.

Uh, no. You're thinking of The Big Sleep, or maybe Key Largo or To Have and Have Not or Dark Passage. But not The Maltese Falcon.
posted by middleclasstool at 7:24 AM on August 31, 2009


WTH? B&B were only in 4 movies together? And I haven't seen any of them?!

In fact, looking at her filmography from the 40s/50s, I don't remember seeing any of these. I seem to have fallen into some kind of alternate universe that doesn't have the movie I remember seeing with B&B. How embarassing.
posted by DU at 7:31 AM on August 31, 2009


Really, Cortez played Spade as kind of an irredeemable slimeball.

That's actually a bit more accurate to Hammett's novel, if I remember my reading of it correctly (it's been several years). I recall Hammett's novel being on the whole far less snappy and charming, way more gritty and realistic. Very much like a former Pinkerton would have written it. Remember Joel Cairo's entrance in the movie?

Effie brings Spade Cairo's calling card. Spade reads it, sniffs it, raises a quizzical eyebrow. Effie smirks. "Gardenia," she says. Spade smirks. "Quick darling, in with him." Later, in case you didn't get the reference, there's a shot of Cairo with his cane handle near his lips.

The book's choice is probably way more realistic but far more blunt. Effie comes in, gives Spade the card. Effie says "This guy is queer." To which Spade replies, "Then quick, darling, in with him."

I recall the whole novel, and Spade's character in particular, being very much less polished and charming than he is in the movie. I prefer Huston and Bogart's version too, but then (1) I saw the movie first, (2) noir was very much its own thing decades before I was born, and The Maltese Falcon film is recognized by pretty much everyone as its Platonic Ideal, and (3) the darker, grittier portrayal of Spade and the whole story is almost certainly the more honest and realistic.
posted by middleclasstool at 7:37 AM on August 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


Speaking of glowing suitcases and slimy private eyes, I caught Robert Aldritch's Kiss Me Deadly this week. It's where Quentin Tarantino got the idea for the glowing case in Pulp Fiction. It also has what is probably the most repulsive protagonist in a Hollywood movie. If you really want to see an actor commit to making the audience hate his character, Afroblanco, check it out.

On topic, great post. I have the 3-disc DVD set with all three versions. If you've got a lot of time, try watching them all back to back. As kirkaracha said, it's striking how much they dialed back the innuendo in the second version (although some of it crept back into the Bogart version).
posted by Rangeboy at 7:39 AM on August 31, 2009


Superb post. Thanks.
posted by hydatius at 7:39 AM on August 31, 2009


I haven't seen the 1931 version yet, but I watch the '41 every year or so. God, what a terrific movie. It's hard to say that there is anything underrated about it, it's a basically universally revered film, and rightfully so, but I submit that Mary Astor's performance is underrated. She's great in this film.

Spoiler? The scene near the end where it all unravels for her, and Bogey is chewing up the scenery at his spit-lipped best, Mary Astor is quietly brilliant on the other side - duplicitous, desperate and trapped. The character is smart enough to get away with everything, can't quite believe that she's been beaten, and can't fully let go of the world that is falling down around her.

She's not made of sex like Lauren Bacall (who is?) but Mary Astor is awesome. The section I'm talking about starts at maybe 6:45 in this clip.
posted by dirtdirt at 8:04 AM on August 31, 2009


Note: the 1941 version was said to have been done without a script. The cast were given a copy of the novel. So changes from the novel were done by a bunch of people who KNEW how to make a good movie. And, when you watch the movie (again) play close attention to Spade's face when he's putting off Iva Archer (in his office). Talk about microexpressions -- Bogart was a consummate actor or had a very convenient facial tic.

Re dirtdirt's comment on Mary Astor, "not made of sex," WRONG. Per "Hollywood Babylon." Mary was notorious in her personal life.
posted by RichardS at 8:42 AM on August 31, 2009


Mary was notorious in her personal life.

Perhaps, but I'm talking about the movies here.
posted by dirtdirt at 8:47 AM on August 31, 2009


The moment when Elisha Cook, Jr. realizes he's going to be the patsy is the greatest moment in film duplicity I have ever seen.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:59 AM on August 31, 2009


I'd love to own that box-set some day, but nt today. However, I absolutely LOVE the typography on the poster for the '31 version. Typographers were doing then (up through the 50's moderne stuff) what it seems like every one since has been trying to re-capture.
posted by Devils Rancher at 9:12 AM on August 31, 2009


Not to get into a femme fatale war here, but put me down as someone who likes everything about the Bogart "Falcon" except for Mary Astor.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 9:12 AM on August 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


RichardS, there was a script. A very faithful script, but still, a script.
posted by shetterly at 9:31 AM on August 31, 2009


The moment when Elisha Cook, Jr. realizes he's going to be the patsy is the greatest moment in film duplicity I have ever seen.

IMO a terribly underrated actor. He did some solid acting over the years. Sad that he ended his career mostly doing guest appearances on crap TV shows. But then at least he was finding work, I guess.
posted by middleclasstool at 9:35 AM on August 31, 2009


This is an amazing post, and I haven't even clicked on any of the links yet.

The DVD set: I think I just found my dad's birthday present for this year.
posted by yiftach at 10:18 AM on August 31, 2009


Earlier this year, I had skipped out on work and decided to aimlessly wander about the neighborhoods on the north side of Chicago. I came across an old antique store and wandered in. For years I had been searching for a certain kind of table lighter called a "permanent match," which I had first seen used in the Maltese Falcon, and wanted one ever since. (They are ridiculously expensive, usually from $300-500 for a decent one from the 20's-30's) After looking at rows of overpriced crap, and about to leave, I found a replica of the falcon sitting on a bottom shelf of a bookcase near the back of the store. It was one of the first licensed replicas, made in about 1960. I scooped that thing up and managed to haggle the young clerk, who had no idea what it was and thought it was part of a pair of bookends, to a measly $20. Not a bad find.
posted by chambers at 10:21 AM on August 31, 2009



Not to get into a femme fatale war here, but put me down as someone who likes everything about the Bogart "Falcon" except for Mary Astor.


I've got your back on that. Jane Greer in Out of the Past is a billion times the femme fatale Astor is in Maltese Falcon.
posted by juv3nal at 10:23 AM on August 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm also a fan of Lauren Bacall and Ava Gardner, and Barbara Stanwyck is so sexy in Double Indemnity that she corrupts Fred MacMurray.

Vintage recently did new paperbacks of some of Dashiell Hammett's books and the covers are great.
posted by kirkaracha at 10:46 AM on August 31, 2009


Most underrated femme fatale in most underrated film noir: Peggy Cummins in Gun Crazy.
posted by Rangeboy at 10:50 AM on August 31, 2009


Excellent post. There is much to discuss here. Let me say, that I think the original hit closer to home with Spade's character, in that it makes explicit, that Spade knew the whole time who killed Archer. Bogart is, however, the iconic representation of the PI, and he always will be for better or worse. Let me throw open the big question, the one I've never been able to figure out, Did Spade love Bridget or was he just using her?
posted by dortmunder at 10:54 AM on August 31, 2009


Brigid. It's Brigid. Someday I'll learn to read before I hit post.
posted by dortmunder at 10:56 AM on August 31, 2009


Speaking of glowing suitcases and slimy private eyes, I caught Robert Aldritch's Kiss Me Deadly this week. It's where Quentin Tarantino got the idea for the glowing case in Pulp Fiction. It also has what is probably the most repulsive protagonist in a Hollywood movie.

This has a lot to do with the source material, which is a Mike Hammer novel. I love crime fiction, as my user name may reflect, and I have never, ever been able to finish anything Mickey Spillane wrote. It's unredeemed trash, and Mike Hammer is almost as bad a human being as Spillane is a writer. It astonishes me he was so successful because his novels really, really appeal to the worst in people. Aldritch's film just reflects Spillane's vision.
posted by dortmunder at 11:00 AM on August 31, 2009


Over at iMDB, where I went to see if there WAS a script -- they sort of say there was -- it's Brigud (with a "u"). And, you Falcon fans, if you haven't read Hammett, you have a treat in store for you.
posted by RichardS at 11:16 AM on August 31, 2009


This is a great post.

I have seen the movie with Ricardo Cortez, and I was stunned at how he portrayed Sam Spade as a smarmy cheese-ball. I saw the Bogart version first, of course. And I think Sam did love Brigud (how can that be her name?). I thought Mary Astor was good in that role, but it took me a while to get to that point. I would have LOVED it if they had been able to use the pre-code scenes with Caspar Gutman and his boyfriend Wilmer in the Bogart version.

By far I love the Big Sleep more, for a Bogart movie. That one does have Lauren Bacall, along with Elisha Cooke (Wilmer) and a deliciously unitelligible story line, which keeps it moving. I have read Raymond Chandler because of this, and he writes a good story, but not at the same level as Dashiell Hammett.

That said, I can't stand Mickey Spillane either. I never have liked his stories, with the exception of the film, Kiss Me Deadly-- noir with a great opening scene in which Cloris Leachman is running down the road barefoot, with nothing on but a trenchcoat, and picked is up by Mike Hammer (played by Ralph Meeker) in a convertible. And it gets better from there.
posted by chocolatetiara at 11:37 AM on August 31, 2009


Somebody apparently wrote a prequel.
posted by octothorpe at 11:55 AM on August 31, 2009


I have read Raymond Chandler because of this, and he writes a good story, but not at the same level as Dashiell Hammett.

Really? I can't handle Hammett, his tawdry unrepentent viciousness really puts me off. I much prefer Chandler's prose which seems simultaneously perfectly straightforward and utterly dreamlike. (Cain is possibly better than both)

Which also makes me love The Big Sleep a lot more than Falcon. However, that only means that Falcon is like my forth favorite movie instead of my favorite.

I've never seen the original, so I'm really looking forward to it now. Great post!
posted by lumpenprole at 3:27 PM on August 31, 2009


Heh, watching that Adam Savage TED video linked upthread, he makes reference to the idea that there are two types of people in the world, Chandler people and Hammett people.

I guess we know where I stand.
posted by lumpenprole at 3:38 PM on August 31, 2009


According to the book (using Search Inside) and the end credits (1:06), it's "Brigid." (And I like to think her last name came from O'Shaughnessy Boulevard in San Francisco.)

I don't think Sam loves Brigid. The way he delivers this speech (6:34) isn't very romantic (and if he loved her, wouldn't he visit her?).
Well, if you get a good break you'll get out of Tehachapi in twenty years and you can come back to me then. I hope they don't hang you, precious, by that sweet neck.
...
Chances are you'll get off with life, that means if you're a good girl you'll be out in twenty years. I'll be waiting for you. If they hang you, I'll always remember you.
Kiss Me Deadly opening. The original ending could've inspired the Ark-opening scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

a deliciously unitelligible story line

Neither director Howard Hawks nor the screenwriters (William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett, and Jules Furthman) knew who killed the chauffeur. Raymond Chandler wrote to a friend that, "They sent me a wire...asking me, and dammit I didn't know either."
posted by kirkaracha at 4:34 PM on August 31, 2009


But that's the point. For Hammett, the falcon was the McGuffin; for Chandler, sometimes it was the murder. What matters is the story and the telling of it. I love both Hammett and Chandler, so that kinda blows Savage's theory of the duality of attraction out of the water.
posted by djfiander at 4:47 PM on August 31, 2009


Neither director Howard Hawks nor the screenwriters (William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett, and Jules Furthman) knew who killed the chauffeur. Raymond Chandler wrote to a friend that, "They sent me a wire...asking me, and dammit I didn't know either."

You're thinking of The Big Sleep. John Huston wrote the shooting script of The Maltese Falcon.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:55 PM on August 31, 2009


I love both Hammett and Chandler, so that kinda blows Savage's theory of the duality of attraction out of the water.

Hammett AND Chandler; cats AND dogs; shaken AND stirred; oysters AND snails. I'm bi for pretty much everything.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:56 PM on August 31, 2009


You're thinking of The Big Sleep.
Um, yeah, I know. "By far I love the Big Sleep more, for a Bogart movie. That one does have Lauren Bacall, along with Elisha Cooke (Wilmer) and a deliciously unitelligible story line, which keeps it moving."

posted by kirkaracha at 9:39 PM on August 31, 2009


I went out and bought Red Harvest after a previous post. I like Hammett and I like this post, too. He also wrote a newspaper comic serial strip called Secret Agent X-9 which I found in a crime comics compilation.
posted by ijoshua at 3:48 PM on September 2, 2009


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