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On Oct. 3, 1941, Warner Bros. premiered thriller The Maltese Falcon, starring Humphrey Bogart and Mary Astor. The film, nominated for three Academy Awards, has since become a noir classic. The Hollywood Reporter’s original review is below.
Another prize package from Warners, The Maltese Falcon is going to be one of the most profitable and talked about pictures of the year. On a number of accounts it is distinguished celluloid entertainment, but it is of great interest to the trade because it reveals, in startling terms, the unheralded talent of topflight scenarist, John Huston, who, in the dual capacity of writer and director of this picture, is now entitled to take his place among the most important creative artists in the industry.
Dashiell Hammett’s novel, produced previously in 1931, provided a substantial basis for Huston’s extraordinary screenplay. It is the type of suspenseful mystery drama developed so successfully by the English, notably Alfred Hitchcock and Carol Reed. The Maltese Falcon, however, is blessedly lacking in psychological implications and the well-drawn, airtight story is always clear to the onlooker. Cannily developed, with an eye toward creating excitement, action and suspense, the dialogue is strikingly natural and penetrating writing skill is evident in the building of the characters.
Directorially, the picture is incredibly intricate and hours of preliminary thought must have been given to the original bits of business and movement of the camera which are introduced. The technique of telling a mystery through the eyes of one character belongs to Hammett. But rarely before has it been accomplished on the screen with such artistry and originality. Imaginative directorial craftsmanship is particularly evident in the fact that the telephone is used as a suspense prop — conversations through the receiver coming across as faint, unintelligible syllables. Remarkable subtlety is seen in the sex aspects of the story.
Hal Wallis and associate producer Henry Blanke are to be congratulated for underwriting Huston’s enterprise with a skillful, atmospheric production and in the gathering of such a cast of superlative artists.
Humphrey Bogart is extremely well cast as Samuel Spade, private investigator who finds himself involved in a search for a golden falcon, encrusted with rare and precious jewels. In one of the longest roles on record, Bogart accomplishes the feat of sustaining continuous interest in his characterization, which is so cleverly drawn that until the finish one is not sure of his real intentions.
Mary Astor gives a starkly dramatic portrayal of a scheming woman who uses every facet of her natural attractiveness to accomplish her purposes. Her final attempt to win clemency is a moving, terrifying scene in which she and Bogart do the finest work of their careers. Gladys George is excellent and Peter Lorre assures suspense as a soft-spoken, slightly hysterical member of the gang of international thieves. Their leader is played by Sidney Greenstreet — a memorable performance which gives the impression that a frenzied insane mind lurks behind the calm and polish of his manners. Lee Patrick, sympathetic and attractive, scores as Bogart’s secretary. Ward Bond, Jerome Cowan, Murray Alper and John Hamilton — all in lesser roles — are no less effective than the principals.
Arthur Edeson’s superb, distinctive photography and Adolph Deutsch’s music are important factors in the production. Thomas Richards’ splendid editing plays another equally important part. — Originally published on Sept. 30, 1941.
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