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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

The Maltese Falcon (1941)



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Here it is, the film that essentially singlehandedly spawned the entire film noir genre. It one of first of a few genuine masterpieces made by Humphrey Bogart and director John Huston. (The others being The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and The African Queen.) In The Maltese Falcon, Bogart stars as Dashiell Hammett's hard-boiled detective Sam Spade. The opening scene -- a distraught, mysterious woman walks into the detective's office and pleads for help -- has been used and parodied so often since, it's become irrevocably tied to the genre. It's not surprising.

The film is a seemingly endless labyrinth of schemes, crime, drama, danger, and deception, and wastes no time in drawing the viewer into its delicious spell. Far more riveting than its more bullet-ridden kin, The Maltese Falcon is an experience you won't quickly forget. John Huston's direction is tight, moody, and tense. Humphrey Bogart turns in one of his best performances ever, edgy, dangerous, and, as even some of the other characters note, unpredictable. The supporting cast is also great -- Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, Ward Bond, and others. Of particular note is Mary Astor's performance as the female lead. At first glance, it may seem she's overacting. But, one realizes upon reflection afterward (when all the facts of her character are known), she nailed the role beautifully. It is a pivotal, complex role -- if Astor had failed, if she had turned in anything less than a brilliant performance, the movie very likely would have failed also.

Some consider this the greatest detective movie of all time. It's an ambitious statement to make, but it just might be true. If it isn't, it's not far off.

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