21 April 2010

Review: "The Maltese Falcon"

As silly as it may be, the reason I chose to see The Maltese Falcon is because it is revered by Roger Ebert. Ebert believes that Humphrey Bogart's performance enabled him to appear in Casablanca (1942) and his Oscar-winning role in The African Queen (1951). It is the first film by famed director John Huston, whose only film I have seen in Prizzi's Honor (1985), which won his daughter Anjelica the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. The Maltese Falcon is widely considered to be the first classical film noir. One of my favourite televisions shows (Veronica Mars) and one of my favourite films (L.A. Confidential) are noir-themed, I found The Maltese Faclon to be less inspiring than I had hoped. The film was beautifully shot with a great mystery, but I was disappointed by Humphrey Bogart. Is it standard practice for all of his films to feature him as a stubborn and conceited man who assumes that every woman will fall in love with him? I would have enjoyed the film a lot more had the bullshit love story been removed. The Maltese Falcon features a great mystery that keeps you guessing until the very end, yet it unfortunately feels too overindulgent and I found myself lost in its arrogance.

Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) is a private detective in San Francisco. Ruth Wonderly (Mary Astor) comes into his office with a great story about her missing sister and a man named Frank Thursby. Wonderly has scheduled a meeting with Thursby and Spade's partner, Miles Archer (Jerome Cowan), agrees to be there. That evening Spade is informed that Archer has been killed and he finds that Wonderly has checked out of her hotel. Detective Polhaus (Ward Bond), a friend of Spade's, and his supervisor, Lieutenant Dundy (Barton MacLane), arrive at Spade's apartment and tell him that Thursby has also been killed. The two policemen suspect Spade of both murders. The next morning Spade discovers that Ruth Wonderly is actually Brigid O'Shaughnessy and that she and Thursby were partners and that he probably killed Archer. In his office Spade is meets Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre) who offers him $5000 to find a black figure of a bird. With Brigid, back at his apartment, Cairo shows up and it becomes clear that the two are well acquainted with each other. Spade learns that the two are connected to the Fat Man, who is present in San Francisco. The Fat Man, Kasper Gutman (Sydney Greenstreet), is not as forthcoming with information as Brigid and Joel Cairo were. Sam Spade finds himself in a difficult situation and he does not know which party is telling him the truth. He knows that all three are looking for the Maltese Falcon and have gone to great lengths to uncover its whereabouts.

I have come to realize that it may not be The Maltese Falcon that I found arrogant, but it is Humphrey Bogart and his performances that I find to be overconfident. Even his tone of voice began to aggravate me as I watched the film. The part that ruined the film for me was when it became obvious that the love story between Sam Spade and Brigid O'Shaughnessy was going to become a factor. Why is it that in many classic films the woman in distress has to fall madly in love with the man that saved her? Maybe I am being too unreasonable, or am I just jealous? I know that Humphrey Bogart can be in a great movie, like Casablanca (1942), but that is a film that does not hinge on his performance. It is a wonderful story in a film that is beautifully photographed. I am going to give him another chance. I will watch The African Queen and maybe I will realize his merits as an actor. I have never seen Chinatown (1974) which might be Hollywood's most revered noir. Even without seeing it I would suggest it before I would recommend The Maltese Falcon.

My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4.

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