Tuesday, August 9

The Maltese Falcon Review: Dream Tension and the Greatest MacGuffin of All Time | Films

JOhn Huston’s adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s novel, in addition to featuring the greatest MacGuffin of all time, is a resounding refutation of Raymond Chandler’s belief that detective stories depend on men walking through doors with guns. People often come to The Maltese Falcon with guns, but mostly without them; Humphrey Bogart’s Sam Spade makes a point of telling us that he prefers to be unarmed, and has a very cold line for disarming other people. And what a magnificent performance by Bogart: darker, steeper, and more ambiguous than his Rick in Casablanca, with all the tired cynicism in the world, but without the romantic sacrifice, just an oddly opaque manipulative streak, the need to use the women he does. cross your path. It’s a tough and wise routine, involving pantomime displays of furious rage to intimidate people, changing to a lighthearted, carefree hiss when alone, and finally blooming in anguish and defiance.

He plays San Francisco private detective Spade, who is approached in his office by a somber lady with a traditional flair: this is the nervous Brigid O’Shaughnessy, played by Mary Astor. She tells Spade that she needs him to follow someone in town. Spade doesn’t buy it, but he allows his excited partner Miles Archer (Jerome Cowan) to take the job, and Spade remains unmoved by the news that Miles has been shot and killed. By whom? It just so happens that Sam has been having an affair with Miles’ wife Iva (Gladys George) and this tough and cool customer is soon kissing Miss O’Shaughnessy on the lips. From a bank of red herrings emerges a slippery guy named Joel Cairo, played by Peter Lorre, and the tough businessman Kasper Gutman, played by Sydney Greenstreet. They are all chasing the same thing: an astonishingly valuable jewel ornament, the “Maltese Falcon,” once offered by the Knights Templar in the 16th century in homage to the King of Spain.

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Perhaps it is worth noting that the only woman Spade seems to respect is his caring secretary Effie (Lee Patrick), whose loyalty may have been an inspiration to Miss Moneypenny, and Sam’s cruel detachment may have inspired the British secret agent who she sighed. by. The scene where Sam takes the gun from Joel and hits him, all without removing the cigarette stuck in the corner of his mouth, is a comedic triumph, topped off with Sam returning the gun to Joel and then laughing when Joel once again threatens him with that.

The film’s strange and dreamlike tension intensifies with each new confrontation, each new tail, each new beating, with Gutman and Cairo filmed from a low and giddy angle, and the nightmare culminates in a gripping series of close-ups on each tense face. . Spade acidly rejects the hawk as “the stuff dreams are made of,” an anti-Prospero of cynicism and survival.

The Maltese Falcon opens in theaters on September 17.


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