The Maltese Falcon Takes Flight Into a New World

A young woman walks into the office of private detective Sam Spade. She wants him to help her find her long-lost sister. Turns out she's lying about the sister but telling the truth about the danger she's in. Spade's partner is killed and Spade is thrown into a world of dangerous men and even more dangerous women. The Maltese Falcon creates a new world of private detectives and mystery. It also launched the new world of film noir.

It lacks the high-contrast black-and-white visuals, the hallmark of noir that wouldn't come along till Murder My Sweet. This is a studio noir where a lot of the action takes place in detective Sam Spade's studio apartment, away from the mean streets of the city. Pick up some of the loose threads and you'll realise that the labyrinthine plot that has Spade chasing the killer who is chasing a golden falcon is fairly thin. But The Maltese Falcon is sheer fun.

That's due to Humphrey Bogart's central performance as the detective. He's cynical and cold, as amused by the tears of the dead man's hypocritical widow as he is when he's about to punch out the man who has the temerity to threaten him with a gun. He's tough but wonderfully conflicted as he loses his heart to a woman who may cost him his head. As the client, Mary Astor excels at posing as a little girl lost in a world of big bad wolves. Peter Lorre pulls out all the stops, playing one of the villains as a drama queen. He would have made an excellent Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard.

Director John Huston keeps the pace fast and furious so you won't be tripped up by plotholes, instead focusing attention on the chemistry the actors generate. It's a wise move because that sizzling energy is what makes the Falcon fly.

(July 3, 2001)

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