The Maltese Falcon (1941)
'The Maltese Falcon' a Fast Mystery-Thriller With Quality and Charm, at the Strand
By Bosley Crowther
New York Times
Published: October 4, 1941
The Warners have been strangely bashful about their new mystery film, "The Maltese Falcon," and about the young man, John Huston, whose first directorial job it is. Maybe they thought it best to bring both along under wraps, seeing as how the picture is a remake of an old Dashiell Hammett yarn done ten years ago, and Mr. Huston is a fledgling whose previous efforts have been devoted to writing scripts. And maybe—which is somehow more likely—they wanted to give every one a nice surprise. For "The Maltese Falcon," which swooped down onto the screen of the Strand yesterday, only turns out to be the best mystery thriller of the year, and young Mr. Huston gives promise of becoming one of the smartest directors in the field.
For some reason, Hollywood has neglected the sophisticated crime film of late, and England, for reasons which are obvious, hasn't been sending her quota in recent months. In fact, we had almost forgotten how devilishly delightful such films can be when done with taste and understanding and a feeling for the fine line of suspense. But now, with "The Maltese Falcon," the Warners and Mr. Huston give us again something of the old thrill we got from Alfred Hitchcock's brilliant melodramas or from "The Thin Man" before he died of hunger.
This is not to imply, however, that Mr. Huston has imitated any one. He has worked out his own style, which is brisk and supremely hardboiled. We didn't see the first "Falcon," which had Ricardo Cortez and Bebe Daniels in its cast. But we'll wager it wasn't half as tough nor half as flavored with idioms as is this present version, in which Humphrey Bogart hits his peak. For the trick which Mr. Huston has pulled is a combination of American ruggedness with the suavity of the English crime school—a blend of mind and muscle—plus a slight touch of pathos.
Perhaps you know the story (it was one of Mr. Hammett's best): of a private detective in San Francisco who becomes involved through a beautiful but evasive dame in a complicated plot to gain possession of a fabulous jeweled statuette. As Mr. Huston has adapted it, the mystery is as thick as a wall and the facts are completely obscure as the picture gets under way. But slowly the bits fall together, the complications draw out and a monstrous but logical intrigue of international proportions is revealed.
Much of the quality of the picture lies in its excellent revelation of character. Mr. Bogart is a shrewd, tough detective with a mind that cuts like a blade, a temperament that sometimes betrays him, and a code of morals which is coolly cynical. Mary Astor is well nigh perfect as the beautiful woman whose cupidity is forever to be suspect. Sidney Greenstreet, from the Theatre Guild's roster, is magnificent as a cultivated English crook, and Peter Lorre, Elisha Cook Jr., Lee Patrick, Barton Mac-Lane all contribute stunning characters. (Also, if you look closely, you'll see Walter Huston, John's father, in a bit part.)
Don't miss "The Maltese Falcon" if your taste is for mystery fare. It's the slickest exercise in cerebration that has hit the screen in many months, and it is also one of the most compelling nervous-laughter provokers yet.
THE MALTESE FALCON; based on the novel by Dashiell Hammett. Screen play by John Huston; directed by Mr. Huston; produced by Hal B. Wallis for Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc. At the Strand.
Samuel Spade . . . . . Humphrey Bogart
Brigid O'Shaughnessy . . . . . Mary Astor
Iva Archer . . . . . Gladys George
Joel Cairo . . . . . Peter Lorre
Detective Lieutenant . . . . . Barton MacLane
Effie Perine . . . . . Lee Patrick
Kasper Gutman . . . . . Sidney Greenstreet
Detective Polhaus . . . . . Ward Bond
Miles Archer . . . . . Jerome Cowan
Wilmer Cook . . . . . Elisha Cook Jr.
Luke . . . . . James Burke
Frank Richman . . . . . Murray Alper
Bryan . . . . . John Hamilton