The Maltese Falcon (1941)
Perhaps "The Maltese Falcon" is not the greatest detective story ever filmed. But it is hard to find a better one, and much harder to find a more enjoyable movie to watch.
One could say that "The Maltese Falcon" is full of cliches. But since the film defines the genre, perhaps the real cliches are from the later, derivative films. While the characters may never transcend their well-defined caricatures, it is hard to complain when the cast is so strong, the dialogue so crisp, and the characters themselves are so interesting.
"The Maltese Falcon" is a legendary jewel-encrusted statue, priceless but long since lost. Humphrey Bogart plays a private eye who gradually gets caught up in the search for the relic. He is not alone, as Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, Mary Astor, and Elisha Cook Jr. are also involved. All of the latter are ruthless, and will kill if necessary to obtain the Falcon.
Bogart's is the central character. He is always wise to the situation, cynical to the core, and always on top. He is blessed with a personal secretary who will do anything and everything without questioning why.
He is first hired by Astor, a femme fatale whose story changes with every scene, and apparently is incapable of telling the truth. Soon, his partner is murdered and police detectives are turning up the heat. As Lorre, Greenstreet and Cook enter the picture, Bogart has to play a dangerous hand, trying to stay alive and out of jail while locating the Falcon and (naturally) taking a share of the profits.
Peter Lorre is one of my all-time favorite character actors. He has a terrific nasal voice and accent. He delivers my favorite line from the film, "You dirty filthy liar you!" It cracks me up every time I hear it.
"The Maltese Falcon" was released in 1941, the same year as "Citizen Kane", and one year before "Casablanca", another Warner Brothers production that also had Bogart, Lorre and Greenstreet. The 1940s had so many great films, almost all of them filmed in black and white. They knew how to make 'em back then: emphasize cast, script and story, and never mind the stunts and special effects.
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