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Sam Spade is quite the womanizer. When his secretary tells him the new customer waiting outside his office is a knockout, he wastes no time before seeing her. It turns out she's a knockout with money. And she wants to spend it on his services as a private detective. She has some story about wanting to protect her sister. Neither he nor his partner, Miles Archer, believes it. But with the money she's paying, who cares? The job proves to be more dangerous than either of them expected. It involves not just the lovely dame with the dangerous lies, but also the sweaty Casper Gutman, the fey Joel Cairo, and the thuggish young Wilmer Cook. Three crooks, and all of them are looking for the statuette of a black bird they call the Maltese Falcon. Written by
It might have been wise to watch the two earlier versions of Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon before I re-watched the 1941 classic. It would have reminded me just how great Huston's film is. The '31 version isn't bad, per se. It has the same major flaw that most films of this early talkie era had: leaden dialogue delivery. It's also a bit stagy, though by no means the worst I've seen from the time. None of the actors are as good as their '41 counterparts, with the possible exception of Bebe Daniels, most famous for her role in 42nd Street. She's a bit sexier than Mary Astor, and it's more believable that she could hold sway over men. I also thought Otto Matieson was pretty good as Joel Cairo. Una Merkel is very cute as Effie, Spade's secretary. Thelma Todd, of Marx Brothers' movies fame, also co-stars as Iva Archer. Ricardo Cortez plays Sam. He's a bit too nice for the part, like he should rather be starring in musicals (Daniels doesn't suffer this way she's appropriately ruthless). The film only runs 78 minutes, but it feels a lot longer. It excises even more of the novel than Huston's version, but the pacing is really slow (the '41 movie runs 100 minutes). It seems the major success in Huston's movie well, besides the awesome cast was its lightning pacing. It also changes some things around at the end, if I remember right. I actually really liked the final sequence, not in the '41 version and (if memory serves me correctly) not in the novel, either, where Spade visits Ms. Wonderly (which isn't a pseudonym in this movie) in prison. I wouldn't say it surpasses the '41 version in any way, but then again I've never quite been satisfied with Spade's final exchanges with Brigid O'Shaughnessy either.
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