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Edward G. Robinson,
Douglas Fairbanks Jr.,
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
As everyone knows by now (at least if they're on this IMDb page!), this was the original film version of "The Maltese Falcon". And, of course, it (being pre-code) is a lot sexier than the Bogart version, which is to say, comparable to a racy 1970s TV movie. We see Miss Wonderley sleeping in Spade's bed, and actually see her naked in the bathtub (from the shoulders up) at one point.
As in "Satan Met a Lady", the detective is made out to be a sleazy ladies' man in this movie. When we first see him, he's kissing a woman goodbye; we never actually see her face, but we see her adjusting her stocking, and when Sam returns to his office, the pillows from his couch are in disarray. He seems to be getting some from Effie as well (and I must point out that Una Merkel, as Effie, is hot, hot, hot in this movie; quite a contrast to the matronly Lee Patrick in the 1941 version).
Overall, though, this movie is still somewhat unsatisfying. I suppose if we had never seen the Bogart/Huston version, this would stand as an acceptable adaptation of Hammett's novel (by the standards of the time). It follows the novel fairly closely, but skimps on the plot somewhat. The subplot where Wonderley disappears, and then reappears (as O'Shaughnessy) because she realizes Gutman is in town is missing, as is all the great interplay between Spade and Wilmer ("Just keep riding me, buster", "This'll put you in solid with your boss", etc.) that was such a treat in the later version. True, this movie is a little more explicit about the relationship between Gutman and Wilmer, but Wilmer is such a minor character (with literally only a few minutes of screen time) that their relationship still seems more fully-developed in the 1941 movie. There's also a very odd change at the end (just before the prison scene) that seems like something of a cop-out.
And, finally, it must be pointed out that Ricardo Cortez really stinks in this movie. He spends most of the movie with a smirk plastered on his face, and his performance in general is extremely stiff. I suppose that's to be expected in such an early talkie, but, combined with the general aura of sleaziness that his character exudes, it makes it impossible to really care what happens to him. In the end, this is an enjoyable movie, but mainly for reasons of historical curiosity, and it never comes anywhere near the "classic" status that the later remake has achieved.
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