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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
Before Humphrey Bogart, Ricardo Cortez, as Sam Spade, was looking for that big black bird in 1931's "The Maltese Falcon," also starring Bebe Daniels, Una Merkel, and Thelma Todd. Since it's 1931 and therefore pre-code, the emphasis is on sex and Sam's libidinous nature. In the first scene, a woman leaves his office straightening the seams in her stockings. Bebe Daniels as Ms. Wonderly takes a bath in Sam's tub, strips in the kitchen - you name it. Thelma Todd is on hand as the wife of Spade's partner, Miles Archer who, if you know the story, gets it in the first reel. Sam's had a thing with her too. He keeps them all on the hook.
I found this version slow going, mainly because it's an early talkie - the dialogue pacing isn't quite right. You can drive a truck through the pauses. The only one with a more modern feel for the dialogue is the handsome, smiling Cortez, and he's absolutely marvelous as Spade. His Spade is more relaxed than Bogie's, less sardonic, more delightfully crooked - in short, he has a lot more fun. He fits just as well into this version as world-weary Bogie does into the 1941 version.
Bebe Daniels is attractive and alluring as the greedy and totally ruthless Miss Wonderly. The gay subplot between Greenstreet and Lorre everyone assumes isn't as apparent in this film between Wilmer (Dwight Frye) and Caspar Guttman (Dudley Digges).
I found the comments in the first post on the actors' approaches to their roles very interesting; I'm not sure I totally agree, but for sure, Cortez spoke louder and Daniels did underplay (which she did not do in "42nd Street" - at all). However, as far as the pace, I still Cortez did better in keeping the dialogue going than anyone else.
This is a fascinating film - so different from the 1941 version, which I hope to see this evening - it's definitely worth catching.
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