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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
Not bad first version (which John Huston must have seen!)
This is a fascinating version of the story definitively filmed ten years later by John Huston, because of the ways in which it comes close to capturing the Hammett novel-- and the ways in which it doesn't. As a pre-Code film it's often more explicit than the Huston version-- especially about the fact that Spade was having an affair with his partner's wife, and about the homosexuality of the male crooks (this movie's Gutman is plainly depicted as a seedy john rather than as the refined aesthete Sydney Greenstreet would play). But hardboiled attitude is what really matters, and Ricardo Cortez (a good early talkie actor who always tried hard) just isn't playing Hammett's hardboiled, unsentimental Spade-- he's playing the more typical suave gentleman detective of the period, like Philo Vance. As a result, it's the love affair with Ms. Wonderly that takes over, and the shocking bite of Hammett's ending is lost. It was capturing the Hammett worldview that was John Huston's great accomplishment, and that made his Falcon so influential over the films noir to follow.
All the same Huston, who was working at Warner Bros. when this was made, must have liked something about this movie-- the scene where Spade first meets Joel Cairo (Otto Mattiesen, doing an excellent Peter Lorre imitation years before the fact) is repeated almost shot for shot and inflection for inflection in the Huston version, the only such case of direct inspiration I spotted here. Mattiesen, a familiar silent era character actor, sadly died not long after the film came out; had he lived he certainly could have had as interesting a talkie career as Lorre eventually did.
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