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First off: this is not the stuff of classics. We're not talking
CASABLANCA or CITIZEN KANE (and especially not the 1941 MALTESE FALCON)
here. And, yes, perhaps it IS the least successful version of Hammett's
story (although the 1931 film really drags these days
). But an
off-the-wall take on a classic story can still be funny and stand on
its own without being compared to more traditional versions. That's the
way you should approach Satan MET A LADY and that is why I'm surprised
I haven't heard more about this film.
What I like most is that no one is taking anything too seriously. In THE MALTESE FALCON, Gutman and Wonderly/O'Shaughnessy say they never know what's going to come out of Spade's mouth next. That's certainly true here: from gender bending (the Gutman character is a woman) to different takes on characters (the "gunsel" is a wimpy mama's boy) to off-the-wall dialogue, you never know what's going to happen next. Without over-the-top "winking" at the audience, the actors tell us not to take things too seriously either and just have fun. If you know either of the other versions, it's fun wondering what they're going to pull out of the hat next. (For example, it's not a statue of a falcon that everyone is after, but rather the so-called (and equally fictitious) "Horn of Roland" stuffed with jewels and supposedly handed down from the days of Charlemagne.) To be sure, not everything works. When you try to play off-the-wall, you're bound to make some mistakes, and even fall flat. The secretary for Shayne (Spade), now re-named Miss Murgatroyd (instead of Effie), is far too ditsy, even for this material; her romance scenes make Shayne/Spade play more like he's toying with jail bait. But even so, the worst you can say about the movie as a whole is that it's "uneven".
Sure, the 1941 version is far better, both as a film and as a rendering of Hammett's story. However, the filmmakers weren't trying to be faithful to the source material here. Brown Holmes wrote the screenplay for the 1931 version and yet they hired him again for this one and didn't care that he ran roughshod over the original story.
I'm no apologist: this is not a great film. But it does have its own charms and it's certainly better than much of the drivel that came out of the 1930s. Give it a try: the unpredictability factor alone makes it worth the ride.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
If you believe that old movies don't make classic movies just because
they're old, Satan Met a Lady will make your case. It's based more or
less faithfully on The Maltese Falcon, the first movie of which was
made in 1931. This version stars Warren William as Ted Shayne (Sam
Spade), Bette Davis as Valerie Purvis (Ruth Wunderly), Alison Skipworth
as Madame Barabbas (Caspar Gutman) and Arthur Treacher as Anthony
Travers (Joel Cairo), with Maynard Holmes as Kenny (Wilmer Cook) and
Marie Wilson as Miss Murgatroyd (Effie Perrine).
The intent must have been to take the Dashiell Hammett story and turn it into a comedy murder mystery. The music under the opening credits is so jaunty you might expect a musical. Does it work? Sadly, no, not in my opinion. Of the characters, only Arthur Treacher comes off as genuinely interesting. If Treacher is remembered now it's probably only as one of the many stuffy English butlers he played. Here, he's remarkably good, dealing with fast dialogue and, in this movie, what passes for ironic and witty lines. He's a completely different type from Peter Lorre's Joel Cairo, but he's almost as vivid. The highlight of the film, in fact, is when we first meet him ransacking Shayne's apartment, then having some dueling dialogue with Shayne when Shayne unexpectedly appears. This scene is good stuff.
For the rest, some of the actors are competent and some are mediocre. Bette Davis, surprisingly, doesn't make much of an impression; she's just too obviously intelligent and self-centered for the role. You watch her, but you're not much taken by her. Warren William probably comes off weakest, and some of this is not his fault. He had a profile as sharp as the prow of a yacht, a smooth, trained baritone, great diction and a sense of humor. Unfortunately, William is saddled with a trench coat that looks half a size to large for him; the collar gaps noticeably every time he leans over, sits down or is roughed up. He wears what appears to be a black Stetson. The combination makes him look almost silly at times. More damaging, we meet his version of Sam Spade being run out of town, then charming a large lady with jewels, then coming on very strong to Marie Wilson's ditzy, dumb blonde of a secretary, Miss Murgatroyd. The effect is less of a private eye who is a charming seducer than of a sleazy, middle-aged goat. He wears quite a bit of pomade on his hair.
Satan Met a Lady is a curiosity piece, nothing more.
Satan Met a Lady (1936)
** (out of 4)
A WTF variation on The Maltese Falcon has Warren William getting involved in a case of a missing trumpet. There's really no point in comparing this one to the original or the Huston film since many plot points have been changed. The "WTF" notion comes from all the humor that the film tries to get. This seems to have tried being a comedy a lot more than any type of mystery. William is wasted in the role and he's never able to get. Thank God for remakes.
Available on DVD with the two other versions.
Better than its reputation, this is a snappy mystery taken from the same Dash Hammet story as Maltese Falcon. Warren William was a great actor, but just too conceited to carry a film, and neither Bette Davis nor Marie Wilson have enough screen time to pull up the slack. Excellent acting from bad guys Alison Skipwirth and whoever plays the Peter Lorre part (I couldn't figure out who it was from the cast listing). Anything by Dieterle (Hunchback of Notre Dame)is worth seeing, but this one, while fun to watch, just doesn't add up.
Granted, this version of the Maltese Falcon pales in comparison to the
classic, but there is still much to like here. This version plays the
with a comic tone, much like the tone of hugely popular 'The Thin Man'.
you view the film on it's own merits, and try not to compare it to the
version, then this comic mystery works pretty well -- It tells the story
a breezy 75 minutes, so it doesn't overstay it's welcome.
Bette Davis is always worth a look. Here, in Mary Astor's 1941 role, she manages to be both comic and tough at the same time.
A famous spoof, "Satan Met a Lady" (1936) is based on and decidedly kids Dashiell Hammett's 1930 novel, "The Maltese Falcon". No-one seems to have noticed that Warner Brothers issued the original, never-before-seen 74-minutes cut of this movie on DVD in November 2006. Oddly, although IMDb has altered the plot outline to accord with the 74-minute version, Warren Low is still listed as film editor. Warren Low did not edit the 74-minute version. When Bette Davis complained to Jack Warner about the movie, Jack agreed that her part was far too small. To placate Davis, Warner called Warren Low to his office and asked him to re-cut the movie by leaving Davis's scenes untouched but shearing everyone else's. Low brought the running time down to 66 minutes, chiefly by ruthlessly cutting Arthur Treacher, Wini Shaw and Marie Wilson. He also introduced Davis into the plot at a much earlier stage. (It's possible that additional footage was shot for this scene but, if so, it was not directed by William Dieterle). Now that we see the original cut for the first time, the first thing that strikes us is that it's actually quite different from the movie released in July 1936 and that we have all seen in countless re-runs on TV. It's much more amusing, and everyone has a glorious time spoofing Dashiell Hammett except, of course, Miss Davis, who seems to have missed the joke. Everyone else is outrageously funny, with Warren William and Alison Skipworth grandly leading the way. Arthur Treacher's scenes now make some sort of nonsensical logic, and Miss Wilson comes over as delightfully scatty. Porter Hall is a hoot too, while Maynard Holmes (in Peter Lorre's role) contributes the performance of his career.
It's fun just to watch Marie Wilson. She's funny, cute and has great facial expressions and mannerisms. Don't expect anything on the serious side. It's all done with tongue in cheek. A fun way to spend and hour or so.
To all old-movie buffs. No matter how much you
like movies from the 30's and 40's, you should skip
this one. Both the acting and the script are about
as bad as the "golden era" could produce.
Even trying to take it as light-hearted and even intentional, as at least one user suggests, does not make this film work.
Finally, even my wife, who is a huge Bette Davis fan, agreed to turn this one off after about 20 minutes.
Better to re-watch The Maltese Falcon.
Warren William plays a scoundrel of a private eye named Shayne (no
relation to the character in the series starring Lloyd Nolan). He
tangles with a gang of thieves looking for the legendary Horn of Roland
which is supposedly stuffed with jewels. Along the way, William battles
the likes of Bette Davis and Arthur Treacher to get to the bottom of
some murders and find the priceless artifact.
Calling this film a remake of THE MALTESE FALCON (1941) is really a misnomer, as only the smallest bits and pieces from the exceptional Dashiell Hammett's original story remain. All the the great sarcasm, grit and intelligence was stripped away in this truly bad retooling of this prior film that had starred Ricardo Cortez (the more famous Humphrey Bogart version would not appear until 1941 and was the 3rd version of the story). While I usually like Warren William in movies, here he plays the role almost like it's a comedy, not a serious drama. Because of this, you have no idea how he possibly solves the murders!! As for the Fat Man and his cronies, having the old dame and her limp gang (with, of all people, Arthur Treacher?!) play these roles was just insulting and dumb. Why they had the very dippy Marie Wiilson in the film is anyone's guess--as it further reinforced the comedic aspects of the film--making it seem even less serious than a Saint or Falcon series film.
Overall, perhaps my 4 is too generous--especially considering how little they did with such great material. Still, if you totally ignore that it's supposed to be THE MALTESE FALCON, then it's at least an agreeable enough time-passer.
By the way, I watched the Ricardo Cortez version just before seeing this film and the contrast was amazing. Fortunately, you can get both films on the same DVD from Warner Brothers/Turner Entertainment.
There is a 1931 film adaptation of The Maltese Falcon, starring Ricardo Cortez. The 1931 film is sometimes called Dangerous Female. IMDB has listings for this version. Quoting the plot summary, "Well received in its time, today it looks like a dress-rehearsal for John Huston's definitive version made ten years later."
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