Spade and Archer is the name of a San Francisco detective agency. That's for Sam Spade and Miles Archer. The two men are partners, but Sam doesn't like Miles much. A knockout, who goes by the name of Miss Wanderly, walks into their office; and by that night everything's changed. Miles is dead. And so is a man named Floyd Thursby. It seems Miss Wanderly is surrounded by dangerous men. There's Joel Cairo, who uses gardenia-scented calling cards. There's Kasper Gutman, with his enormous girth and feigned civility. Her only hope of protection comes from Sam, who is suspected by the police of one or the other murder. More murders are yet to come, and it will all be because of these dangerous men -- and their lust for a statuette of a bird: the Maltese Falcon. Written by
A Potpourri of Vestiges Review: Humphrey Bogart makes his highly deserved tryst with super-stardom in John Huston's directorial debut
Seven decades have passed but the suspense and thrill of The Maltese Falcon still reign supreme. The movie, despite being in black & white, appears strikingly refreshing both to the eyes and the intellect. Primarily remembered as John Huston's directorial debut, the movie played a decisive role in giving Film-Noire its true identity as a genre. The Maltese Falcon also gave Humphrey Bogart his highly deserved super-stardom that had hitherto eluded him. Huston creates an environment of suspicion, doubt and uncertainty that is so convoluted that even Hitchcock would be proud of it. The movie has multiple layers of mystery and suspense that keeps the viewer engaged throughout.
Sam Spade is a private detective who runs an agency with his partner Miles Archer. An ostensibly naive lady, Miss Wanderly offers them a task to pursue a man, Floyd Thursby, who has allegedly run off with her younger sister. The over-simplicity of task arouses Spade's suspicion, but Wanderly's lucrative offer makes the duo overlook it initially. Miles is killed during the pursuit and the police inform Spade of the mishap. Spade only discreetly tells the police that Miles was after a man named Thursby without disclosing anything about Miss Wandely. The police soon find Thursby dead as well and suspect Spade for killing him in an act of revenge. Soon Miles Archer's widow shows up at Spade's office and insinuates of her romantic involvement with Spade, who shuns her away after she tries to incriminate him for the murder. The police come across an anonymous lead and begin suspecting Spade for killing his partner, Miles. The plot thickens with the entry a couple of obscure characters including Joel Cairo, who happens be an acquaintance of Miss Wanderly. He is in pursuit of a highly precious, antique, gold statuette of Maltese Falcon and offers Spade five grands to help him find it. A game of cat and mouse soon ensues, between the various stake holders, which becomes deadlier as the stakes are raised.
Humphrey Bogart perfectly fits into the shoes of Spadea sleek and sharp sleuthand makes it his own in a manner that only someone of his grit and caliber could. Bogart is in top form right from the inception to the finale, stealing the spotlight in almost every scene that is he is part of. Bogart could only demonstrate his prodigious talent and acting prowess in short bursts during his long "B movie" stint in which he was mostly type-casted as a gangster. The Maltese Falcon was Bogart's big break after years of anticipation and he didn't leave a single stone unturned to prove his mettle. Bogart shows his class and stamps his authority as a performer during the portrayal of Spade: he is ever so quick-witted thanks to his sublime articulacy and his prowess at repartee seems unparalleled; the inherent cynicism in Spade and the perspicacity with which he operates soon became Bogart's trademark and catapulted him to super-stardom. Many regard Bogart's performance in Casablanca as his absolute best, but I rate his portrayal of Spade second only to his supernal portrayal of Dobbs in The Treasure of Sierre Madre, where he took acting to hitherto unattainable and unforeseeable heights.
John Huston uses the Midas touch he had as a screenwriter to strike all the right cords in his directorial debut. Almost everyone in the supporting cast gives a memorable performance with special mention of Peter Lorre as the deceptive Joel Cairo, Sydney Greenstreet as the witty yet dangerous Kasper Gutman and Mary Astor as the scheming Brigid O' Shaughnessy. The taut plot of the movie, which is masterfully adapted from the novel of the same name by Huston himself, is well complemented by the impressively written dialogs that are delivered with an equal prowess. Amidst the everlasting suspense the movie has an obvious undertone of dark humor that adds great value to the movie. The cinematography undoubtedly features amongst the best works of the time.
The Maltese Falcon is not merely a Noire masterpiece but also a testament to the true spirit of cinema that has kept itself alive despite decades of relentless mutilation and sabotage in the name of commercial movie-making. Despite being devoid of modern-day gimmicks the movie is incredibly high on suspense and holds the viewer in a vice-like grip throughout its runtime. It's a real shame that movies like these are seldom made these days. The tone of the movie is such that it makes suspense thrillers of today appear like kids cartoon.
PS. The movie is an ode to Bogart, Huston and all those who made it a reality. It's suspense cinema at its absolute best with a completely different treatment to themes propagated by the likes of Hitchcock. It's a must for all the Bogart fans worldwide, and absolutely essential for all those who have a penchant for Film-Noire as a genre. 10/10
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