George Raft was originally cast as Sam Spade. He allegedly turned it down because it was "not an important picture," taking advantage of a clause in his contract that said he did not have to work on remakes. However, according to the author John McCarty, author of The Films of John Huston, in an ICONS Radio interview (10-07-07) the real reason Raft bowed out was because a successful screenwriter, John Huston, was going to direct his first movie. Raft didn't want to trust his part to this neophyte director.
Sam Spade refers to Wilmer as a "gunsel", a term the censors assumed was a slang reference to a gunman. The Yiddish term "gunsel", literally "little goose", *may* be a vulgarism for homosexual (the word "faigle", or "little bird", is usually used in that manner). It is more usually an "underground" term which refers to a person who is either a "fall guy" or a "stool pigeon", in which case Spade is making both a direct and an indirect reference to Wilmer's character.
The "Maltese Falcon" itself is said to have been inspired by the "Kniphausen Hawk," a ceremonial pouring vessel made in 1697 for George William von Kniphausen, Count of the Holy Roman Empire. It is modeled after a hawk perched on a rock and is encrusted with red garnets, amethysts, emeralds and blue sapphires. The vessel, as of 2012, is owned by the Duke of Devonshire (Peregrine Cavendish) and is part of the Chatsworth collection.
"The stuff that dreams are made of" (a line suggested by Humphrey Bogart) was voted as the #14 movie quote by the American Film Institute. The line is paraphrased from William Shakespeare's "The Tempest": "We are such stuff as dream are made on, / And our little life is rounded with a sleep."
Warner Bros. planned to change the name of the film to "The Gent from Frisco" because the novel's title had already been used for The Maltese Falcon (1931). The studio eventually agreed to keep the original title at John Huston's insistence.
John Huston recruited Mary Astor to play a prank on his father, Walter Huston, after the elder Huston had filmed his cameo. Astor called up Walter, telling him she was producer Hal B. Wallis' secretary, and that Wallis thought he'd over-acted during his scene. Huston was enraged, declaring that he'd never been accused of over-acting in his life, but agreed to return the next day to re-shoot the scene. John then took the phone from Astor, identified himself as Wallis, and repeated the criticism. Walter grew even more furious, declaring that he'd already agreed to the re-shoot, and it was only when John exploded in laughter on the other end of the phone that Walter realized his son was playing a prank on him.
Although he story-boarded every scene, John Huston was open to abandoning his plans if his more-experienced cast came up with something better. He estimated that three-quarters of the time, he used his original set-ups, but for the remaining quarter, he adopted ideas that the cast had come up with during rehearsal.
In real life, Dashiell Hammett had been a one-time operative for Pinkerton's Detective Agency. Brigid O'Shaughnessy was partly based on his secretary, Peggy O'Toole, and partly on a woman who once employed him to fire her housekeeper. Joel Cairo was based on a man Hammett picked up on a forgery charge in 1920, while Wilmer, the gunman, was drawn from a petty criminal who went by the nickname of "The Midget Bandit".
Mary Astor's off-screen notoriety was instrumental in her casting. She was known for being adulterous, having had an affair with John Barrymore, widowed in a plane crash, a multiple bride, and an alcoholic. She also kept a diary of her various sexual exploits that was introduced as evidence in a custody hearing against her estranged husband over who should look after their daughter. The gossip rags thrived on this story.
A copy of John Huston's first draft script was accidentally sent to studio head Jack L. Warner as well as the film's designated producer, Henry Blanke. To his surprise, Warner loved the script and insisted that Huston started shooting it immediately.
The unusual cigarette lighter that graces the desk of Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) is a Ronson Touch-Tip table model. Made by the Ronson company between 1935 and 1951, it is a classic example of the Art Deco style motif that dominated that era. Originals are so sought after by collectors that at least one company now exists that is entirely dedicated to restoring original examples to full working order.
Two "Maltese Falcons" were used for the film because Humphrey Bogart dropped the original during shooting. The original falcon is on display in the movie museum at Warner Bros. studios; its tail feathers are visibly dented from Bogey's flub sixty years ago.
The role of Brigid O'Shaughnessy was first offered to 27-year-old Geraldine Fitzgerald. Although the studio desperately wanted the newcomer in the role, she turned it down flat because it interfered with a scheduled trip to the East Coast. Although Olivia de Havilland, Rita Hayworth, and Ingrid Bergman were briefly considered, the next port of call for the part of was Mary Astor. John Huston and Humphrey Bogart visited her at her home to talk over the script and she was immediately smitten by their palpable excitement in the project. Already familiar with the novel, Astor was even more impressed with the screenplay which she thought was a "humdinger". She signed on straight away.
The climactic confrontation scene lasts nearly twenty minutes, one-fifth of the entire running time of the film. It involves all five principal characters, and filming required over one full week (one day - 4 July 1941 - was taken off).
There is an inordinate amount of smoking done by the main actors in this film. According to then-studio employee (and future screenwriter) Stuart Jerome, this resulted in a feud between stars Humphrey Bogart and Peter Lorre, and studio head Jack L. Warner. Warner hated to see actors smoking on the screen, fearing it would prompt smokers in the movie audience to step out into the lobby for a cigarette. During the filming of The Maltese Falcon (1941), Warner told director John Huston that smoking in the film should be kept to a minimum. Bogart and Lorre thought it would be fun to annoy Warner by smoking as often as possible, and got their co-stars, Mary Astor and Sydney Greenstreet to go along with the joke. During the initial filming of the climactic confrontation, all four actors smoked heavily. After seeing the rushes, Warner furiously called Huston to his office and threatened to fire him from the picture if he didn't tell Bogart and Lorre to knock it off. Realizing their prank had backfired, Bogart and Lorre agreed to stop smoking on camera. However, when the next series of rushes came back, it was obvious that the *lack* of smoking by the actors was taking away from the sinister mood of the scene. Huston went back to Jack Warner, and convinced him that the smoking added the right amount of atmospheric tension to the story, arguing that the characters *would* smoke cigarettes while waiting nervously for the Maltese Falcon to arrive.
It was Howard Hawks who knew that John Huston wanted to direct. He suggested that Huston do The Maltese Falcon (1941) which was already owned by Warner Brothers and had been adapted to film twice before. Unlike the previous productions, Hawks suggested that Huston "film the book." Before going on a vacation, John Huston gave his secretary a copy of the book and told her to type it up in screenplay form. Studio chief Jack L. Warner saw the script, read it, and gave it a green light even before John Huston has a chance to read it.
When Warner Brothers saw how successful the film was, the studio decided to produce a sequel. Director John Huston had written the script for the sequel, which was to be titled 'Three Strangers'. The film was supposed to contain many of the primary characters from The Maltese Falcon (1941), specifically Sam Spade. Before the film reached production, however, Dashiell Hammett informed Warner Brothers that he owned the rights to the characters in The Maltese Falcon (1941) and even though the studio had purchased the rights to novel, it did not own the rights to the characters in the novel. Three Strangers (1946) was eventually filmed with different characters. Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet both appeared in both The Maltese Falcon and Three Strangers.
Having seen how profligate novice writer-directors like Orson Welles and Preston Sturges had been, Warner Brothers were not keen on giving John Huston too much control. They acquiesced when Huston agreed to do an immediate polish on the script for Sergeant York (1941).
Three of the statuettes still exist and are conservatively valued at over $1 million each. This makes them some of the most valuable film props ever made; indeed they are now worth more than the film cost to make.
Frustrated at seeing his script for Juarez (1939) rewritten by Paul Muni, the film's star, John Huston vowed that from then on he would direct his own screenplays and therefore not have to see them get meddled with. He was fortunate in that he had a staunch ally in the form of producer Henry Blanke who was happy to fulfill Huston's wish.
According to Mary Astor in her autobiography 'A Life on Film', Sydney Greenstreet was very nervous before his first scene and remarked," Mary dear, hold my hand, tell me I won't make an ass of meself!"
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
The revolver used to shoot Miles is almost correctly identified by Sam as a Webley-Fosbery; he erroneously identifies the gun and mispronounces the name as "Foresby"), saying, "It's a Webley-Foresby, .45 automatic, eight shot. They don't make 'em anymore." While the .38 caliber did have an eight-round capacity, the .455 (not .45) did not. And though some .455 Webleys were modified to fire the more common .45 ACP cartridge by use of half-moon clips, unless specially modified on an individual basis, there was never a .45 caliber eight-shot Webley-Fosbery Automatic Revolver. In the original Dashiell Hammett novel the gun is correctly identified as a "Thirty-eight, eight shot".. All Sam says about it is, "They don't make 'em anymore."
There were several 11-1/2" tall falcon props made for use in the film. Some were cast of plastic resin, some of lead. Only two 45 lb. lead falcons and two 5 lb., 5.4 oz resin falcons are verified to be in existence today. One lead Falcon has been displayed for years at various venues. The second, which was marred at the end of the movie by Sydney Greenstreet, was a gift to William Conrad by studio chief Jack L. Warner. It was auctioned in December 1994, nine months after Conrad's death for $398,500 to Ronald Winston of Harry Winston, Inc. At that time, it was the highest price paid for a movie prop ever sold for. It was used to model a 10 lb. gold replica displayed at The 69th Annual Academy Awards (1997). The replica has Burmese ruby eyes, interchangeable claws (one set of gold, one set of coral) and holds a platinum chain in its beak with a 42.98 flawless diamond at the end. It's valued at over $8 million. The lead and resin falcons are valued in excess of $2 million - coincidentally the value placed on the "real" Maltese Falcon by Kasper Gutman.
Contrary to popular opinion, "It's the stuff that dreams are made of", spoken by Humphrey Bogart, is not the last line in the picture. Immediately after Bogart says that, Ward Bond, playing a detective, says, "Huh?" making that the last line in the picture.
In all the scenes involving Mary Astor, there's a suggestion of prison. In one scene, she wears striped pajamas, the furniture in the room is striped and the slivers of light coming through the Venetian blinds suggest jail cell bars. When she steps into the elevator at the end of the film, the lighting also suggests bars.
John Huston hated the first two attempts to film the novel as The Maltese Falcon (1931) and Satan Met a Lady (1936). He felt particularly strongly about the fact that the studio had imposed a happy ending on the previous two examples.