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, each is now worth more than three times what the film cost to make.
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.
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.
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".
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 filming, 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 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.
Mary Astor's off-screen notoriety was instrumental in her casting. She had been in several scandals concerning affairs she had been involved in during her marriage. When she first came to Hollywood had an affair with the much older John Barrymore, her husband had been killed in a plane crash, had been married multiple times--which was considered scandalous behavior in those times--and was an alcoholic. During a bitter custody hearing, a diary she had kept recounting her various sexual exploits was made public--her former secretary had stolen it and sold it to a newspaper--and the salacious details were splashed across the front pages of most newspapers in the country for the duration of the trial.
Two "Maltese Falcons" were used because Humphrey Bogart accidentally dropped the original during shooting. It is on display in the movie museum at Warner Bros. studios; its tail feathers are visibly dented from when Bogart dropped it.
When Warner Brothers saw how successful the film was, it decided to produce a sequel. Director John Huston had written a script for the sequel, to be titled "Three Strangers". The film was supposed to contain many of the primary characters from this film, specifically Sam Spade. Before the film reached production, however, Dashiell Hammett informed Warner Brothers that he owned the rights to the characters, and even though the studio had purchased the rights to the novel, it did not own the rights to the characters. Three Strangers (1946) was eventually filmed with different characters. Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet appeared in both "The Maltese Falcon" and "Three Strangers".
"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 dreams are made on, / And our little life is rounded with a sleep."
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.
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 Huston's surprise, Warner loved the script and insisted that Huston started shooting it immediately.
Sam Spade refers to Wilmer as a "gunsel", a term the censors assumed was a reference to a gunman. The Yiddish term "gunsel"--literally, "little goose"--may indeed be a vulgarism for homosexual (the word "faigle", or "little bird", is usually used in that respect), but it's more commonly an "underground" term that 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.
At 357 pounds, 60-year-old British newcomer Sydney Greenstreet was so large that the studio had to specially manufacture his entire wardrobe for the role of Kasper Gutman. The chair in which Greenstreet sits while talking with Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) in the hotel room was also specially made for him; the chairs the prop department was going to use weren't wide enough to accommodate Greenstreet's girth nor strong enough to support his weight.
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.
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 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 this was the directorial debut of John Huston, who had been a successful screenwriter. Raft didn't want to put his career in the hands of a first-time director.
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. Olivia de Havilland, Rita Hayworth and Ingrid Bergman were briefly considered, but it was next offered to 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 about the project. Already familiar with the novel, she was even more impressed with the screenplay, which she thought was a "humdinger". She signed on straight away.
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.
It was Howard Hawks who knew that John Huston wanted to direct. He suggested that Huston do this film, 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, 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 Huston had a chance to read it.
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!"
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.
The climactic confrontation scene lasts nearly 20 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--July 4--was taken off).
For decades this film could not be legally shown on US television stations because of its underlying suggestions of "illicit" sexual activity among the characters (i.e., O'Shaughnessy's promiscuity, indications that Joel Cairo was a homosexual).
Having seen how profligate novice writer-directors like Orson Welles and Preston Sturges had been, Warner Brothers was not keen on giving John Huston too much control. The studio acquiesced when Huston agreed to do an immediate polish on the script for Sergeant York (1941).
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
In all the scenes involving Brigid O'Shaughnessy (Mary Astor), there's a suggestion that she had spent time in 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.
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.
There were several 11.5"-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 ever paid for a movie proper. It was used to model a ten-pound gold replica displayed at The 69th Annual Academy Awards show in 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.
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-cbl. did have an eight-round capacity, the .455-cal. (not .45-cal.) did not. Also, 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-cal. eight-shot Webley-Fosbery Automatic Revolver. In the original 'Dashiell Hammett' (q) novel the gun is correctly identified as a "Thirty-eight, eight shot". All Sam says about it is, "They don't make 'em anymore."