The Maltese Falcon (1941) Poster


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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.
Humphrey Bogart had to supply his own wardrobe. This was common practice at Warner Brothers as a way for the studio to save some money.
John Huston had Mary Astor run around the set several times before each of her scenes in order to give her a breathless, nervous appearance on screen.
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.
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.
Much of the movie is filmed over Humphrey Bogart's shoulder so that the audience can be in on his point of view.
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".
Word-for-word and scene-for-scene virtually the same as the original novel.
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.
When she landed the part of Ilsa in Casablanca (1942), Ingrid Bergman watched this film repeatedly so as to study Humphrey Bogart's acting technique.
"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."
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.
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.
John Huston and company tickled themselves with a number of other on-set jokes. As Mary Astor recounted in her autobiography, the cast and crew had a system, whereby Huston would signal for a certain practical joke to be played for visitors to the set. For the benefit of visiting star-struck social clubwomen, the "No. 5" had Humphrey Bogart going into a prepared act with Sydney Greenstreet. He'd start yelling and cursing at him, calling him a fat old fool. "Who the hell do you think you are? You upstaged me, and I'm telling you I'm not having any--," at which point Huston would jump into the act, holding back Bogart's mock rage. Very quickly, the embarrassed and disillusioned ladies would shuffle towards the nearest exit. Meanwhile, the "No. 10" had Peter Lorre coming out of Astor's dressing room at the appropriate moment, adjusting his fly and saying, "See you later Mary."
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.
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.
Walter Huston did his uncredited cameo as a good luck gesture for his son. He had to promise to the notoriously tight head of studio, Jack L. Warner, that he wouldn't charge for his appearance.
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.
Although this was the 62-year old Sydney Greenstreet's film debut, he had already worked as a prominent stage actor for 40 years.
Peter Lorre's favorite of his films.
Mary Astor was having an affair with John Huston during the making of the film.
The first pairing of Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre, who would go on to make nine more movies together.
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.
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.
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.
As a joke, Walter Huston kept fumbling his walk-on cameo so his son John Huston had to do lots of different takes.
A few of the principal actors became close friends during the shooting. Humphrey Bogart, Peter Lorre, Ward Bond, and Mary Astor would often join John Huston at the Lakeside Country Club for drinks, buffet supper, and good conversation, usually until midnight. Bogart always considered Lorre and Huston great pals, mostly because they met two principal criteria: they weren't boring and they could drink like fish.
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".
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.
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 opening scroll about the history of the Maltese Falcon is entirely made up.
Most of the film was shot sequentially.
From the start, Peter Lorre was always John Huston's first choice to play Joel Cairo.
It was producer Henry Blanke who gave John Huston what he recalled as the single greatest piece of advice he would ever receive as a director: "Shoot each scene as if it was the most important scene in the film."
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 now-famous seven-minute take - truly innovative in its day - took two days to rehearse.
Filming was completed in two months at a cost of less than $300,000.
Elisha Cook Jr. (Wilmer Cook) was the last surviving cast member when he died on May 18, 1995 at the age of 91.
Humphrey Bogart has absolutely no resemblance to the character of Sam Spade as described in the book. There, he is over 6 feet tall, has a hooked nose and blond hair.
Humphrey Bogart and Mary Astor's dialog-heavy final scene took 3 days to shoot.
Even though the Warner Bros. executives were happy with John Huston's draft of the screenplay, they put restrictions on the first-time director's production by allotting him only six weeks to shoot the film with a $300,000 budget. If Huston happened to go over budget, Warner Bros. warned him that he would be looking for a job elsewhere. But Huston left nothing to chance. He tailored the screenplay to include shot-by-shot instructions for him and his crew, detailing the set-up of each and every scene. The final screenplay was so finely laid out that one could read the script and perfectly visualize the finished film. This method was used by Huston only for this film. Other directors, like Alfred Hitchcock and later Steven Spielberg, would employ this method more frequently throughout their career.
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).
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).
One of the first films admitted to the National Film Registry in its inaugural year, 1989.
Walter Huston, wanted to appear in his son's directorial debut picture for good luck.
Sydney Greenstreet was cast whenever the production had difficulty finding an actor large enough.
When he completed the screenplay, John Huston storyboarded it, allowing him time to plan out pictorial composition and camera movement. This whole set-up took two days to rehearse.
John Huston planned every part of the film down to the very last detail, storyboarding all of it. His notes on the script were so efficient that not one line of dialog was changed in the final edit.
During production, the cast and crew had the feeling they were shooting something exciting and tried to deter any unwanted visitors from coming to the set. The publicity people once brought a group of priests to the set. Before shooting began, Mary Astor looked down at her legs and said, "Hold it a minute, I've got a g**damn run in my stocking" while the publicity man quickly ushered the priests off the set.
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The total cost of designing, casting and painting all of the Maltese Falcons prepared for the film was less than $700.
As Sydney Greenstreet performed his first scene flawlessly, John Huston held his breath, a nervous tic that stayed with him throughout his career as a director.
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The small pistol Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre) pulls on Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) during their first meeting in Spade's office is a Colt model 1908 vest pocket pistol in .25 ACP caliber.
Sydney Greenstreet appeared in a special trailer to promote the film.
In 2007, the American Film Institute ranked this as the #31 Greatest Movie of All Time.
When Joel Cairo comes to Spade's office he is wearing the identical outfit, bow-tie included, as he wore for his passport photograph. In the final scene he has changed tie but the suit and shirt are the same.
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Ranked #6 on the American Film Institute's list of the 10 greatest films in the genre "Mystery" in June 2008.
Having seen how prolific 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).
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For Humphrey Bogart, the experience of the film was the tops. He later said, "It was practically a masterpiece. I don't have many things I'm proud of but that's one." Bogart so respected John Huston and the Sam Spade character that he searched until the end of his life for a script that recaptured the excitement he found in this film. A few years before his death, Bogart revealed that he had purchased a book to be adapted into a film for he and his wife, Lauren Bacall. "We might do it," he told a radio interviewer, "in association with John Huston...It's a little on the order of The Maltese Falcon."
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Despite the numerous practical jokes his cast and crew played, John Huston proved himself to be the consummate professional and was so efficient at his job that the crew often finished shooting for the day early, well ahead of schedule. On one of these days, Huston had set aside an entire day to shoot one elaborate moving camera sequence. The sequence lasted about seven minutes, and they nailed it perfectly in one take; the rest of the day was spent at the golf club. It was because of days like this that production finished two days ahead of schedule and $54,000 under budget.
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When John Huston was informed of who was to be his leading man, "I thanked God. It was a blessing!"
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To cast Humphrey Bogart, Warner Bros. took him off his suspension for refusing to appear in Bad Men of Missouri (1941).
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"The Screen Guild Theater" broadcast a 30 minute radio adaptation of the movie on September 20, 1943 with Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre, and on May 18, 1950 with Humphrey Bogart reprising his film role with his wife Lauren Bacall, and again at the "Academy Award Theater" on July 3, 1946 with Humphrey Bogart, Sydney Greenstreet and Mary Astor reprising their film roles.
Directorial debut of John Huston's Note: Jean Negulesco began work on the film, and it would have been his feature directorial debut, but he was replaced after two months by Huston.
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Warner Bros. briefly considered casting Edward G. Robinson as Sam Spade.
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The radio station call letters on a building outside of Sam's office window KLVW is actually an FM station in Odessa, TX / Tucson, AZ. Known as K-love they play christian contemporary music.
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When Kasper Gutman (Sydney Greenstreet) tells Sam Spade (Bogart) that the tale of the Maltese Falcon is "not schoolbook history, not Mr. Wells' history", he's referring to "The Outline of History" by H.G. Wells, published in 1919.
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Included among the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die", edited by Steven Schneider.
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The art director Robert M. Haas performed the same function on The Maltese Falcon (1931).
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Director Trademark 

John Huston: [father] Director's father Walter Huston makes a cameo as Captain Jacoby.


The trivia items below may give away important plot points.

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.
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.
There's only one scene in the film - the killing of Miles Archer - that doesn't involve the presence of Sam Spade. It was put in at the studio's insistence.
The scene where Sydney Greenstreet tries to get Humphrey Bogart to take a drink which is drugged was Greenstreet's first time in front of a Hollywood camera.
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 nowadays. 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 prop. It was used to model a ten-pound 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 carat 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.
Jerome Cowan, playing Spade's doomed partner Miles Archer, is only on-screen for two minutes total, although to many it seemed as if he had a much bigger part.
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.
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 novel the gun is correctly identified as a "Thirty-eight, eight shot". All Sam says about it is, "They don't make 'em anymore."

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