“I aim to give service at all times — night and day.”
While investigating the death of his partner (Walter Long) [whose wife (Thelma Todd) he was having an affair with], a womanizing private eye Sam Spade (Ricardo Cortez) with a loyal secretary (Una Merkel) becomes romantically involved with a beautiful client (Bebe Daniels) who is one among several people — including gun-wielding Dr. Cairo (Otto Matieson), portly Casper Gutman (Dudley Diggs), and Gutman’s gunsel (Dwight Frye) — interested in securing a valuable statue known as the Maltese Falcon.
Although it’s much less widely viewed than the 1941 John Huston remake, this early screen adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s detective novel — directed by Roy Del Ruth — remains a solidly enjoyable tale of deception, femmes fatales, greed, and hard-boiled investigation. The film’s success is due to a combination of factors: a charismatic performance by silent screen star Cortez; fine turns by all the supporting players; atmospheric cinematography; and a refreshingly sassy Pre-Code script — including an unstated but obvious romantic relationship between Digges and Frye:
“Your little boyfriend just checked out.”
“That’s too bad. His services would have been… invaluable. And I loved him… like a son.”
Film fanatics will likely enjoy comparing and contrasting the two Falcon movies — as well as the retitled 1936 version Satan Met a Lady, which most critics hate but I find light-heartedly enjoyable. (Then again, I haven’t read the original novel in years, so don’t have a strong point of reference.)
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Ricardo Cortez as Sam Spade
- Notable supporting performances
- A cleverly risque script
- Atmospheric cinematography
Yes, as a fine Pre-Code flick. Listed as a film with Historical Relevance and a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.