Maltese Falcon, The (1941)

Maltese Falcon, The (1941)

“I don’t mind a reasonable amount of trouble.”

When his partner (Jerome Cowan) is murdered while doing investigation work for a beautiful, mysterious woman (Mary Astor), private detective Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) digs more deeply into the case, and soon finds himself caught up in a desperate search for an invaluable relic known as the Maltese Falcon.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Detectives and Private Eyes
  • Elisha Cook Jr. Films
  • Femmes Fatales
  • Humphrey Bogart Films
  • John Huston Films
  • Mary Astor Films
  • Murder Mystery
  • Peter Lorre Films
  • Sydney Greenstreet Films
  • Ward Bond Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary notes, this third cinematic adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s novel (following Roy Del Ruth’s 1931 version, and William Dieterle’s Satan Met a Lady in 1936) is a “rare imitation that was more impressive than the original”. The story itself — which remains remarkably faithful to Hammett’s vision — is rather convoluted, and requires multiple viewings to fully absorb; instead, what’s really special about this “true masterpiece” is its “incredible pacing” — accomplished “by Huston’s rapid-fire editing within scenes and dialogue that shoots back and forth” — and the “impeccable casting” choices, most notably 62-year-old Sidney Greenstreet (in his screen debut) as obese Kasper Gutman; the “incomparable Peter Lorre” as Gutman’s “neurotic, emotional, effeminate, gushy partner” (as Peary notes, “one second he’s giggling, the next he’s crying”); and, of course, Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade, a “complex character” who’s simultaneously “witty, patient, sadistic, and cynical”. Arthur Edeson’s impressive “low-key camera work” deserves mention as well, given that it “helped make film noir the dominant style of forties detective films”. As Peary notes, this “landmark picture” — which he nominates as one of the Best Pictures of the Year in his Alternate Oscars book — “set the style and tone for hardboiled detective films”, and is most definitely worthy repeat viewing for all film fanatics.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade (Peary nominates him as Best Actor of the Year in his Alternate Oscars book)
  • Peter Lorre as Joel Cairo
  • Mary Astor as Brigid O’Shaughnessy
  • Sydney Greenstreet as Kasper Gutman
  • Lee Patrick as Effie, Spade’s loyal secretary
  • Elisha Cook Jr. as Gutman’s wide-eyed “gunsel”, Wilmer
  • Arthur Edeson’s noirish b&w cinematography
  • John Huston’s masterful directorial style
  • Huston’s screenplay (by way of Dashiell Hammett’s now-classic pulp novel)

Must See?
Yes. This acknowledged cult classic should be seen and enjoyed multiple times by film fanatics. Discussed at length in Peary’s Cult Movies (1981).


  • Cult Movie
  • Genuine Classic
  • Important Director

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)


2 thoughts on “Maltese Falcon, The (1941)

  1. A must…? Yessiree-bob!

    A jim-dandy!

    A humdinger!

    A reason for rejoicing!


    I love this film! Well, after all, it *is* a John Huston (my favorite) flick, and here he is very much in top form!

    [If you haven’t seen it…stop reading now and go watch! …But if you’re indulging me…]

    Part of what makes this film work so well is that Huston is very much in on ‘the joke’. He tends to play it all light, cool, almost tongue-in-cheek. (Note Bogart when he has a big grin on his face after chewing out Greenstreet, then leaving.) Huston seems to find the material (which he adapted from Dashiell Hammett’s novel – which, unfortunately, I haven’t read) rather amusing overall (which is backed up by Adolph Deutsch’s often playful score). However, he also knew when to focus on the inherent drama of the piece. No dummy he.

    The result is sublime. There is so much juicy stuff going on on the periphery of the first half of the film that the main story may seem an incidental. But that’s all more or less tied up with a bow once the wonderful mind-fuck occurs midway and the title of the film stands at full attention.

    And, throughout, there’s simply a ton of snappy dialogue (i.e., Bogart to Lorre, after slapping him: “When you’re slapped, you’ll take it and like it!”).

    Which reminds me: is Lorre supposed to be gay? Is Greenstreet?

    And then there’s Mary Astor (oddly referred to early on as “a knockout” – which she isn’t). This is one of the most bewitching femme fatales in film history – she seems to take only short, believable rests between the most elaborate lies. The woman lies like an ornate rug. It’s delicious to watch.

    True, this is one that ffs will want to return to – gladly – from time to time. A real cinematic feast!

    Note: That’s John’s dad Walter as Capt. Jacobi, who simply delivers the falcon then dies. And, of course, he’s terrific.

Leave a Reply