John Huston directs Humphrey Bogart, Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet in this detective thriller where Sam Spade takes on a case to find the MacGuffin everyone wants their hands on.
A stone cold classic… that can feel a little stagey at first glance. The final twenty minute sequence is just the five principals waiting in a room and plotting as they do. That’s the movie’s spell though. The Maltese Falcon is what Tarantino would call ‘a hang out movie.’ You get a bunch of cool customers, some at odds with each other, most not exactly what they seem and then let them stew in the pot together for most of the running time. Bogart is pretty spicy as Sam Spade, always happy to try a bluff, not particularly scared even when he has the lowest hand showing. He makes quite a nice score in commissions and retainers off every conniver he meets. Lorre is awesome as the conman Joel Cairo, oily and reptilian – he is like a Disney jungle villain reverse-anthropomorphised. Mary Astor is the untrustworthy damsel. Elisha Cook Jnr. a pitiable bottom rung gunsel. Ward Bond is our friendly police investigator about five blocks behind everyone else on the case… especially when Spade spins him every point on the compass. Lee Patrick is the indomitable secretary cum confidant. You get the feeling she could be running Spade & Archer even if both gumshoes got blasted. And then there is the magnificent Greenstreet – jovial, verbose and predatory. Every gesture and aside is delivered with devilish flair by the master criminal. Allegedly he’s based on a real life overly ambitious swindler. The Fat Man here is a notorious pleasure. The sleuthing plot is impenetrable so just enjoy Spade’s bullshitting prowess when trapped in a room with all these jackals. 90 minutes in this company is “the stuff that dreams are made of.”
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