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"Let's Talk About The Black Bird"

The Maltese Falcon (1941) seems to epitomise the dark detective movies of the 40s, it is often labelled as the first or certainly an early example of film noir. Sam Spade is a much less urbane private detective than Nick Charles also created by Hammett for The Thin Man series but they do have something in common a self awareness, a sure feeling of control. That is what Miles Archer, Spade's partner lacks he is attracted by Mary Astor but is out of his depth in this shadowy world : you actually wonder how did he ever become involved in this detective agency ? He is a like a lamb to the slaughter, not in control at all, film noir heroes are often more like this, trapped in a dark world. Spade has his eyes wide open, he never appears out of his depth. He deals expertly with Joel Cairo getting his gun off him, realises Brigid O' Shaughnessy is a habitual liar, that Gutman's flattery can't be taken seriously.

Much of this feeling of power and control comes of course from Bogart whose performance is delightful, almost serious and comic at times. Bogie just delivers the dialogue so well. It is interesting that The Maltese Falcon (1941) isn't criticised for its labyrinth of a plot : it is very complicated, yet the action is so interesting, the characters so vivdly drawn any holes in the plot are conveniently forgotten. You don't find yourself asking why Spade is going along with this, why he is co-operating with criminals ?

The cast is of course perfection. Astor is the most diabolical female in films : Barbara Stanwyck might be sexier in Double Indemnity (1944) but Brigid gets my vote as the definitive femme fatale. Sydney Greenstreet is Gutman and vice versa, you can't think of anyone more perfect for that part. Lorre to my mind is the weakest link but he does give us some fun with his overacting on the discovery of the fake black bird : the sequence to me is the weakest in the film but it could be said it works very well as comic relief. Lorre was typed a bit as a villain after his great performance in Fritz Lang's M (1931) but again who else could be Joel Cairo in this version ?

The Maltese Falcon (1941) is the greatest detective film ever made.

Derek McLellan is the Admin of the reciently established forum “Golden Age Of Hollywood…”

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