The Maltese Falcon (1941) is one of my favorite movies and, in some ways, it led the way for an entire genre. Or two. Film noir and hard-boiled detective novels owe a lot to this picture’s enduring charm.
It is, if I were to oversimply, private eye Sam Spade’s greatest adventure. So much so that the public has been enthralled with similar characters and mystery stories for 80 plus years. Hollywood had tried to make this movie, based on the 1930 pulp novel, twice before, but the third time was a charm. John Houston was the director and Humphrey Bogart, as Spade, was surrounded by top-notch actors.
(The villain was played by Sidney Greenstreet – in his very first film role at age 61!)
Spade was one of those early wisecracking detectives who were clever, relentless and followed his own moral compass.
Here’s how creator/author Dashiell Hammett described the enduring character:
Spade has no original. He is a dream man in the sense that he is what most of the private detectives I worked with would like to have been and in their cockier moments thought they approached. For your private detective does not — or did not ten years ago when he was my colleague — want to be an erudite solver of riddles in the Sherlock Holmes manner; he wants to be a hard and shifty fellow, able to take care of himself in any situation, able to get the best of anybody he comes in contact with, whether criminal, innocent by-stander or client.