During the 2017 holiday season, I got a great deal on the Best of Warner Bros. 100 Film Collection. Diane and I haven’t seen most of these movies, but we are committed to watching one a week and writing a short review.
Look here: I got something to say and I am going to say it. This is the kind of thing that makes a man, I mean really makes a man. Without it, the world would be chaos – glim, glum, no glamour. With it, man has the power to rewrite it all. He can kiss the dame and he can win any fight. Money is nothing in comparison. And love? Well, we already got that, precious.
And just what is that “thing” that “really makes a man”, you ask?
Watching “The Maltese Falcon” from 1941, of course!
To me, nothing says classic Hollywood dialogue like film noir. It has that perfect blend of slang, speed, and philosophy. At any moment, a line can dip into the most sexist thing you have ever heard or wax romantic at the next pair of legs that walks by. Style over substance, etc.
Humphrey Bogart in “The Maltese Falcon” is no exception. He plays your archetypical private eye, a man by the name of Sam Spade, who spends the entire plot knowing nothing and everything at the same time. He’s a variation of the “smartest man in the room” who uses his street smarts more than his intellect to read his way in and out of any room. With charm and moxey, nothing stops him.
I have long wanted to watch “The Maltese Falcon” and other movies like it. I didn’t grow up with any want to be a detective or private eye, but this is a classic distillation of a male power fantasy for those of us who don’t want to be Achilles or some other kind of muscle-bound man-strosity. It is incredibly sexist, of course.
The women in “The Maltese Falcon” are varied but undeveloped. The wife of Sam’s murdered partner reveals her and Sam’s affair early on. She barely factors into the rest of plot give or take a few sad-eyed shots of her looking onto the rest of the story. Sam’s secretary busts her ass the entire movie and she doesn’t even get kidnapped once for more screen time. She’s the most positive female character, but she is entirely limited to doing what Sam orders. The love interest, Brigid (Mary Astor), spends the entire movie “being afraid” despite being one of the principle villains!
That’s not to say I disliked the movie, it is just dated by default. I am sure there is an alternate universe incel version of me that worships Humphrey Bogart in this role. I know this universe’s me wishes I could wear a suit and hat half as well. But I’d prefer a version without women if they are only going to serve as accessories to a plot that would hardly change without them.
I will say that Brigid’s turn as being an actual villain and Sam’s refusal to protect her since she murdered his partner was refreshingly modern. Even if I cared little for what happened to her and we had to suffer a scene about how Sam and Bridgid were “in love” after a few days of making eyes at one another, seeing the romantic interest get arrested was great. Diane and I both loved that they didn’t end up together.
Beyond that, it is a beautiful film. Unlike “Citizen Kane” where parodies spoil the plot, parodies of “The Maltese Falcon” tend to ape the style and not the story. Despite always knowing of the movie, I was on the edge of my seat the entire time wondering what might happen next. Like “Citizen Kane”, there are some really cool camera angles and shots that really heighten the intensity at times or focus in on the actors.
I doubt either of us ever revisit “The Maltese Falcon”. It feels like a product of its time, albeit in a less harmful way than some of the racist or even more sexist movies we’ve seen in this series. There’s a lot to love and I still want to explore the film noir sub-genre further, but this is a one and done for us both.