The following review was written by Ultimate Rabbit correspondent, Tony Farinella.
“The Maltese Falcon” is a film I imagine I will enjoy a lot more on a second viewing, as this was my first time watching it. The reason I say this is because there are a lot of moving pieces in this film, and it is never boring. However, at times, I found myself trying to follow the story and the plot instead of being as immersed in the story as I would have liked to have been. Many people have called it the first-ever film noir. Film noir is a genre that Humphrey Bogart excelled in throughout his career. He had a rough look and a gruff voice. He wasn’t going to take any nonsense from anyone, and no matter how dire a situation was, he always seemed to know what was going on, and he was not going to be rattled by the circumstances around him.
Humphrey Bogart plays a private investigator named Sam Spade. He is in business with his partner, Miles Archer (Jerome Cowan). One day, a woman walks into their office by the name of Ruth Wonderly (Mary Astor), claiming her sister ran off from New York to San Francisco with a man named Floyd Thursby. She is hoping that Spade and Archer can help her find her sister. Archer agrees to look into it, but he ends up dead along with Floyd Thursby. This captures the attention of Sam Spade, who is beginning to wonder the validity of her story. Before long, he discovers that her real name is actually Brigid O’Shaughnessy.
Throughout all of this mystery and intrigue, Sam finds himself in the crosshairs of Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre), who offers Sam some money for a highly valued falcon statue. There is also a young man named Wilmer (Elisha Cook Jr.) who is keeping his eyes on Sam along with Kasper Gutman (Sydney Greenstreet), a rotund money man who will stop at nothing to get his hands on this bird. Throughout all of the twists and turns, Sam isn’t sure who to believe, who to trust, and who is telling the truth. He stays in control and makes smart decisions, even when people are pointing their guns at him or he’s suspected of murder by the police.
One of the strong points of “The Maltese Falcon” is the running time. At 100 minutes, there is not a dull moment in the film. It is paced perfectly and directed with great skill by John Huston. It has the look and feel that one would expect from a film noir. You have your femme fatale in Mary Astor. She’s brilliant here, as she’s able to go from vulnerable and naïve to cunning and savvy in the blink of an eye. Of course, you have Bogart, who made a living in Hollywood playing this type of character. Guys liked and respected him, and women were drawn to his tough exterior. As mentioned earlier, he is always able to stay level-headed, even in life-or-death circumstances. He still seems to know what to do and what to say to get himself out of a jam.
In the end, I respected and admired “The Maltese Falcon” as a film. I can’t say I enjoyed it a ton because of the storytelling. It’s not an overly complicated film, but at times, there are too many twists and turns happening at once. That being said, I think the more I watch this film, the more I will enjoy it and have a better understanding of everything. Because of the deception happening on screen and characters coming and going, it’s not that it was hard to follow, it’s more that I was keeping up with the plot instead of getting lost in it. I look forward to watching this film many more times in the future, as I think I will gain an even greater appreciation for the skilled acting and directing on display.
* * * out of * * * *
4K Info: “The Maltese Falcon” is released on a two-disc 4K/Blu-ray combo pack from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment. The film has a running time of 100 minutes. It also comes with a digital copy of the film. As far as the film’s rating, it is not rated, but that is not because it’s a raunchy film. It was released in 1941 and is very tame.
Video Info: Ultra High Definition HDR always stands out on older films. A lot of movie buffs like to talk about how older films are enhanced by a 4K transfer, and that is certainly the case here. From the swift movements of the characters to the deep blacks, this is a stunning transfer of a black and white film. Right now, 4K is doing some truly amazing work with classic Hollywood films.
Audio Info: The film is presented on the following audio formats: DTS-HD MA: English 2.0 Mono and Dolby Digital: Spanish. Subtitles are included in English and Spanish as well. The audio is crisp, clear, and all of the great dialogue you would expect from a film noir is easy to digest while watching this film.
Commentary by Humphrey Bogart Biographer Eric Lax
“Warner Night at the Movies”
“Sergeant York” Trailer
“New Highlights of the Roosevelt Churchill Parley” (newsreel)
“The Gay Parisian” (1941 WB short)
“Meet John Doughboy” (1941 WB cartoon)
The Maltese Falcon: One Magnificent Bird
Becoming Attractions: The Trailers of Humphrey Bogart
Breakdowns of 1941 (WB short)
2/8/43 Lux Radio Theater Broadcast
9/20/43 Screen Guild Theater Broadcast
7/3/46 Academy Award Theater Broadcast
1936 “Satan Met a Lady”
1941 “The Maltese Falcon”
Should You Buy It?
I don’t feel like I am really giving this film the credit it deserves, but keep in mind, this was my first time watching it. I have always been a big believer that you need to watch a great film a few times in order to fully appreciate it. It doesn’t always strike on the first chord. There is a lot to like, especially the acting and the pacing of the plot, but the story took me out of it at times. With all of that being said, if you are a fan of “The Maltese Falcon,” you owe it to yourself to buy it on 4K. It looks fantastic here in black and white and in high dynamic range with its 4K transfer. It’s such a moody film noir that truly gets a boost from 4K. The special features are transferred over from the previously released Blu-ray, so if you are looking for anything new here, you are not going to find it, but I don’t expect anything new from a film that was released in 1941 as most, if not all, of the actors have passed away. If you are a first-time viewer like myself, I still think you should buy it as you will get the slipcover and might enjoy it more than I did. If you love the film and have seen it many times, you will enjoy it even more on 4K. I look forward to seeing what else Warner Brothers is going to be releasing throughout the year during their 100th year anniversary.
**Disclaimer** I received a copy of this film from Warner Brothers to review for free. The opinions and statements in the review are mine and mine alone.