March 09, 2013

The Maltese Falcon

If the actors in The Maltese Falcon (1941) talked any faster, they'd be unintelligible, and if they talked any slower, the film wouldn't be nearly as entertaining. This is the kind of thriller that thrives on quick wit and quick words, and proves how a cadre of rotten-to-the-core characters can be appealing and turn a movie into a true classic. Humphrey Bogart heads the cast as Sam Spade, the cynical private eye who's hired by Mary Astor to help her get hold of a jewel-encrusted statue, one whose existence is the stuff of legend. So many people have died trying to get it--or trying to keep it, for that matter--that it seems foolish to imagine that anyone else would want to come near it. But like a magnet, it attracts people of questionable character who can't help themselves but respond to its pull. Peter Lorre, as the fiendish Mr. Cairo, gives a really marvelous performance. His facial expressions stir up all kinds of feverish suggestions in our minds, and what actually takes place in his performance in the form of gestures and tone of voice is very subtly villainous. He's got a "foreign-ness" that typecast him as such, and yet he's so good at playing that kind of sophisticated but sleazy character. Sydney Greenstreet, as The Fat Man, is appropriately greedy in his quest for the falcon and appropriately conniving in his slick method of getting people to do his bidding for him.

Based on the novel by Dashiell Hammett. Written and directed by John Huston. With Lee Patrick, Elisha Cook, Gladys George, Barton MacLane, Ward Bond, and Jerome Cowan. 101 min. ½

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