Welcome to today’s show, The Maltese Falcon (1941), my name is John. As always you can subscribe to the show on iTunes or follow the links to social media in the podcast show notes. You can also go to classicmovierev.com to read notes, bios, and other random movie thoughts. Remember this show is completely free and independent. All I ask is that you jump over to iTunes and give me a review.
Today is a major milestone, 100 Episodes. I want to thank you for all the support that you have given me as I have endeavored to produce this podcast.
So, as I did for Episode 25, I will go with a Humphrey Bogart film. Today’s movie is a film noir classic The Maltese Falcon (1941) which I will go out on a limb and say this is maybe the best film ever made.
Ward Bond played the role of Detective Tom Polhaus. Bond was covered in Episode 53 – It’s A Wonderful Life (1946).
Mary Astor played the role of Brigid O’Shaughnessy. Astor was born in Illinois in 1906. Her parents though she was a beautiful baby and began entering her in beauty pageants. At the age of 14, she was spotted by a Hollywood big wig and given a small role in The Scarecrow (1920). These were followed by other silent roles such as Beau Brummel (1924) and Don Juan (1926).
Astor was able to make the transition to talkies with films such as Red Dust (1932), Convention City (1933), Man of Iron (1935), and The Prisoner of Zenda (1937).
She earned a Best Supporting Actress for The Great Lie (1941). Of course, that year she was in The Maltese Falcon (1941). Following this, her career began to taper off. During the 1950s she was only in 5 films. Her last film was a great one, Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964). She died in 1987 at the age of 81.
Gladys George had a small role as Iva Archer, wife of PI Miles Archer. While his parents were acting in Maine, Gladys was born around 1900. At the age of three, she began working in a vaudeville act with her parents. By 1918, she was working on Broadway. George started working in silent films with Red Hot Dollars (1919). She was doing well until she was severally burned in an accident. Gladys returned to film Straight is the Way (1934). She was next in Valiant Is the Word for Carrie (1936) for which she received a best actress Oscar nomination. She has other major roles with Madame X (1937) and Marie Antoinette (1938). George played a bar owner that had actor James Cagney die in her lab after killing his rival played by Humphrey Bogart. She then delivered the line “He used to be a big shot.” In The Maltese Falcon (1941) she had a small part as the unfaithful wife of murdered private investigator Miles Archer.
Of course, like so many others, the role that I respect her for the most is the understated step-mother, Hortense Derry, in The Best Years of Our Lives (1946). Except for a great performance in Flamingo Road (1949) her career was essentially over. Sadly, she died early at the age of 54 in 1954.
Peter Lorre played criminal Joel Cairo. Peter Lorre was born in 1904 in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. As a youth, Lorre ran away from home and began studying theater in Vienna. He made his stage debut in Zurich before moving to Germany. His first large role was when Fritz Lang cast him as a manic child killer in M (1931).
When those damn Nazis started messing up Germany, Lorre left Germany, for Paris, London, and then Hollywood. While in England, Lorre made The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) under the direction of Alfred Hitchcock. His first American films were Mad Love (1935) and Crime and Punishment (1935). He played Mr. Moto in a number of films. Frustrated with these roles he broke his contract with Fox.
For RKO Lorre made Third Floor (1940) and You’ll Find Out (1940). The latter was a musical comedy mystery co-starring Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff.
Lorre was under contract with Warner Bros. from 1941-1946. Director John Huston cast Lorre in The Maltese Falcon (1941). This major film was followed by Casablanca (1942). Casablanca (1942) was the second of nine movies that starred Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet. These other movies include Background to Danger (1943), Passage to Marseille (1944), The Mask of Dimitrios (1944), The Conspirators (1944), Hollywood Canteen (1944), Three Strangers (1946), and The Verdict (1946).
Lorre was amazing in Frank Capra’s version of Arsenic and Old Lace (1944) co-starring Cary Grant and Raymond Massey. The last film he made for Warner was The Beast with Five Fingers (1946). Lorre played it so over the top that it is a well-respected camp movie.
Lorre believed that Jack Warner kept him from working as a result of his opposition to HUAC. After his contracted ended Lorre worked in radio and on stage. In (1950, he returned to Germany and directed some films.
Lorre returned to the US in 1952. He was a part of the Disney film 20,000 Leagues under the Sea (1954). He had another submarine role as a shark researcher in Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961). He made a couple of films with Roger Corman. These are Tales of Terror (1962) with Vincent Price and Basil Rathbone and The Raven (1963) with Price and Boris Karloff. Lorre’s final film was The Patsy (1964). Lorre died in 1964 of a stroke.
Der weiße Teufel (aka, The White Devil, (1930)
M (1931) as Hans Beckert
Die Koffer des Herrn O.F. (aka, The Trunks of Mr. O.F., (1931) as Redakteur Stix
The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) as Abbott
Crime and Punishment (1935) as Roderick Raskolnikov
Island of Doomed Men (1940) as Stephen Danel
Stranger on the Third Floor (1940) as The Stranger
You’ll Find Out (1940) as Fenninger
The Face Behind the Mask (1941) as Jamos ‘Johnny’ Szabo
The Maltese Falcon (1941) as Joel Cairo
All Through the Night (1941) as Pepi
Casablanca (1942) as Signor Ugarte
The Constant Nymph (1943) as Fritz Bercovy
The Cross of Lorraine (1943) as Sergeant Berger
Passage to Marseille (1944) as Marius
The Mask of Dimitrios (1944) as Cornelius Leyden
Arsenic and Old Lace (1944) as Dr. Einstein
The Conspirators (1944) as Jan Bernazsky
Hollywood Canteen (1944) as Peter Lorre
Hotel Berlin (1945) as Johannes Koenig
Confidential Agent (1945) as Contreras
Three Strangers (1946) as Johnny West
Black Angel (1946) as Marko
Double Confession (1950) as Paynter
Beat the Devil (1953) as Julius O’Hara
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954) as Conseil
Congo Crossing (1956) as Colonel John Miguel Orlando Arragas
Around the World in Eighty Days (1956) as Japanese Steward on the S.S. Carnatic
The Story of Mankind (1957) as Nero
Hell Ship Mutiny (1957) as Commissioner Lamoret
The Big Circus (1959) as Skeeter
Scent of Mystery (1960) as Smiley
Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961) as Comm. Lucius Emery
The Raven (1963) as Dr. Adolphus Bedlo
The Comedy of Terrors (1964) as Felix Grille
Muscle Beach Party (1964) as Mr. Strangdour
The Patsy (1964) as Morgan Heywood
Barton MacLane played the role of Lt. of Detectives Dundy. MacLane trained at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and went on Broadway in 1927. This led to a movie contract with Warner Brothers. MacLane began with uncredited roles in The Quarterback (1926) and The Cocoanuts (1929). He quickly found his place playing tough guys in movies like G Men (1935) with James Cagney, Bullets or Ballots (1936), Prison Break (1938), Western Union (1941), hard-nosed Detective in The Maltese Falcon (1941), swindler McCormick, in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) that got beaten up by Humphrey Bogart and Tim Holt over past-due wages, and Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye (1950).
He worked in television as well playing the same gruff character. His last roles were as Air Force Gen. Martin Peterson in “I Dream of Jeannie” 1965-1969. MacLane died in 1969 at the age of 66.
Sydney Greenstreet played the head of criminal Kasper Gutman. Great name. Primarily a stage actor Greenstreet did not have his film debut until he was 62 years old and weighed nearly 300 pounds. Of course, that first film was The Maltese Falcon (1941). In 8 years, he made a total of 24 films. Nine of these films including pairing with Peter Lorre. Greenstreet retired from film in 1949 and died 4 years later at the age of 75.
Jerome Cowan played private investigator Miles Archer. Cowan was born in New York City in 1897. Following high school, Cowan worked in a stock company and I burlesque. He debuted on Broadway in 1923. His first film role was Beloved Enemy (1936).
He soon found his place in films as a debonair sophisticate with a bad attitude. These movies include There’s Always a Woman (1938), Torrid Zone (1940), Crime by Night (1944), and Mr. Skeffington (1944). He was in The Maltese Falcon (1941) for just a bit, Riff-Raff (1947), the DA that indicted Chris Cringle in Miracle on 34th Street (1947), Frisco Lil (1942), Fog Island (1945), and Deadline for Murder (1946).
He had comedy roles as well playing Dagwood’s boss in the Blondie series. When his film career faded, he adapted well to television. Cowan died in 1972 at the age of 74.
Elisha Cook Jr. played novice criminal Wilmer Cook. Born in 1903 Cook started getting college rah-rah roles in the mid-1930s with youth stars like Judy Garland. In They Won’t Forget (1937), they learned that his talent was a psychotic. This set him on the path to playing killers and little fearful men in movies like The Maltese Falcon (1941), Phantom Lady (1944), The Big Sleep (1946), The Killing (1956), and Chicago Confidential (1957)
Cook was very successful on television as well. My first exposure to Cook was from “Magnum, P.I.” 1981-1988 where he played a semi-retired gangster by the name of Ice Pick. This played in perfectly with his movie roles and assumed mob connections of character Rick who even at one point owned a nightclub named Rick’s Place.
William Hopper has a small uncredited role as a reporter.
Director John Huston gave a small role of Ship Captain Jacoby to his famous actor father Walter Huston. I will defer going into the back story of this great actor until I get to maybe The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), or The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941) where he played Mr. Scratch AKA the Devil.
The great Roger Ebert said of this movie:
(1) The movie defined Humphrey Bogart‘s performances for the rest of his life; his hard-boiled Sam Spade rescued him from a decade of middling roles in B gangster movies and positioned him for Casablanca, Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The African Queen, and his other classics.
(2) It was the first film directed by John Huston, who for more than 40 years would be a prolific maker of movies that were muscular, stylish and daring.
(3) It contained the first screen appearance of Sydney Greenstreet, who went on, in “Casablanca” and many other films, to become one of the most striking character actors in movie history.
(4) It was the first pairing of Greenstreet and Peter Lorre, and so well did they work together that they made nine other movies, including Casablanca in (1942 and The Mask of Dimitrios (1944), in which they were not supporting actors but actually the stars.
(5) And some film histories consider “The Maltese Falcon” the first film noir. It put down the foundations for that native American genre of mean streets, knife-edged heroes, dark shadows and tough dames.
Also, The Maltese Falcon (1944) is one of the best examples of a MacGuffin. A MacGuffin is a plot device that moves the characters through the story. However, it otherwise has very little relevance to the story.
The movie begins with a history of the Maltase Falcon – In 1539 the Knight Templars of Malta, paid tribute to Charles V of Spain, by sending him a Golden Falcon encrusted from beak to claw with rarest jewels—but pirates seized the galley carrying this priceless token and the fate of the Maltese Falcon remains a mystery to this day.
The movie begins at the offices of private detectives Spade and Archer. Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) is in his office rolling a cigarette. The secretary Effie Perine (Lee Patrick) comes in to say there is a customer outside and she is a knock-out. Ms. Wonderly AKA Brigid O’Shaughnessy (Mary Astor) is ushered into the office. She is well groomed and wearing a dead animal around her neck. Now I have to stop for a minute. This is the only issue I have with this movie. Men are supposed to go nuts because she is so beautiful. However, she is not. I thought I was missing something and when back and checked her career. She was a big star back in the silent film days and did pretty well with the talkies. But she is silent film pretty and not really the kind to make people go crazy. Anyway, that is my only problem with this film so I will leave it alone.
Ms. Wonderly tells Spade that her sister has taken up with a man named Floyd Thursby and that she needs to be found before their parents return from Hawaii. She says that Thursby picked up the mail she sent and say he would come to the hotel that night if he couldn’t get her sister to come. About this time, Miles Archer (Jerome Cowan) comes into the office. Wonderly emphasis that Thursby is very violent. Archer is smitten with her and agrees to go on the stakeout that night. Archer says he say her first to which Spade replies – You’ve got brains.
The scene cuts away to a dark street where Archer is gunned down by an unknown shooter before rolling down the hill. Spade is at home and gets a call for Police Detective Tom Polhaus (Ward Bond) that Archer is dead. Spade calls Effie and asks her to tell Archer’s wife that he is dead. Spade meets Detective Polhaus at the murder scene and goes over the location of the killing but doesn’t check the body. Archer has not been robbed, his coat was still buttoned, and the gun that was used to kill him was an English model.
Spade leaves saying he is going to tell Archer’s wife. Instead, he phones for Wonderly and finds out that she has left the hotel with no forwarding address. Spade makes it back to his apartment just ahead of Detective Polhaus and Lt. Dundy (Barton MacLane). The cops start asking questions about Ms. Archer and whether he owns a gun. They tell Spade that Thursby was shot in front of his hotel about 30-minutes after Spade left Archer’s body. He says the police are crackin foxy which best as I can tell means talking slyly or in riddles. The cops know the two murders are linked and they still suspect Spade for the Thursby murder.
When Spade gets to the office, Effie tells him that Iva Archer (Gladys George) is waiting for him. When he goes in the office she kisses him in a way that indicates they have been having a relationship. She then asks if he killed Archer because he said if Archer wasn’t around they would be together. He sends her away with a promise that he will come to her soon. Effie comes in and tells Spade that Iva had just come in before she arrived at 3 am. Spade gets a call from Ms. LaBlanc and before he heads out, he tells Effie to have Spade and Archer removed from the doors and replaced with Samuel Spade.
When Spade gets to the apartment, it is Wonderly, who admits her name is Brigid O’Shaughnessy. Spade tells her that the police are looking for the killer or killers and O’Shaughnessy wants to know if they know about her. Spade says that she paid enough money that it didn’t matter that she was lying before. She then switches to the “be generous Mr. Spade.” O’Shaughnessy admits that she knows Thursby and they were partners before he betrayed her. In describing Thursby she says he always crumpled newspapers around his bed so no one could sneak up on him. This bit was used to great effect in The Falcon and the Snowman (1985). Spade quizzes her a lot about the killing of Thursby and Archer. He may be on to her already.After she tries everything Spade starts to walk out. He then asks for all her money, a total of $500. When she brings it, she has taken out a c-note.
Back at the office, Archer name has been taken off the door. Spade calls his lawyer to see how much he can keep from the police about his case. Spade is thing visited by a small man that smells of gardenias, Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre). The voice of Cairo is nasal, breathy, and halting. Cairo first offers $5,000 for help obtain a black figure of a bird [falcon]. Cario then pulls a small gun and says he is going to search the room. Spade is compliant and then disarms Cario and knocks him out. Cario has at least three passports and a ticket to the theater. When Cario comes to, he first complains about his suit being ruffled. Spade calls him out on not having the 5k. Cario says the offer is real but he doesn’t have the money with him. Spade tells him he does not have the bird. Cario gives him a $200 retainer for the bird. When Spade gives him his gun back, Cario pulls the gun and say he is going to search the office. Spade laughs and lets him.
Later Spade is walking down a busy street and a man Wilmer Cook (Elisha Cook Jr.) starts following him. Spade jumps in a taxi and drives away. He has the taxi stop at an apartment where he pushes every buzzer until he is admitted. Cook shows up in another taxi but is stuck at the front door as Spade doubles back and leaves him behind.
Spade goes back to the apartment where O’Shaughnessy is staying. She plays the damsel in distress for a bit but Spade finally tells her to knock it off. She says “I haven’t lived a good life. I have been bad.” Spade casually mentions that he saw Cario tonight. He sees in the way she is acting that they know each other. He tells her that Cario wanted the bird. He says he needs more confidence in her and she says she has given all of the money and Spade says there are more ways to gain trust than money. Then he kisses her. They decide to leave a message for Cario to meet them at Spade apartment.
When Cario shows up, he tells Spade that there is a boy watching the house. Spade says he knows as it is Cook, the same one who followed him before. There is palpable tension between Cario and O’Shaughnessy. O’Shaughnessy says she doesn’t have the falcon but will have it in a week because she knows where Thursby hid it. When Cario asks, what happened to Thursby, O’Shaughnessy says the fat man did it. The fat man seems to scare them both. They continue bantering about European when they get into a fight over who could take care of a lookout better with some vague homosexuality references. Spade jumps in and takes the drawn gun from Cario. Cario complains that it is the second-time Spade has laid hands on him. Spade double slaps him and says when you’re slapped you’ll take it and like it. About this time, Detective Polhaus and Lt. Dundy come in and ask about the affair with Iva Archer. When Cario and O’Shaughnessy start fighting again, the police bust into the house. Spade spins a tale it was a joke that they played on the detectives. Spade smarts off to the Lt. and gets smacked.
After the police leave, Spade starts grilling O’Shaughnessy. She tells that she was hired to steal the falcon in Europe. She says she doesn’t know why it is valuable. She says Cario was going to betray them so O’Shaughnessy and Thursby stole it first. She does some more damsel in distress as Spade looks out the window at Cook.
In the morning, Spade goes to Cario’s hotel. In the lobby, Cook is waiting. Spade starts probing Cook to see who he works for. Spade then tells the hotel detective that there is a gunsel in his lobby. The hotel dick throws the gunman out. When Cario comes in he is roughed up after spending the night with the police.
Spade heads back to the office and O’Shaughnessy is in his office. He has messages from the DA and Kasper Gutman AKA the fat man (Sydney Greenstreet). Gutman says he got the message from Cook and he will call back. O’Shaughnessy is now calling Spade darling. She says that her room has been ransacked. He sends her to say with Effie. When Spade calls the DA, Iva Archer comes in and says she called the police on him the previous night. He asks her where she was the night her husband was murdered. She lies and says at home. After she leaves, Gutman calls and Spade goes to meet him.
Cook opens the door to the room and the large Gutman is in the background. Spade throws out the black bird topic. Spade implies that he is in business for himself and knows where he can get the bird. Spade flies into a rage to trick Gutman into thinking he is serious. As Spade leaves in one elevator Cario comes up in the other.
At the DA’s office, they quiz Spade about the murders. Spade throws down on the DA and stenographer and leaves saying he was the only one who can solve the case. When he gets to his building Cook is there waiting to take him to Gutman. In the hall, right outside the door, Spade tricks Cook and takes his guns away. Gutman tells the story of the falcon for those that had trouble reading at the beginning of the film. The value of the falcon is estimated to be in the millions. Gutman tells the story of the falcons at it travels until he found out 17-years prior that it was in the hands of a Russian General. Gutman sent Cario, Thursby, and O’Shaughnessy to get it. Once the trio recovered the bird and found out its’ value they started double and triple crossing each other. Spade starts getting dizzy because Gutman has drugged him. When he tries to leave Cook trips him and kicks him in the head. Cario comes out of the back room. When Spade wakes very late in the day. He calls Effie and finds out that O’Shaughnessy never went to her house. Like a good detective, he searches the room. Under the shipping news in the paper he finds out that a ship, the La Paloma is arriving that day at 5:30 pm from Hong Kong. He knows that O’Shaughnessy has been in Hong Kong because of a label in her clothing.
Spade goes to the dock and finds the ship ablaze. They say everyone got off the ship okay. Spade goes back to the office and explains to story to Effie. At the end of the story, the mortally wounded Ship Captain Jacoby (Walter Huston) staggers into the office carrying a package wrapped in a Chinese newspaper and tied with string. He drops the package and falls to his death with no explanation. Spade opens the package and sees the falcon. The phone rings and Effie answers. It is O’Shaughnessy screaming help and begging for help. Spade tells Effie to call the police and tell them most of the story. He checks in the falcon at a bus terminal baggage storage area. He mails the claim ticket to a PO box.
Spade jumps a taxi and heads to the address he was given by O’Shaughnessy. It is a bunch of abandon building in a bad part of town but with O’Shaughnessy. Spade calls Effie and tells her not to worry. He returns to his apartment and just like a bad penny is O’Shaughnessy. When they walk into the apartment, Cook is behind the door with a gun, while Gutman and Cario are seated in the living room. Spade stands up to Cook and the young crook is a little off put. Cario has a gun on Spade as well but Gutman gives him $10,000 for the falcon. Spade says they have to find a fall guy for the murders. Spade decides on the young hood Cook. At this point, Spade thinks Thursby killed Archer, and Cook killed Thursby and Captain Jacobi. Spade has the bird so Gutman won’t let Cook shoot them.
When Gutman says no to the deal, Spade recommends Cario and then O’Shaughnessy for the fall guy. When Cook become convinced they are going to turn on him, he moves towards Spade but Spade slugs him and O’Shaughnessy picks up the gun. When Spade reaches for it, she hands it to him. Spade and Cario put the knocked-out man on the couch. Gutman agrees to give up Cook as the fall guy. Gutman also says that the entire group must stay in sight of each other until the “dingus” is delivered. Of course, by dingus, he means the falcon. Try to work this under used work into a conversation every day for the betterment of the English language.
Spade wants the details filled in before they make the final arrangements. Gutman says that Thursby and O’Shaughnessy were really allies and killing him was to make O’Shaughnessy rejoin the group. Gutman also says he tried to make a deal with Thursby but that he was too loyal to O’Shaughnessy. When Spade asks about Captain Jacobi’s killing he is told that O’Shaughnessy and Thursby had been seen around the boat in Hong Kong. O’Shaughnessy may have seduced the Captain as that is her strong suit.
Gutman says he and Cario decided to throw in together and those two along with Cook when to the ship where they met the Captain and O’Shaughnessy. Gutman believed he has a deal for the falcon but O’Shaughnessy gave them the slip. The group found O’Shaughnessy at her apartment and when the Captain tried to climb out the fire escape, Cook shot him. O’Shaughnessy told Gutman that the falcon was going to Spade’s office. She also made the misdirection phone call to lure him away. Cook wakes on the couch and all eyes are on him.
O’Shaughnessy has been holding the $10,000 for Spade and when Gutman asks for it back there in only $9,000 inside. She denies it but apparently, Gutman palmed the bill. Gutman gives the 10k back to Spade and warns him about O’Shaughnessy. It seems he knows by now.
Near sunrise Spade calls Effie and tells how to retrieve the falcon so it can be brought to his apartment. They all wait while Effie retrieves the bird. Gutman takes the package and is overwhelmed with excitement until he scrapes the falcon with a knife and determines it is a fake. While they are distracted, Cook escapes from the apartment. Spade blames O’Shaughnessy and Cario blames Gutman. Finally, Cario breaks down crying. Gutman recovers first and decides to go back and see if the Russian general tricked him. Cario says he will go along on the new quest.
Gutman wants the 10k back and Spade keeps $1,000 for his trouble. Gutman and Cario leave the apartment. Spade calls the police and tells Det. Polhus the story. O’Shaughnessy sticks to her story about Thursby. Spade knows that Archer was killed by a woman because his coat was snapped. Spade grills her O’Shaughnessy and her plan was to have Thursby killed or framed for the murder of Archer that she committed. When Thursby was later killed, she knew Gutman was in town. She then drops back to the I love you, Sam. To which he replies: I hope they don’t hang you, precious, by that sweet neck. The chances are you’ll get off with life. That means if you’re a good girl, you’ll be out in 20 years. I’ll be waiting for you. If they hang you, I’ll always remember you.”
Spade go on to say he has to do something about his partner even though he did care for him and that he won’t play the sap for her. He says she is taking the fall. He weighs out the pros and cons. Spade does admit that more money would have scaled on her side.
Det. Polhus and Lt. Dundy show up and say that they got Gutman and Cario. They all start to head for the police station and Polhus ask what the falcon is. Spade replies “It is the stuff dreams are made of.”
O’Shaughnessy cries as the police take her away and the safety door on the elevator casts prison bar shadows on her.
So many great lines in this movie, but don’t forget, the last word of this film is “huh?”
World-Famous Short Summary – Dame plays a game where she misunderstands the skill of her opponent
This movie is so great. Love, femme fatale, drama, betrayal, noir. I was able to see it in a theater recently and it is even better than on the small screen so if you get a chance, go and see it big. Bogart is the coolest ever and that says a lot about this super cool cat. Also, he regularly used the word dingus.
Another thing about this movie, it is one of the very few remakes that are better than the original. This story first came to the screen as The Maltese Falcon (1931) and again in Satan Met A Lady (1936). Shocking isn’t it.
One more thought. Did Effie have a fake falcon made and she and Spade split the money? Hum.
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Beware the moors