A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 465 – The Maltese Falcon

The Maltese Falcon – June 8th, 2011

It had been some time since I’d last seen this movie before tonight. I last saw it for a film class in high school, which was more years back than I usually think about. And to be honest, I don’t remember what I thought about it then or what my response to it was when we had to write about it. The class was a sort of quick overview of film and covered a strange array of titles (off the top of my head I can think of this, The Rules of the Game and The Deerhunter) over the course of a single semester and I know for certain that we watched this. But while I can vaguely remember what I said about The Rules of the Game and vividly remember what I said about The Deerhunter, what I mostly remember about watching this movie was that it wasn’t quite my genre but I liked it fine anyhow.

And it still isn’t really my genre. It’s not that I don’t like mysteries or noir or the sort of private eye that Sam Spade is. It’s just not my go-to genre. Which makes this movie difficult to review much in the same way No Country For Old Men was. Fortunately for this movie it’s got a few things that I find interesting and the main character is one of them. I actually rather like Sam Spade. He’s very much looking out for himself and I think I’ve made it clear I find that sort of character fascinating. But what makes him even more interesting to me is his secretary, Effie. I love Effie. I love her so much she’s going to get her own paragraph in a moment.

Now, Sam is a detective. And he’s got a partner, but of course he can’t keep that partner for long. Miles Archer gets bumped off just a few scenes in, setting everything else in motion when his widow sends the cops in Sam’s direction. He’s been approached by a woman with a patently false name to tail a man she claims is up to no good. Of course there’s more to the story and it turns out that the woman, Bridgid, along with two men (Kaspar Gutman and Joel Cairo), is after something important and valuable and there are people willing to kill to get their hands on it. The movie is full of double crosses and lies and bribes and deals. And through it all Spade has to figure out what the real story is, since none of the three main players is telling him, and also figure out what to do about it. After all, he doesn’t want his former partner’s murder pinned on him and there are two more deaths that he’d like to steer clear of. And Sam does so by paying close attention to everything around him and playing everyone off each other, including the cops.

But Sam also has an ace up his sleeve and that ace’s name is Effie. She’s his secretary, but while the role is a small one I can’t help but think about it in more detail. Effie’s always around the office and seems to be quite observant. She makes some interesting deductions of her own, suggesting them to Sam (who of course tells her why they’re wrong but also acknowledges that they were good ideas). She helps out with Bridgid, taking her home and trying to keep her safe. And when Sam comes into possession of the Maltese Falcon everyone’s so hot on obtaining, who does he trust to go and retrieve it and bring it to his meeting with Gutman, Cairo and Brigid? Effie. She’s depicted as a genuinely good person, smart and trustworthy. She’s not Sam’s type romantically, but that doesn’t matter one bit.

I do have some problems with Sam as a romantic lead. He’s not romantic. At least not for me. Maybe it’s that the ladies who fancy him so are attracted to the fact that he doesn’t seem to give a damn about them? I don’t know. I’ve never been much for that sort of romantic relationship in movies, but I suppose it’s a trope. Maybe it’s that some gals have a thing for Bogart. I don’t. Oh, he’s fun to watch and he does an excellent job in this role and there’s nothing terribly objectionable about him given the time period, he’s just not for me. Also, I would like to note that he doesn’t hit any women in this movie. He does slap Joel Cairo (played fantastically by Peter Lorre) and tell him “When you’re slapped you’ll take it and like it.” But I would just like to note that Woody Allen can kiss my ass for Play It Again, Sam and the constant references to punching women.

Regardless, I just don’t find this a very romantic movie. There’s a good attempt at it, with lots of dialogue between Brigid and Sam as well as some scenes that suggest that Sam’s been chased by the widow of his former partner. But they’re really not the highlight of the movie for me. The highlight is watching Sam work through the puzzle of it all and figure out a way to come out clean. This certainly isn’t my favorite movie in the world and it’s not flawless, but it is fun and it’s a solid mystery with some great performances, so I don’t argue with its classic status for one moment.

June 8, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

The Maltese Falcon

June 8, 2011

The Maltese Falcon

It’s shameful admission time. Tonight is the first time I’ve ever seen this movie. It’s one of those classic movies that everybody has heard of and if you’re a movie fan people kind of assume that you’ve seen this sometime. It’s got the WB stable of forties actors. Sydney Greenstreet, Humphrey Bogart and Peter Lorre would all be back in one year to make Casablanca, which I have seen many a time. My sister went through a Humphrey Bogart phase at one point in our youth and rented every one of his films, but I must have not been home when she watched this one.

Having finally seen this I have to admit that I was somewhat underwhelmed. It’s not a bad movie, and it has some fun performances, but it’s not really all that. Maybe the problem is that the movie is so commonly praised – my expectations were set too high.

I did really enjoy Bogart’s Sam Spade. It’s not as though Bogart is a stranger to the role of a hard-boiled detective, but this was not quite what I was expecting. I’m much more familiar with his Philip Marlowe in The Big Sleep, and I was pleasantly surprised that this character is so different and distinctive. It’s the sly kind of humor he brings to the part that I find so enjoyable. As a character Sam Spade is what Amanda would call Methosian – he’s a survivor and although the other characters in the movie seem to have a lot of trouble figuring out whose side he’s on it’s pretty clear from the very beginning that Sam Spade is on Sam Spade’s side.

He finds himself embroiled in a situation filled with danger, double crosses and avarice. When a woman hires Sam and his partner to tail a man that she claims her sister has run away with everything very quickly gets bad. Sam’s partner ends up dead, as does the man he was tailing. The police figure that Sam himself is the prime suspect in at least one of those murders. Sam’s a canny man though, he figures that he’s being played by the mysterious woman who has lied to him about everything from why she wanted a man tailed to what her name is.

Part of the problem with this movie for me is that I never for a moment saw any hint of romance between Humphrey Bogart and Mary Astor. As Brigid O’Shaughnessy Mary is convincing and manipulative. She’s a woman who never once seems to tell the whole truth, and the Sam is well aware of this. And yet there’s supposed to be some attraction between the two of them. The climactic moment at the finale of the movie relies on there being a connection between the two of them which forces Sam to make a choice between self preservation and love for Brigid. I don’t sense that necessary conflict, and it robs the movie of its power.

The other bad guys, however, are plenty of fun. Peter Lorre with his distinctive look and accent is fantastic as the weaselly and somewhat effete Joel Cairo. Then there’s Sydney Greenstreet as the corpulent Kasper Gutman, who seems honestly to enjoy Sam’s antics almost as much as the audience does. Perhaps even more so. I enjoyed watching both of them throughout the film.

This movie has everything you’d expect from your hard boiled detective drama. Double crossings. Mickey finns. Irish police officers. Murders. Tails. Guns. Even a kickass loyal dame who helps Sam out at every turn (and I really wish that the character of Effie were featured more prominently.) But I couldn’t help feeling at every turn that I had seen these cliches used better – even in some cases by the same actors we see here. I do wonder, though, if maybe they weren’t so cliched at the time. Perhaps the movie would have been more powerful to me if I had not been raised on so many stories that clearly used this movie as their inspiration. When you’ve seen Captain Picard playing on the holodeck as Terrance Dicks so many times in clear spoofs of precisely this kind of movie it tends to lessen the impact of the source material.

June 8, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment