Blu-ray Review: The Maltese Falcon (1941)

Now Available to Own

For first time filmmaker John Huston, the third time really was the charm indeed when it came to bringing Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon to life in what would become the definitive cinematic version of the thrice shot tale. Moreover as the first major Hollywood production to usher in Film Noir, Falcon reigned supreme by garnering a fitting three Oscar nominations.

And while the marvelous movie has been deemed one of American cinema's “National Treasures” by the Library of Congress, Huston's watershed work is equally famous offscreen for kick-starting the close relationship with leading man Humphrey Bogart, with whom John Huston would creatively thrive, collaborating on numerous pictures now considered classics such as The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Key Largo and The African Queen.

Likewise, the Bogart persona that still remains unmistakable around the world to this day owes a great debt to Falcon as his role as Hammett's hard-drinking, existentially challenged private eye alter ego Sam Spade became the quintessential archetype for both Bogie and the tough-minded gumshoes that explored the Noir terrain over the next decade.

A terrifically complicated, intellectually demanding mystery filled with shady characters, shadows and shocking twists and turns, The Maltese Falcon sends Sam Spade on the hunt for a missing sister before two corpses cross his path, leading him to realize that the disappeared dame was a mere red herring since the real search centers on the titular artifact.

Beguiled and bewitched by the beauty of Mary Astor who leads Spade on a wild goose chase under false pretenses and with a fake identity to boot, Bogart's morally flexible hero soon encounters drugged drinks, Sydney Greenstreet's Fat Man and more versions of the story than one can possibly keep straight.

And throughout, Huston combines crackling dialogue with the audacious employment of slang and subtext that finds Falcon walking on the wild side of infidelity, promiscuity and famously “hidden by the Hays Code” homosexuality that nonetheless hides in plain sight.

Yet we're so dazzled by the rhythms of the speech and the famous quotable quotes that “dreams are made of” that -- and perhaps even more than most films of the genre -- Falcon requires repeat viewings to fully appreciate the subtle nuances and masterful cinematographic artistry as the highly stylized work is just as unforgettable to the eyes as it is to the ears.

Featuring three radio show audio bonus features along with a Warner Brothers bevy of shorts and trailers galore, as well as documentary specials and a Bogart biographer commentary track, Falcon is treated to a high-flying high definition debut by the studio.

And while cineastes will have fun seeking out the special features as if they were Sam Spade on a case, as a purist all around, for my money nothing comes as close to satisfying my filmic dreams than the flaw-free, crystal clear original full-screen aspect ratio presentation of what happened the first time Huston met (and directed) Bogart.

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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.