The Maltese Falcon – Movie Review- Not a classic as touted by the critics

Yes Angel, I’m gonna send you over, but chances are you get off with life. That means if you are 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”

Sam Spade- Played by Humphrey Bogart

The Maltese Falcon, released in 1941  is a movie directed by John Huston. It is an adaptation of the novel by the same name written by Dashiell Hammet. The movie is considered as a classic by many and a pioneer in the Film Noir genre.

The movie revolves around the chase for a falcon statue which was considered as priceless. It is believed that it was made by the knight of Malta in 1539 in order to honor Charles V of Spain. But the falcon never reached the intended recipient since it was seized by the pirates.

The film starts with a lady (Mary Astor) entering the office of private investigator Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) and ask him to shadow a person who is stalking her sister. That person gets killed as well as the assistant of the private investigator during the course of a night. The story gets murkier when the private investigator finds out that the lady was spinning a yarn and she has many things to hide. As the story progresses more and more people get involved in the chase for the falcon, including Peter Lorre who was employed by a fat man (Sydney Greenstreet) who has been chasing the falcon for many years.

The lady knows the whereabouts of the falcon. She along with the Private investigator gets into a deal with the fat man for exchange of the falcon.  The story gets into a climax where the falcon remains a mystery and untraceable.

The movie is well made and watchable even after 79 years of its release. The dialogues are sharp and crisp. All the actors have essayed their parts neatly. The cinematography by Arthur Edeson is worth mentioning. John Huston could draw a neat picture of criminals, but can the movie be considered as a classic or a great crime narrative when viewed in 2020 or even in the last century? The answer would be a big NO .So why people think it is a classic? Before getting into the question let me point out the reasons for not considering it a classic.

  • The film is not the edge of the seat thriller as many would like you to believe
  • The story is predictable, and everything happens effortlessly
  • The hero, Sam Spade, seems to be a super man with an instant solution for everything
  • The film does not grow on you. You just watch the movie scene by scene without feeling the story or the characters
  • The fight scenes look ridiculous. One thud and you fall unconscious!!!

Now let us analyze why some people consider it as a classic.

  • It was the pioneer of film noir genre
  • It was a new experience for the audience of the era, something they have never experienced before. The first experience tends to stick with you lifelong.
  • The characterization was different with everybody having grey shades. The hero is not an epitome of virtue. He has no qualms while siding with the wrong side of the law. He is selfish and plays his cards well. Further Humphry Bogart has played the part to perfection, which catapulted him to a Hollywood icon.

The above points apply to many movies including Casablanca and Citizen Kane. It is human tendency to blindly accept and support what is widely considered as iconic without questioning them for fear of being ridiculed. It is time we did unbiased reviews of these movies without attaching any sentimental values.

Oh boy, Did I say anything sacrilege?

Please post your comments even if you differ with my view.