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Ghost Canyon

'The Maltese Falcon' [Blu-ray]
(Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Gladys George, Peter Lorre, et al / Blu Ray / NR / (1941) 2010 / Warner Home Video)

Overview: A gallery of high-living lowlifes will stop at nothing to get their sweaty hands on a jewel-encrusted falcon. Detective Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) wants to find out why - and who'll take the fall for his partner's murder.

Blu-Ray Verdict: Since the 1941 version (directed by John Huston and starring Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Sydney Greenstreet, and Peter Lorre) is the one considered "definitive," it's not surprising that relatively few viewers realize that was actually Hollywood's third adaptation of Hammett's classic detective novel.

Satan Met a Lady (directed by William Dieterle and starring Bette Davis and Warren William), is by all accounts a disaster (a very loose adaptation by screenwriter Brown Holmes, who co-wrote this version), but the first Maltese Falcon, filmed in 1931 by director Roy del Ruth, is a terrific alternative for viewers who love the story and would just like to watch a different take on it. (Both films are faithful to the source, with few changes.)

The main difference in tone comes from Ricardo Cortez's portrayal of Sam Spade. Cortez's Spade is much more of a ladies man than Bogart's. In fact, the opening scene of the movie shows a woman leaving Spade's office, adjusting her stockings (later, he is shown picking up sofa cushions from the floor). His roving eye (and hand) also includes his secretary, Effie. Una Merkel plays Effie as if she's not only a willing participant in these shenanigans, but is also quite aware of Spade's other dalliances -- including partner Miles Archer's wife Iva (Thelma Todd) -- and thinks it's funny.

That lightness extends to Cortez, as well. He goes throughout The Maltese Falcon with a huge smirk on his face, as if everything going on around him is endlessly entertaining. And I can imagine why. When Ruth Wonderly (Bebe Daniels) comes into his office, he probably already knows she'll end up naked in his bath, in his bed, and in his kitchen. Cortez displays just the right mix of sleaze and charm.

But the only other actor who gives anything close to as interesting a performance is Dudley Digges as Kasper Gutman. Digges gives the role real grease, making him a truly unlikeable antagonist (Greenstreet always charmed even in his most villainous roles, much like Claude Rains, his costar in Casablanca). And I was very pleasantly surprised to find that Dwight Frye (Renfield in the Lugosi Dracula) shows up briefly as Wilmer Cook. He doesn't say much, but just try to look away when he flashes those psychotic eyes.

This 'Maltese Falcon' was made three years before the enforcement of the Production Code that would whitewash movies for the next thirty years. Thus, there are instances like those mentioned above that did not make it into the "cleaner" 1941 version. One major effect this had is when Mary Astor's Brigid O'Shaughnessy proclaims to Bogart's Spade, "I thought you loved me," it doesn't make a whole lot of sense based on what preceded. Here, when Wonderly (who never reveals herself to be O'Shaughnessy, a plot point I always thought was unnecessarily confusing anyway) says the same words, they hold real meaning.

Though quite entertaining in its own right, the 1931 'Maltese Falcon' is undoubtedly destined to remain forgotten in the shadow of its later remake. I recommend it, however, due to its lighter and sexier tone, handsomer leading man, and almost completely different approach to the same source material. Fans of pre-Code cinema will especially enjoy it, even if they generally prefer a little more noir in their detective stories. [CC] This is a Full Screen Presentation (1.37:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:

Commentary by Bogart biographer Eric Lax
Featurette The Maltese Falcon: One Magnificent Bird
Breakdowns of 1941: Studio blooper reel
Makeup tests
Becoming Attractions: The Trailers of Humphrey Bogart
Warner Night at the Movies 1941 short subjects gallery: Newsreel, musical short The Gay Parisian, 2 classic cartoons: Hiawatha's Rabbit Hunt and Meet John Doughboy
Trailers of This Movie, 1941's Sergeant York and 1936's previous Falcon movie adaptation Satan Met a Lady
Audio-only bonus: 3 radio show adaptations--two featuring the movie's original stars, plus another starring Edward G. Robinson

www.warnerblu.com





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