Poster - Maltese Falcon, The (1941)_14


Remakes. Love ’em or HATE ’em the Dream Factory has hardly been shy in
making them. In recent years you’ll have noticed that they’ve gone in
for calling them “reimaginings” or – hand me that spittoon, Zacharias
– “reboots” but they remain the same thing they’ve always been. The
only difference is that now the question that presents itself most
frequently is “Why the frosted flakes would they want to remake THAT!”
(by the way, feel free to name your nominations for most mystifying or
just plain bad remake in the comments. Let the bile flow! Also, if you
want, nominate your FAVORITE remakes for balance!) Still, remakes
aren’t always misbegotten which brings us to John Huston’s 1941 The
Maltese Falcon, the movie that arguably completed Humphrey Bogart’s
ascent from frequent villain to sympathetic antihero to oft-ambiguous
hero. Huston’s version wasn’t even the second adaptation of Dashiell
Hammett’s famous Sam Spade novel but the THIRD. The first was a
not-bad attempt ten years earlier from Roy Del Ruth and headlining
Bebe Daniels and Ricardo Cortez (with a supporting role for Dwight
“Renfield” Frye) followed five years later by Satan Met A Lady,
starring fairly stolid Warren William and none other than Bette Davis!
That more comic William Dieterle-helmed version was pretty weak and
dumped the falcon in favor of a ram’s horn. (!) So it wasn’t as if The
Maltese Falcon was fresh.

Yet Huston’s directorial debut is not only a
great remake it’s so good that it completely overshadows its
predecessors and stands as a movie masterpiece. The “stuff that dreams
are made of” indeed! (yes, Bogie’s Spade is misquoting Shakespeare but
it’s a fantastic misquotation!)
Huston’s direction and script perfectly capture the spirit of the
novel no matter what changes were made. Bogart may not be the
blonde-haired satanic Spade of Hammett’s writing but he is, in every
other respect, fabulous as the not-entirely gallant gumshoe. And then
there’s the rest of the cast!

Could there be any more perfect an embodiment of the “Fat Man”, Kaspar
Gutman (what a gloriously fitting name!), than Sydney Greenstreet or
of the rather camp Joel Cairo than the unforgettable Peter Lorre? Mary
Astor makes for one of the most fantastic femmes fatale as Brigid
O’Shaughnessy, it’s pretty amazing to think of her taking on a much
different role three years on in Minelli’s Meet Me In St Louis, Ms
Astor is certainly underrated. It’d be pretty remiss of me not to
mention Elisha Cooke, Jr as Wilmer the “gunsel” in a defining role. In
truth the whole feature is brilliantly cast and they benefit from a
crackling script that imports much of Hammett’s snappy dialogue and
thrillingly catches the fiendish plot. Yes, Fearless Readers, Maltese
Falcon is one of that rare breed, the masterly remake not only that
but it’s one of the greatest adaptations and mysteries ever made.
If you haven’t seen it, do so now. You won’t regret it.

Annex - Bogart, Humphrey (Maltese Falcon, The)_05

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  1. Heather in Arles
    August 4, 2013

    Gosh…tiptoeing out on the high wire here…it is not a favorite! But…perhaps like reading James Joyce it is all a matter of context? I’ll give it another go when I am older… 😉

    • George Kaplan
      August 8, 2013

      You are forgiven! 😉 Maybe you’ll like it someday! It is not one of my *very favorites* but it is excellent in my view… 🙂

  2. August 5, 2013

    Dearest George
    Isn’t it strange that adaptations that are least faithful, or perhaps most liberal, in their interpretations of the novels best capture the essence of the work they are drawn from?
    Sally Potter’s ‘Orlando’, Kubrick’s ‘2001’ and ‘The Godfather’ spring to mind, but there are many, many others, not least the joyously fun ‘Clueless’, that one has a feeling might have brought a wry smile to Miss Austen’s eyes.
    Yours ever
    The Perfumed Dandy

    • George Kaplan
      August 8, 2013

      True, my perfumed compadre, true! And there are those adaptations that improve immeasurably on the source material such as, say, Jaws, the movie took the novel’s clumsy filleted Moby-Dick potboilerishness with the Peyton Place meets The Godfather elements dropped the pretensions and the unpleasantness of the characters and turned out a scary, humane, and witty picture. Yes, it was a blockbuster and an Entertainment but it was about adults (and a frightening rubber shark!) compare it with many of the “blockbusters” today and it is to weep!
      Interesting that Coppola took Puzo’s potboiler and turned it into Art, even though it is quite faithful; I’m going to commit the sin of saying that I find The Godfather superior to Part II!

  3. August 5, 2013

    So many… egregious… remakes, but I’m going to swerve down the literary path and note – while I was not a fan of this particular novel all the author’s smarmy and skin crawling descriptions were eradicated in a wonderful adaptation by Richard LaGravenese in his adaptation of “The Bridges of Madison County”.

    • George Kaplan
      August 8, 2013

      Excellent choice, Vickie. LaGravenese’s adap “purified” the story of smarm, Eastwood’s unfussy style worked with the script to make a version that convinced (up to a point) where the insipid, florid original did not.
      Thank you for posting this doodle of mine, by the way Beguiling Ms L.

  4. August 13, 2013

    I can’t think of a better remake than THE MALTESE FALCON.

    • August 13, 2013

      And, I have to read a copy of your book!

Comments are closed.