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The Maltese Falcon

The Maltese Falcon

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Description: A private detective takes on a case that involves him with three eccentric criminals, a gorgeous liar, and their quest for a priceless statuette.

Director: John Huston
Writers: John Huston (screenplay), Dashiell Hammett (based upon the novel by)
Stars: Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor and Gladys George
Year: 1941
Tags: top movie, film noir, The Maltese Falcon

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The Movie Background
While there are films that are considered classic for their technical achievements and classics that resound with audiences for a feel-good emotion, The Maltese Falcon stands in that group that is a classic for every aspect of its creative makeup. With a brilliant script, talented direction and some outstanding performances, The Maltese Falcon stands up today as well as it did upon release.

When Sam Spade -- played brilliantly by Humphrey Bogart -- and his partner Archer are hired to tail a rich eccentric by a woman who claims her sister is being unwittingly kept separated from her by the rich eccentric, it seems like just another case. But when Archer and the eccentric are gunned down and all fingers point to Sam Spade for conflicting yet damning reasons, Spade is thrown into a whirlwind of deceptions that all point in one direction: a Maltese statue of a falcon.

Bogart demonstrates clearly why he is one of the great classic actors of the 20th century, and indeed one of the most natural screen actors ever. His charisma, charm and intense masculine looks give him a presence that simply dominates the screen. With a host of other great talents to fill the screen, there is not a moment of wasted performance. The direction is tight and driving and the pacing never lets up. And the script demonstrates why there are less and less truly great films being released in present day: the writers and directors of the golden age of cinema knew that subtlety works ten times more effectively than the modern in-your-face all-the-time works.

The Maltese Falcon is a timeless work that deserves its place in the list of greatest films ever made.

* George Raft was originally cast as Sam Spade. He turned it down because it was "not an important picture," taking advantage of a clause in his contract that said he did not have to work on remakes.

* Word-for-word and scene-for-scene virtually the same as the original novel.

* The Shakespeare reference that ends the film was suggested by Humphrey Bogart.

* Cameo: [Walter Huston] Capt. Jacobi.

* Director Trademark: [John Huston] Father.

* When he completed the screenplay, John Huston storyboarded it, allowing him the chance to give great thought to pictorial composition and camera movement. This whole set-up took two days to rehearse.

* Contrary to popular opinion, "It's the stuff that dreams are made of", spoken by Bogart, is not the last line in the picture. Immediately after Bogart says that, Ward Bond, playing a detective, says, "Huh?" making that the last line in the picture.

* Sam Spade refers to Wilmer as a "gunsel", a term the censors assumed was a slang reference to a gunman. The Yiddish term "gunsel", literally "little goose", *may* be a vulgarism for homosexual (the word "faigle", or "little bird", is usually used in that manner). It is more usually an "underground" term which refers to a person who is either a "fall guy" or a "stool pigeon", in which case Spade is making both a direct and an indirect reference to Wilmer's character.

* Two "Maltese Falcons" were used for the film because Humphrey Bogart dropped the original during shooting. The original falcon is on display in the movie museum at Warner Bros. studios; its tail feathers are visibly dented from Bogey's flub sixty years ago.

* Filming was completed in two months at a cost of less than $300,000.

* The revolver used to shoot Miles is correctly identified by Sam as a Webley-Fosbery. All Sam says about it is, "They don't make 'em anymore." Much more than that, it was an experiment to get a handgun to automatically reload and cock itself between shots. We're familiar with a typical semi-automatic pistol with a moving slide, but this was a revolver that used its backward momentum to cock the hammer and rotate the cylinder, readying it for the next pull of the trigger. They are very sought after by collectors. (see also Goofs)

* Sydney Greenstreet's first on-screen appearance.

* Kasper Gutman's (Sydney Greenstreet) repeated phrase of "By gad, sir..." was originally written to be "By God;" however, the script underwent changes when it clashed with the censors.

* The "Maltese Falcon" itself is said to have been inspired by the "Kniphausen Hawk," a ceremonial pouring vessel made in 1697 for George William von Kniphausen, Count of the Holy Roman Empire. It is modeled after a hawk perched on a rock and is encrusted with red garnets, amethysts, emeralds and blue sapphires. The vessel is currently owned by the Duke of Devonshire and is part of the Chatsworth collection.

* The scene where Sydney Greenstreet tries to get Humphrey Bogart to take a drink which is drugged was the former's first time in front of a Hollywood camera.

* In the scene where Polhaus and Spade investigate Archer's death (over the ravine), a torn poster for Swing Your Lady (1938) (starring Humphrey Bogart) can be seen in the background.

* The role of Brigid O'Shaughnessy was first offered to 27-year-old Geraldine Fitzgerald. Although the studio desperately wanted the newcomer in the role, she turned it down flat because it interfered with a scheduled trip to the East Coast. Other candidates for the role included Olivia de Havilland, Rita Hayworth, and Ingrid Bergman.

* At 357 pounds, 60-year-old British newcomer Sydney Greenstreet was so large that the studio had to specially manufacture his entire wardrobe for the role of Kasper Gutman.

* The climactic confrontation scene lasts nearly twenty minutes, one-fifth of the entire running time of the film. It involves all five principal characters, and filming required over one full week (one day - 4 July 1941 - was taken off).

* The movie's line "The stuff that dreams are made of." was voted as the #14 movie quote by the American Film Institute

* In 2007, the American Film Institute ranked this as the #31 Greatest Movie of All Time.

* There were several 11-1/2" tall falcon props made for use in the film. Some were cast of plastic resin, some of lead. Only two 45 lb. lead falcons and two 5 lb., 5.4 oz resin falcons are verified to be in existence today. One lead Falcon has been displayed for years at various venues. The second, which was marred at the end of the movie by Sydney Greenstreet, was a gift to William Conrad by studio chief Jack L. Warner. It was auctioned in December 1994, nine months after Conrad's death for $398,500 to Ronald Winston of Harry Winston, Inc. At that time, it was the highest price paid for a movie prop ever sold for. It was used to model a 10 lb. gold replica displayed at the 69th Academy Awards. The replica has Burmese ruby eyes, interchangeable claws (one set of gold, one set of coral) and holds a platinum chain in its beak with a 42.98 flawless diamond at the end. It's valued at over $8 million. The lead and resin falcons are valued in excess of $2 million - coincidentally the value placed on the "real" Maltese Falcon by Kasper Gutman, Greenstreet's character in the 1941 classic movie.

* Humphrey Bogart is outdoors and a theater in the background shows a marquee with "The Girl From Albany" now playing.

* Gutman and Wilmer are referred to as "Fat Man" and "Little Boy". These are the names used for the two atomic bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima respectively.

* John Huston's first directorial effort.

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