Monday, November 3, 2008

The Maltese Falcon (1941)



There is something very genuine in the pleasure of watching classic movies, and probably especially so for film-noir. Movies today, except for a few art-house works, tend to become as much about grandiose and fanfare as much about the movie itself. But watching classic cinema detaches the marketing angle of the movie, and you tend to watch the movie for what it really is.

The Maltese Falcon is celebrated as one of the best noir movies ever made, and rightly so. Bogart plays PI Sam Spade with such craft and character that you wonder if they make men like that anymore. From the way he handles news, situations, women and enemies to his own style in the way he stands, speaks and reacts - without ridicule, Sam Spade epitomizes the classic detective that we have grown up watching cartoon characters and stereotypes imitate - whether it is to shake off a tail, confront the cops, cunningly use the display of anger to evoke a reaction or turn on the charm for the women around him.

Complementing him is a host of equally rich characters in the forms of the highly-quotable king-pinesque Kasper Gutman (played by then debutante Sydney Greenstreet), damsel-in distress/femme-fatale Brigid O'Shaughnessy (Mary Astor) and the conspiring Wilmer Cook (Elisha Cook Jr.).

The Maltese Falcon is not a very confusing movie. It uses a simple formula of limiting the audience's knowledge to what the detective knows. And as he unravels the mystery more and more, the eventual barrage of information leaves you reeling for a an explanation that makes sense. And when it does, it's just in time to find out something more! As the movie ends, it becomes easy to acknowledge the brilliance of the story's setup and resolution, and the path it takes to get there.

My rating --> 4 of 5

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