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John Huston
Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet
Writing Credits:
John Huston (screenplay), Dashiell Hammett (novel)

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.

Not Rated

Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
English Monaural
German Monaural
Spanish Monaural
Portuguese Monaural
Brazilian Portuguese
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 100 min.
Price: $19.98
Release Date: 10/5/2010

• Audio Commentary with Biographer Eric Lax
• “Warner Night At the Movies”
• “The Maltese Falcon: One Magnificent Bird” Documentary
• “Becoming Attractions: The Trailers of Humphrey Bogart” Feature
• “Breakdowns of 1941” Blooper Reel
• Makeup Tests
• 3 Radio Show Adaptations
• Trailers


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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The Maltese Falcon [Blu-Ray] (1941)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 6, 2014)

At 23rd on the AFI’s list of the top 100 films - or 31st on the chart’s 2007 update - 1941’s The Maltese Falcon ranks as its second-highest rated film noir after 1974’s Chinatown at #19/21. Actually, the AFI chart includes only a few flicks in that genre, so Falcon doesn’t have much competition there.

I checked out the original DVD of Falcon simply to review it for our AFI 100 page. I first saw Falcon back in college, and it didn’t do much for me at all. I don’t know what my problem was back then, because on subsequent viewings, I’ve realized how off base I was. Contrary to my teenaged opinion, Falcon provides a tight and intriguing mystery drama.

The film starts with a text introduction to a priceless object called the Maltese Falcon. We learn that it went missing many years ago, but clearly many folks still crave that ultra-valuable token.

We jump to then-contemporary San Francisco and meet private detective Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart). A client named Miss Wonderly (Mary Astor) entreats Spade to find her sister Corinne, who has allegedly has become involved with a shady character named Floyd Thursby. Spade’s partner Miles Archer (Jerome Cowan) takes a shine to Miss Wonderly, so he agrees to tail Thursby and talk some sense into him.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t work out well for either party. While on the case, someone shoots Archer, and Thursby turns up dead as well. Various authorities and others accuse Spade, so he works to get to the bottom of the events. Wonderly confesses that her real name is Brigid O’Shaughnessy and she slowly reveals the truth behind the matter, but she deliberately takes her time in that regard.

Spade and Brigid seem to fall for each other, but the story revolves around the pursuit of the Falcon. Brigid indicates she knows where it is, and others – primarily Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre) and Kasper Gutman (Sydney Greenstreet) – enter the attempts to land the object as well. The tale involves the whole batch of them as the truth slowly unfolds.

A rather cynical film, Falcon’s hard-bitten tone comes naturally and doesn’t feel like coldness just for its own sake. Spade seems distinctly rough and bitter, though in an interesting twist, he’s the only one who displays any genuine emotion during the film. He clearly falls hard for Brigid, who may or may not return his affections. She remains a distinctly slippery character throughout the movie. Does she care for Sam or does she simply use him for her own gain?

We never really get a hold on that, though I lean toward the latter interpretation. Most of the conflicts in Falcon occur due to her machinations, and she doesn’t really seem to care about anyone but herself. Granted, the males also come across as quite self-concerned and mercenary, but at least they appear upfront about it. Brigid’s deceit and dishonesty make her the film’s most treacherous character.

Brigid is also probably the weakest link in regard to its actors. Astor does a decent job in the part but she feels somewhat drab at times, which makes it somewhat hard to see why Spade becomes so nuts about her. She’s not that attractive, and she lacks a lot of personality to allow her to appear more enticing.

The various male actors do much better. Bogart grounds the piece nicely and seems appropriately tough and convincing. Lorre appears typically sniveling and shady, while Greenstreet makes Gutman a surprisingly engaging character. “The Fat Man” features a bounce and lightness that offer an interesting twist on a role that could have been little more than a typical movie heavy. However, when necessary, Greenstreet lends the part the genuine malice. It’s a great turn among many fine portrayals.

A taut and vivid mystery, The Maltese Falcon holds up very well after all these decades. The story seems absorbing and captivating, and director John Huston tells it in a succinct and crisp manner. A genuine classic, film noir fans should simply adore this flick.

Insult to injury footnote: it’s bad enough that the sentimental How Green Was My Valley beat Citizen Kane for Best Picture from 1941. The fact that Valley also topped the wonderful Falcon makes matters worse.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture A/ Audio B-/ Bonus B+

The Maltese Falcon appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Across the board, this was a terrific transfer.

From start to finish, sharpness seemed excellent. Nary a hint of softness ever interfered with the proceedings. The movie always looked nicely crisp and well-defined. Jagged edges and shimmering failed to appear, and edge enhancement seemed to be absent. If any digital noise reduction was featured, it was used sparingly; the movie retained a natural sense of grain.

Blacks came across as quite deep and rich. Shadow detail was top-notch throughout the movie. The low-light shots displayed good clarity and visibility. As for print flaws, they were absent; at no time did I discern any blemishes. Put simply, this was an absolutely splendid transfer.

As for the monaural soundtrack of The Maltese Falcon, it appeared pretty good given the age of the material. Speech generally came across as reasonably concise and distinct. I noticed a little edginess at times, but I experienced no issues related to intelligibility.

Music appeared decently bright and clear, and effects also came across as clean and accurate. I discerned no significant problems related to distortion in those domains, and the mix also lacked noticeable background noise. Ultimately, you won’t use The Maltese Falcon to show off your sound system, but the audio seemed somewhat above average for a flick of this vintage.

How did the quality of this new special edition compare to those of the 2006 DVD? Audio seemed about the same for both releases, but the Blu-ray provided visual improvements. I already thought the 2006 DVD looked very good, but this version worked even better. It offered greater detail and eliminated the handful of source flaws present on the DVD. This was a truly gorgeous presentation.

Most of the 2006 DVD’s extras reappear here. We open with an audio commentary from Bogart biographer Eric Lax. He offers a running, screen-specific chat. Lax chats about the lives and careers of many participants, the history and development of Warner Bros., the story’s origins and move to the screen, other adaptations of Falcon, and various production notes.

Though the track starts slowly, it eventually becomes quite good. At his best, Lax gives us an interesting look at the anticipated issues. Most commentaries from film historians examine the lives of those involved and aspects of the film’s creation, so Lax’s piece takes the usual path. The results seem rather dry at first, as Lax initially does little more than throw out general biographies. However, as he gets more into aspects of the production, the piece grows more interesting. In the end, we get a nice look at the flick.

A creative and fun addition to the set, Warner Night at the Movies attempts to replicate the cinematic experience circa 1941. This feature starts with a preview for Sargeant York. We also get a period newsreel, two animated shorts (Hiawatha’s Rabbit Hunt and Meet John Doughboy) and a live-action musical short entitled The Gay Parisian. These are the kinds of pieces that might have preceded a theatrical showing of Falcon, so if you activate this feature, you get an attempt to duplicate a night at the cinema. I like this concept and think it’s quite clever.

Next we go to documentary called The Maltese Falcon: One Magnificent Bird. This 32-minute, five-second program mixes movie shots, archival materials, and interviews. We hear from Lax, filmmakers Christopher McQuarrie, Larry Cohen, Frank Miller and Peter Bogdanovich, actors Michael Madsen and James Cromwell, Dashiell Hammett’s granddaughter Julie Rivett, biographers Stephen Youngkin and Joe Gores, authors Michael B. Druxman, Eddie Muller and Richard Layman, film historians Rudy Behlmer and Lincoln D. Hurst, musician/performer Henry Rollins, cinematographer Roger Deakins, and editor Carol Littleton.

“Bird” covers the story’s author and origins, the book’s success and first two moves to the big screen, and how it got a third chance as a movie. We hear about how John Huston got a shot as a director, casting of Falcon and performances, and shooting details. Finally, the program deals with the production schedule and pressures, critical reactions and its influential elements, cinematography and characters, and the movie’s legacy.

My main complaint about “Bird” comes from the oodles of praise that shows up in it. The program comes across more as a general appreciation of the film than as a view of the production. Nonetheless, we get a reasonable amount of good information here. Some of this repeats from Lax’s commentary, but the addition of various archival pieces helps, and the show adds up to a decent little history of the movie.

Becoming Attractions: The Trailers of Humphrey Bogart offers one of the oddest documentaries I’ve seen. Hosted by Robert Osborne, this 44-minute and 40-second program indeed showcases the ads used to promote Bogart’s flicks. Created for the Turner Classic Movies channel in 1997, the show features promos for 12 Bogart efforts. Of course, Falcon appears in there, and we also find trailers for famous efforts like Casablanca and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Osborne offers some useful historical notes for this unusual but entertaining program.

Breakdowns of 1941 presents a 12-minute and 52-second blooper reel. It features goof-ups and wackiness behind the scenes on the year’s Warner flicks. We find names like James Cagney, Edward G. Robinson, Humphrey Bogart, Bette Davis, Ronald Reagan and James Stewart on display. The clips are just the same as modern bloopers, but the presence of so many legends makes this reel a little more interesting.

75 seconds of silent Makeup Tests come next. We see Mary Astor as she gesticulates for the camera. These aren’t terribly interesting, to be honest.

Under the banner of “Audio Vault”, we find three components. First comes a 2/8/1943 Lux Radio Broadcast. This 57-minute and 36-second adaptation of Falcon features Edward G. Robinson as Sam Spade and Gail Patrick as Brigid. This one hews pretty closely to the movie, though it takes a few liberties. For instance, it opens with Archer’s death and relates Spade’s first encounter with Brigid as a flashback.

The adaptation works pretty well. Robinson’s not as good as Bogart, but he holds his own, and most of the others and fine too. Laird Cregar lacks Greenstreet’s wonderful jocularity, though, and some of the scenes lose a little punch without visuals. Still, this is a fairly entertaining radio show.

Next we find a 9/20/1943 Screen Guild Theater Broadcast. It lasts 28 minutes, 45 seconds as it does another take on Falcon. Unlike the prior edition, this one uses the main cast from the movie. We get Bogart, Astor, Greenstreet and Lorre in their original roles. That’s a nice factor, though the extremely abbreviated take on the story hurts. The limited running time means that we zoom through the tale and lose an awful lot of material – this becomes a really bare-bones version. It’s fun to hear since it includes so much of the movie’s cast, and at least it minimizes ads so much of the 28 minutes gets devoted to the show.

For the final audio element, we get a 7/3/1946 Academy Award Theater Broadcast. In this 27-minute and 33-second piece, Bogart, Astor and Greenstreet all return for yet another iteration of Falcon, but Lorre fails to reappear. This one adds narration from Bogart to take care of all the missing material.

This works okay, though it feels like the clumsy device that it is. At least that method helps keep in more information than we find in the 9/20/43 edition. Otherwise this is an interesting curiosity but not a particularly memorable version of the story.

Two trailers finish the set. We get promos for 1936’s Satan Met a Lady - a precursor to Falcon - and the 1941 Falcon.

Speaking of Satan Met a Lady, it represents one of the two major omissions from the 2006 DVD. That three-disc release includes Lady along with a 1931 version of Falcon. Both of those films kind of stunk, but they were fascinating historical documents. I suspect they failed to make the cut here for purse string reasons: I’d guess WB just didn’t want to include a second disc. That’s too bad, as they were welcome additions to the earlier set.

Despite my teenage dislike of the film, as an adult I found The Maltese Falcon to provide a tight and intriguing story. The movie told its tale in a vibrant and concise manner and seemed to deserve its reputation as a classic. The Blu-ray delivers excellent picture and good extras as well as audio that was more than satisfactory. I’m disappointed the Blu-ray omits some of the 2006 DVD’s supplements, but it provides the strongest presentation of the film itself.

To rate this film, visit the DVD review of MALTESE FALCON

Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main