Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Maltese Falcon (no, not that one)

We all know the story, Sam Spade is a detective having an affair with his partner, Miles Archer's wife, who finds himself wrapped in a hunt for the the stuff that dreams are made of after Archer is murdered while working on a case for a beautiful and mysterious woman named Wonderly.

Soon enough Spade comes to the attention of the equally mysterious Joel Cairo, the slick and boisterous Casper Gutman and his sullen gunsel Wilmer, and the race is on to see who will be the first to get their hands on the famous, jewel encrusted, Maltese Falcon.

Ricardo Cortez is Sam Spade, The Maltese Falcon (1931)

Made by Warner Brothers in 1931, The Maltese Falcon, the first filmed adaptation of Dashiell Hammett's classic novel, Ricardo Cortez stars as private eye Sam Spade.

Spade is a causal, jolly sort, quick with a joke and a quip.

And he's likes to flirt with the ladies too, and in some cases more, such as the affair he's currently enjoying with Iva (Thelma Todd), the wife of his partner Miles Archer.

A woman named Ruth Wonderly (Bebe Daniels), hires Spade and Archer to locate a man named Floyd Thursby who Wonderly claims has run off with her little sister.

Ruth Wonderly played by Bebe Daniels, The Maltese Falcon (1931)

That night Spade is visited by the police who inform him that Archer was shot to death while trailing Thursby. Later at the crime scene Spade has a brief conversation in Chinese with a man on the scene, but says nothing to the police about it.

A mysterious conversation, The Maltese Falcon (1931)

Later that night the police show up at Spades house again, this time to tell him that Thursby has been murdered and suspecting Sam of committing the crime, they want to know where he's been. Spade gives the police no real information, but having no evidence to arrest Sam, they eventually leave, but make it clear they will be back.

Confronting Wonderly, she reveals that there is no sister and that she wanted Thursby followed because of a business dealing that she refuses to go into more details about.

Angry at her subterfuge, Spade starts to leave, but Wonderly convinces Sam to stay on the case, with a combination of tears and $500 in cash.

Joel Cairo, The Maltese Falcon (1931)

That evening Spade is visited by a creepy little guy by the name of Joel Cairo who "hires" Spade to help him locate a missing enamel figure of a black bird, but then pulls a gun on Spade and attempts to search his office, only to be quickly disarmed by the wily detective.

That night Spade confronts Wonderly about Cairo, who has tagged along, but they are interpreted by the police who have more questions for Spade.Speaking to the cops outside of his apartment they here a scream and rushing in to the apartment the police find Wonderly holding a gun on Cairo, but somehow the trio are able to convince the police it was all a prank and the cops leave.

The next morning as Wonderly is sleeping in Sam's room, Archer's widow Iva, shows up hoping foursome of the special kind of widow loving that apparently Spade is very good at, but finding Wonderly in the apartment she has a fit and storms out threatening to go to the police and tell them everything she knows.

Ricardo Cortez and Thelma Todd, The Maltese Falcon (1931)

Later that day Spade is summoned to the hotel room of a certain Casper Gutman who also is interested in recovering the black bird. Gutman is accompanied by his body guard Wilmer, played by a truly creepy and threatening Dwight Frye.

Casper Gutman, The Maltese Falcon (1931)

After making a deal on the bird Joel Cairo arrives and lets Gutman know that Spade doesn't have the bird, it's in the hand of some guy named Jacoby, which leads to Spade getting slipped a micky and being deserted on the floor by the evil trio.

That night at his office, Spade is visited by the very same Captain Jacoby that the others are looking for, who walks into Spades office and promptly falls down dead from a gunshot wound dropping a package he was carrying as he dies.

Checking the package at the local train station for safe keeping, Sam makes his way to the office of the DA who is threatening to bring charges against Spade because of his affair with Iva, but agrees to give Spade 24 hours to solve the case and bring in the real killers.

Sam Spade and the Police, The Maltese Falcon (1931)

Sam is lured to his apartment by a phone call from Wonderly and finds himself surrounded by Wonderly, Cairo, Gutman and Wilmer, but Sam is ready for them and soon makes it clear that none of them will see the bird without him.

Making a deal for the statue, Gutman gives Spade $10,000, and then Spade demands that there be a fall guy for the killings, suggesting Wilmer for the role.

Dwight Frye as Wilmer, the Maltese Falcon (1931)

As the pair argue over the fall guy, Gutman accuses Wonderly of stealing one of the thousand dollar bills, and Spade forces her to strip to prove she doesn't have it.

Turns out that Gutman had palmed the bill, but we get girls in their underwear for a few.

Bebe Daniels, the Maltese Falcon (1931)

Eventually the pair agree to give the police, Wilmer but the dangerous young man has his own ideas, and eventually slips away.

Effie, Spade's secretary delivers the bird to the apartment and everyone busily opens the package, attempting to chip away the alabaster to reach the jewels below. Only to discover that the statue itself is nothing but an alabaster bird.

The stuff that dreams are made of, The Maltese Falcon (1931)

Taking back his money at gunpoint, Gutman and Cairo take their leave of Spade, who then calls the police and tells them where to find Gutman, Cairo and Wilmer.

A stunned Ruth asks Spade whats going on and Spade tells her he knows that it was her who killed Miles. And that even though he has fallen in love with her, he was going to turn her over to the police.

Later a the trial Spade stuns the crowd by producing the only witness to the murder, the mysterious Chinese guy from way back at the beginning.

Much later Spade goes to visit Ruth in prison, letting her know that he has gone to work for the DA's office. He also tells the head matron to take good care of Wonderly and give her anything she wants.

Smiling and winking at the camera, Sam tells the matron to charge the DA's office, and that he'll approve it.

A happy ending for Sam Spade, The Maltese Falcon (1931)

Made by Warner Brothers in the pre-code era and directed by Roy Del Ruth, The Maltese Falcon shares the same plot and huge chunks of dialogue with both the original novel and the Bogart remake.

And yet the entire tone is different.

It's still a drama, but with a more light hearted feel, still actor Ricardo Cortez, makes for a very different, less cynical Sam Spade.

Even as a more lightweight film, I really enjoyed this version. Granted Del Ruth is no John Huston, but the film moves along at a nice pace with good performances all around, especially ol' Renfield himself, Dwight Frye as a downright threatening Wilmer and you end up with a film that while admittedly is mainly a curiosity piece  is still well worth a look.

Here is a clip from with most of the cast that should give you a good taste of what's in store.

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