Sunday, February 23, 2014

Film Review: The Maltese Falcon

This is the third Humphrey Bogart film I've watched over the last year, following Casablanca and Treasure of the Sierra Madre.  I've enjoyed all and while Falcon was a solidly entertaining film, it doesn't carry near the weight of the other two.

Its your standard private detective caper with a number of twists and turns as Bogart's Sam Spade is crossed and double crossed in his search for the jewel encrusted statue.  And, yup, there's a woman (women actually) involved in Spade's ongoing troubles and some themes that seem a tad bit ahead of their time--Spade's philandering with the wife of his partner, an antagonists apparent homosexuality, etc....But none of it is as "heavy" as the issues presented in the two aforementioned films.

The greatest enjoyment I had here was in watching Peter Lorre portray Joel Cairo who has been tasked with getting the Falcon back from either Spade or the female lead of Mary Astor as Brigid O'Shaughnessy.  Lorre is brilliant here and I found myself wishing for his character to receive more screentime.  Unfortunately it is O'Shaughnessy and her "relationship" with Spade that receives the attention instead.

It is here that the film pivots and fails.  By the end of the film when Spade reveals his belief that it is in fact O'Shaughnessy who has killed his partner and proceeds to turn her over to the police the audience is SUPPOSED to care, it is SUPPOSED to feel the same way about their forced separation and Spade's decision as we do about Rick and Ilsa in Casablanca.  The story tries to hit us over the head with the fact that these two are "in love" but we've received none of the benefit of history or context for these characters to exist within as we do in Casablanca.  Instead we are supposed to believe that they have somehow fallen in love at first sight--despite the fact that O'Shaugnessy has been lying and trying to manipulate Spade from the word go.  Not believable.  Not one bit.

So while John Huston's film is good and entertaining...and likely a classic due to its cast and direction (Huston does use the camera with great effect with low, Orson Wells-like camera angles and use of shadows) but it comes off feeling more summer blockbuster than a heavyweight of filmmaking.

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