The Maltese Falcon is Hollywood’s first film-noir, adapted from a novel by Dashiell Hammet. It stars Humphrey Bogart as a private detective named Sam Spade, and Mary Astor as his “femme fatale.”
Peter Lorre and Sidney Greenstreet are co-stars.
This is one of the greatest motion-pictures of all time. It focuses on a gold falcon statuette that was given to the King of Spain by the Knight Templars of Malta, in 1539.
The statuette was encrusted from beak to claw with the rarest of jewels—-but pirates seized the ship carrying the priceless token, and the fate of the Maltese Falcon remained a mystery; until 1941 San Francisco.
With its low-key lighting, the movie’s photography is unusual—sometimes low to the ground; a technique used by Orson Wells in “Citizen Kane,” to emphasize character action.
Evocative are scenes involving Mary Astor which suggest prison. One scene she wears striped pajamas; another scene her room’s furniture is striped, and slivers of light coming through her venetian blinds suggest cell bars—-as do bars on the elevator cage at the end of the film when she takes her slow ride downward toward prison and execution.
The story opens when Private Detectives Miles Archer and Sam Spade meet new client, Ruth Wonderly. She claims to be looking for her missing sister, involved with a man named Thursby.
Detective Archer agrees to help her, but that night his partner, Sam Spade, is awakened by a phone call and informed Archer has been murdered.
Immediately, Spade phones Miss Wonderly’s hotel, but she has checked out.
At the murder scene, Spade discovers a man named Thursby has also been murdered that night. Police accuse Spade of having an affair with Archer’s wife; then suspect him in Thursby’s murder.
Detective Sam Spade is in big trouble.
The next morning, into Spade’s office walks Miss Wonderly, now calling herself Brigid. She explains that Thursby was her partner but claims to have no idea who killed him.
Later, Spade is threatened at gunpoint by Joel Cairo, demanding he turn over possession of the Maltese Falcon. But when Spade subdues him and reveals no knowledge of the treasure, Cairo offers $5,000 for the Falcon’s recovery.
Ever the detective, Spade concludes that Cairo and Brigid are associated with a “Fat Man” named Kasper who presumably is responsible for the murders.
The next morning Spade again is held up by a crook named Wilmer, who takes him at gunpoint to the “Fat Man,” Kasper. Spade is offered more thousands of dollars for the Falcon.
After he reveals no possession of it, he passes out from a spiked drink. Wilmer, Kasper and Cairo, hiding in another room, sneak away.
Spade awakens in time to search their hotel room and finds the arrival date of a ship encircled in red ink.
At the dock the ship is on fire; and the Captain comes staggering down the plank. He dies, clutching the Maltese Falcon in his arms for Spade to keep safely.
Back at his office, Spade’s phone rings. Brigid asks him to meet her at a secret address; but then she screams, and the phone line goes dead.
He stashes the bird in a bus terminal baggage room, then goes to the address that turns out to be an empty lot.
Returning home, Brigid is hiding in his doorway; and once inside, Kasper, Cairo and their crook, Wilmer, are waiting with guns drawn.
More thousands of dollars are offered to Spade for the Falcon, and this time he accepts. He advises them that to avoid the law someone must be sacrificed for the murders of Archer, Thursby and now the ship’s Captain. He suggests their crook, Wilmer.
As dawn approaches, Spade calls his secretary, Effie, and tells her to bring the “bundle,” however, when Kasper inspects the statuette, he discovers it’s a fake.
Immediately, Kasper makes plans to return to Istanbul and continue his quest, leaving Spade vulnerable to take the murder rap.
Spade calls police to arrest them all, and then angrily he confronts Brigid. Ever the detective, he tells her ‘she’ murdered Archer to implicate Thursby; her unwanted accomplice, in desperation to capture the Falcon.
Brigid is stunned, not believing he will turn her over to police; but he does!