THE MALTESE FALCON

The Birth of Hollywood’s Original Noir Anti-Hero

Like few other actors, Humphrey Bogart ruled the Hollywood of the 1940s and 1950s – epitome of the handsome, cynical and oh-so lonesome wolf and looking unbeatably cool in his fedora and trenchcoat, a cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth; endowed with a legendary aura several times larger than his real life stature, and still admired by scores of women wishing they had been born 50+ years earlier, preferably somewhere in California and to parents connected with the movie business, so as to have at least a marginal chance of meeting him. The American Film Institute elected him the No. 1 film legend of the 20th century; and looking back, indeed no other actor seems to have been surrounded by the same kind of darkly magical aura as the one surrounding Bogart.

The Maltese Falcon (1941), directed by John Huston, based on Dashiell Hammett‘s eponymous 1930 novel and itself also ranking in the top quarter of the AFI’s list of the 100 best 20th century movies, laid the groundwork for Bogart‘s lasting image, by transforming his on-screen persona from the tough, often two-dimensional gangsters he had portrayed before; beginning with the 1936 adaptation of Robert Sherwood’s Petrified Forest where, like in its 1934 stage production, Bogart had starred opposite Leslie Howard, with Bette Davis as the female lead. Now imbuing his tough guy shell with a softer core, in The Maltese Falcon Bogart became not only Hammett‘s Sam Spade but, moreover, the film noir anti-hero per se; a role that stayed with him throughout the rest of his career, and in which he still remains virtually unparalleled.

The movie’s long-famous story centers around the mysterious statue of a falcon made from solid gold, diamonds and other precious stones; the 16th century Maltese Knights’ immeasurably precious gift of thanks to Emperor Charles V for the protection he had granted them. Stolen by pirates, blackened on the outside in order to conceal its true value and passed on through the centuries by a number of unsuspecting possessors, it finally attracts the attention of two rivaling pairs of equally cunning, ruthless and high-flying scoundrels, who chase each other and the statue halfway around the world and finally end up in Sam Spade’s San Francisco office – not without getting both Spade’s partner Miles Archer (Jerome Cowan) and one of their own killed in the process; thus also causing additional grief for Spade, whom the police soon suspect of being behind the murders himself – or at least behind that of Archer – in order to make off with Archer’s widow Iva (Gladys George). And of course, it doesn’t exactly help that he has had his office sign changed from “Spade & Archer” to “Samuel Spade” within mere hours of his partner’s death.

Looking at the movie and its stars’ almost mythical fame, it is difficult to imagine that, produced at the height of the studio system era, this was originally just one of the roughly 50 films released by Warner Brothers over the course of one year. But mass production didn’t equal low quality; on the contrary, the great care given to all production values, from script-writing to camera work, editing, score and the stars’ presentation in the movie itself and in its trailer, was as responsible for its lasting success as were Humphrey Bogart and his outstanding costars; first and foremost Mary Astor as the double-crossing and now partner-less Brigid O’Shaughnessy, Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet (in their first of several appearances opposite Bogart) as Joel Cairo and Kaspar Guttman, O’Shaughnessy/Astor’s competitors for possession of the precious statue, and Elisha Cook Jr., as Guttman’s rough but inept bodyguard Wilmer Cook. Genre-defining and the first truly giant highlight of Bogart‘s career, The Maltese Falcon is an unmissable piece of Hollywood history, captivating you from the first moment you spend in Sam Spade’s office all the way to its cynical conclusion, and a thrill to watch over and over again.

 

Production Credits /
Cast and Crew

Production Credits
  • Studio: Warner Bros. (1941)
  • Director: John Huston
  • Executive Producer: Hal B. Wallis
  • Screenplay: John Huston
  • Based on the novel by: Dashiell Hammett
  • Music: Adolph Deutsch
  • Cinematography / Director of Photography: Arthur Edeson
Cast
  • Humphrey Bogart: Samuel Spade
  • Mary Astor: Brigid O’Shaughnessy
  • Gladys George: Iva Archer
  • Peter Lorre: Joel Cairo
  • Barton MacLane: Lt. of Detectives Dundy
  • Lee Patrick: Effie Perine
  • Sydney Greenstreet: Kasper Gutman
  • Ward Bond: Detective Tom Polhaus
  • Jerome Cowan: Miles Archer
  • Elisha Cook Jr.: Wilmer Cook

 

Major Awards and Honors

American Film Institute
  • Top 25 Stars (male) – No. 1 (Humphrey Bogart)
  • Top 100 American Films – No. 23
  • Top 10 Mystery Films – No. 6
  • Top 100 Thrillers – No. 26
  • Top 100 Movie Quotes – 14th: “”The stuff that dreams are made of.” (Sam Spade)

 

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THE BIG SLEEP

Murder, mystery and the magnetism of Bogart and Bacall

They were one of Hollywood’s all-time legendary couples, both on screen and off; producing celluloid magic in the four films they made together between 1943 and 1948 as much as by their off-screen romance, which in itself was the stuff that dreams are made of. He was the American Film Insititute’s No. 1 star of the 20th century, Hollywood’s original noir anti-hero, who in addition to the AFI honors bestowed on his real-life persona also played two of the 20th century’s Top 50 film heroes (“Casablanca”‘s Rick Blaine and this movie’s Philip Marlowe); epitome of the handsome, cynical and oh-so lonesome wolf, looking unbeatably cool in dinner jacket, trenchcoat and fedora alike, a glass of whiskey in his hand and cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth; and endowed with a legendary aura several times larger than his physical stature. She, despite a 25-year age difference his equal in everything from grit and toughness to mysterious appeal; chillier than bourbon on the rocks, possessing more than just a touch of class whatever her role; and long since a bona fide AFI movie legend in her own right.

Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall met on the set of Howard Hawks’s 1944 realization of Ernest Hemingway’s “To Have and Have Not,” where an obvious chemistry quickly developed between 45-year-old veteran Bogart, who had just scored two of film history’s greatest-ever hits with “The Maltese Falcon” and “Casablanca” in the two preceding years, and the sassy, exciting 20-year-old newcomer who possessed the maturity and sex-appeal of a woman good and well 10 years her senior. They were reunited two years later for this adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s first Philip Marlowe novel “The Big Sleep” (1939), based on a screenplay written, like that of “To Have and Have Not,” by William Faulkner and Jules Furthman, together with Leigh Brackett (who had not participated in scripting the Hemingway adaptation). By the time the movie was released in 1946, Bogart and Bacall were married.

Reprising Bogart’s noir gumshoe role with a character not unlike Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade in “The Maltese Falcon,” the movie “The Big Sleep” is as infamous as Chandler’s literary original for its labyrinthine plot, which reportedly even the author himself couldn’t completely untangle (nor did he care to). The plot is essentially faithful to Chandler’s novel, from which it takes much of its dialogue; albeit streamlined and with some changes made to fit Bogart’s physical characteristics, and eliminating or softening a few scenes considered unfit for display to a moviegoing audience in the 1940s. The story begins when Marlowe is hired by wealthy old General Sternwood to handle a blackmailing attempt involving gambling debts incurred by Sternwood’s younger daughter Carmen (Martha Vickers) (whom the detective has already met when she literally threw herself into his arms upon his entry into the house, sucking her thumb and coyly telling him “you’re cute”). After his interview with the dying general in the latter’s hot and humid orchid house, a disheveled Marlowe is summoned to the rooms of the general’s older daughter Vivian (Lauren Bacall), who tries to worm out of him the purpose of his engagement and who, as Marlowe quickly concludes, has more than a minor hidden agenda of her own. Soon the detective is up to his ears in the classical film noir brew of murder, damsels in distress, shady characters and a world where nothing is what it appears to be, and where he’ll be able to consider himself lucky if he gets out alive – yet, he is determined to see the case through and will neither be bought off by money nor by sweetness and seduction.

Looking back at the movie and its stars’ almost mythical fame, it is difficult to imagine that, produced at the height of the studio system era, it was originally just one of the roughly 50 movies released by Warner Brothers over the course of one year. But mass production didn’t equal low quality; on the contrary, the great care given to all production values, from script-writing to camera work, editing, score (Max Steiner) and the stars’ presentation in the movie itself and in its trailer was at least partly responsible for its lasting success. Indeed, the release of “The Big Sleep” was delayed for an entire year – and not only because its first version was completed around the end of WWII and Warner Brothers wanted to get their still-unreleased war movies into theaters first, but also, and significantly, because Lauren Bacall’s agent convinced studio boss Jack Warner and director Howard Hawks to reshoot several scenes to better highlight the sassy, mysterious new star Bacall had become after “To Have and Have Not.” And it certainly paid off: “The Big Sleep” firmly established then-22-year-old Lauren Bacall as one of Hollywood’s new leading ladies, and even more than her first film with Humphrey Bogart laid the foundation for the couple’s mythical relationship.

Bogart and Bacall would star together two more times after “The Big Sleep”: In “Dark Passage” (1947) and “Key Largo” (1948). But of their four collaborations, the first two – and in particular, “The Big Sleep” – remain unparalleled for their secretive, shadowy aura, tight scripting, snappy dialogue, cynicism and underlying seductiveness; due in equal parts to the story crafted by Raymond Chandler , its adaptation by Faulkner, Furthman and Brackett, Howard Hawks’s masterful direction and its starring couple’s irresistible chemistry. After three failed marriages, after having produced on-screen magic with Mary Astor in “The Maltese Falcon” and, even more so, with Ingrid Bergman in “Casablanca” (and although he would go on to star in such memorable pairings as next to Katherine Hepburn in “The African Queen” and Audrey Hepburn in “Sabrina”), Humphrey Bogart had finally met his match – and while his and Bacall’s marriage was painfully cut short by the cancer to which he succumbed in 1957, the magnetism they created on screen will live on, and nowhere more brilliantly than in “The Big Sleep.”

 

Production Credits /
Cast and Crew

Production Credits
  • Studio: Warner Brothers (1946)
  • Director: Howard Hawks
  • Executive Producer: Jack L. Warner
  • Screenplay: William Faulkner / Leigh Brackett / Jules Furthman
  • Based on the novel by: Raymond Chandler
  • Music: Max Steiner
  • Cinematography / Director of Photography: Sidney Hickox (as Sid Hickox)
Cast
  • Humphrey Bogart: Philip Marlowe
  • Lauren Bacall: Vivian Sternwood Rutledge
  • John Ridgely: Eddie Mars
  • Martha Vickers: Carmen Sternwood
  • Dorothy Malone: Acme Book Shop Proprietress
  • Peggy Knudsen: Mona Mars
  • Regis Toomey: Chief Inspector Bernie Ohls
  • Charles Waldron: General Sternwood
  • Elisha Cook Jr.: Harry Jones

 

Major Awards and Honors

American Film Institute

Top 25 Stars (male) – No. 1 (Humphrey Bogart)
Top 25 Stars (female) – No. 20 (Lauren Bacall)
Top 50 Heroes – No. 32 (Philip Marlowe)

 

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CASABLANCA

You must remember this …

Aaaahhh … Bogey. AFI’s No. 1 film star of the 20th century. Hollywood’s original noir anti-hero, epitome of the handsome, cynical and oh-so lonesome wolf (with “Casablanca”‘s Rick Blaine alone, one of the Top 5 guys on the AFI’s list of greatest 20th century film heroes); looking unbeatably cool in white dinner jacket or trenchcoat and fedora alike, a glass of whiskey in his hand and a cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth. Endowed with a legendary aura several times larger than his real life stature, and still admired by scores of women wishing they had been born 50+ years earlier, preferably somewhere in California and to parents connected with the movie business, so as to have at least a marginal chance of meeting him.

Triple-Oscar-winning “Casablanca,” directed by Michael Curtiz, was and still is without question Bogart’s greatest career-defining moment, the movie on which his legendary status is grounded more than on any other of his multiple successes. The film’s story is based on Murray Burnett and Joan Alison’s play “Everybody Comes to Rick’s,” renamed by Warner Brothers in order to tag onto the success of the studio’s 1938 hit “Algiers” (starring Charles Boyer and Hedy Lamarr). Building on the success of 1941’s “The Maltese Falcon” and further expanding Bogart’s increasingly complex on-screen personality, it added a romantic quality which had heretofore been missing; eventually making this the AFI’s Top 20th century love story (even before the No. 2 “Gone With the Wind”), while second only to “Citizen Kane” on the AFI’s overall list of Top 100 20th century movies; with a unique, inimitable blend of drama, passion, humor, exotic North African atmosphere, patriotism, unforgettable score (courtesy of Herman Hupfeld’s “As Time Goes By,” Max Steiner, and Louis Kaufman’s violin) and an all-star cast, consisting besides Bogart of Ingrid Bergman (Ilsa), Paul Henreid (Victor Laszlo), Claude Rains (Captain Renault), Dooley Wilson (who, a drummer by trade, had to fake his piano playing as Rick’s friend Sam), Conrad Veidt (Major Strasser), Sydney Greenstreet (Ferrari) and Peter Lorre (Ugarte). And the movie’s countless famous one-liners have long attained legendary status in their own right …

Looking at this movie’s and its stars’ almost mythical fame, it is difficult to imagine that, produced at the height of the studio system era, it was originally just one of the roughly 50 movies released over the course of one year. But mass production didn’t equal low quality; on the contrary, the great care given to all production values, from script-writing to camera work, editing, score and the stars’ presentation in the movies themselves and in their trailers, was at least partly responsible for its lasting success. In fact, the screenplay for “Casablanca” was constantly rewritten even throughout the filming process, to the point that particularly Ingrid Bergman was extremely worried because she was unsure whether at the end she (Ilsa) would leave Casablanca with Henreid’s Victor Laszlo or stay there with Humphrey Bogart (Rick).

Little needs to be said about the movie’s story. After the onset of WWII, Casablanca has become a point of refuge for Jews and other desperate souls from all corners of Europe, fleeing the old world with the hope of building a new life in America. Unofficial center of Casablanca’s society is Rick’s “Café Americain,” where gamblers, refugees, French police, Nazi troops, thieves, swindlers and soldiers of fortune come together on a nightly basis, to make connections, conduct their shady business, or simply forget the uncertainty of their fate for a few precious hours. And presiding over this mixed and colorful society is Rick Blaine, expatriate American without any hope of returning to the United States himself (for reasons never fully explained), officially not interested in politics but only the flourishing of his business, but soft-hearted underneath the hard shell of his cynicism. From Rick’s perspective, everything is going just swell and the way it is meant to be: he is reasonably well-respected, has a good working relationship with Captain Renault, the local representative of the Vichy government (based on mutual respect as much as on the fact that Renault is a guaranteed winner at Rick’s gambling tables and, by way of reciprocation, turns a blind eye to whatever less-than-squeaky-clean transactions Rick may be tolerating in his café, always ready to have his police round up “the usual suspects” instead of the truly guilty party of a crime if that person’s continued freedom promises to be more profitable); and although aware of Rick’s not quite so apolitical past, the Germans are leaving him alone as well, as long as he stays out of politics now. Until … well, until famous underground resistance leader and recent concentration camp-escapee Victor Laszlo and his wife Ilsa walk into Rick’s café, into his place “of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world” – and with one blow, administered to the melancholy tunes of “As Time Goes By,” the carefully maintained equilibrium of his little world comes crashing down around him.

Not only to Bogart and Bergman fans all over the world, “Casablanca” is film history’s all-time crowning achievement, a “must” in every movie lover’s collection, and one of the few films that truly deserve the title “classic.” If it is not yet included in your home collection, that is an omission that ought to be remedied sooner rather than later.

 

Production Credits /
Cast and Crew

Production Credits
  • Studio: Warner Bros. (1942)
  • Director: Michael Curtiz
  • Executive Producer: Jack L. Warner
  • Screenplay: Julius J. Epstein / Philip G. Epstein / Howard Koch / Casey Robinson (uncredited)
  • Based on a play by: Murray Burnett and Joan Alison
  • Music: Max Steiner
  • Cinematography / Director of Photography: Arthur Edeson
Cast
  • Humphrey Bogart: Rick Blaine
  • Ingrid Bergman: Ilsa Lund
  • Paul Henreid: Victor Laszlo
  • Claude Rains: Captain Louis Renault
  • Conrad Veidt: Major Heinrich Strasser
  • Sydney Greenstreet: Signor Ferrari
  • Peter Lorre: Ugarte
  • S.Z. Sakall: Carl (as S.K. Sakall)
  • Madeleine Lebeau: Yvonne (as Madeleine LeBeau)
  • Dooley Wilson: Sam

 

Major Awards

Academy Awards (1944)
  • Best Picture: Hal B. Wallis
  • Best Director: Michael Curtiz
  • Best Writing, Screenplay: Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch
American Film Institute (AFI)
  • Top 25 Stars (male) – No. 1 (Humphrey Bogart)
  • Top 100 Love Stories – No. 1
  • Top 100 American Films – No. 2
  • Top 100 Movie Songs – No. 2 (“As Time Goes By”)
  • Top 25 Stars (female) – No. 4 (Ingrid Bergman)
  • Top 50 Heroes – No. 4 (Rick Blaine)
  • Top 100 Thrillers – No. 37
  • Top 100 Movie Quotes – 5th: “Here’s looking at you, kid.”  (Rick Blaine)
  • Top 100 Movie Quotes – 20th: “Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” (Rick Blaine)
  • Top 100 Movie Quotes –28th: “Play it, Sam. Play ‘As Time Goes By.'” (Ilsa Lund)
  • Top 100 Movie Quotes – 32nd: “Round up the usual suspects.” (Captain Louis Renault)
  • Top 100 Movie Quotes – 43rd: “We’ll always have Paris.” (Rick Blaine)
  • Top 100 Movie Quotes – 67th: “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.” (Rick Blaine)

 

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