THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
"THE MALTESE FALCON"
The Maltese Falcon has been newly remastered and restored for its debut on Blu-Ray. Nominated for three Academy Awards including Best Picture, the film put Humphrey Bogart on the A-list, and also launched the career of director John Huston. Since its release in 1941, it has gone on to become one of the screen's most enduring classics. This new Blu-Ray version should continue to assure its level of esteem among cineasts, and hopefully younger film fans will discover it for the first time.
Bogart plays private detective Sam Spade (one of his most well-known roles), whose professional standing is thrown into turmoil when a woman named Brigid O'Shaughnessy (Mary Astor) walks through his door. She wants Spade and his partner Miles Archer (Jerome Cowan) to follow a dangerous man who she claims is stalking her. Things go wrong, Archer ends up dead, and O'Shaughnessy reveals one of many secrets: she's trying to get possession of the valuable titular object. Others want the bird too, most notably the diabolical Kasper Gutman (Sydney Greenstreet), who hides his menace behind a veneer of politeness, and his less threatening, but still unpredictable, colleague Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre). Spade finds himself in the middle of the hunt for the falcon. In order to avoid getting killed, he has to out-think everyone else, including O'Shaughnessy, for whom he is falling.
Roger Ebert once wrote that “the plot is the last thing you think of about The Maltese Falcon,” and he may be right. This is a movie in which things happen that you don't quite understand until the end, when all is suddenly explained. In some films, that might be a negative, but here it's kind of the point. The Maltese Falcon is about the characters – the way they size each other up, try to assess intellectual strengths and weaknesses, and attempt to take advantage of those weaknesses. They all speak in rapid-fire, hard-boiled dialogue, as if to speak slowly would tip their hand to their opponents. Watching everyone participate in this game of mental one-upmanship is a key part of the film's appeal.
Bogart delivers one of his best, most memorable screen performances, and the supporting cast is outstanding. John Huston went on to collaborate with Bogey on several other classics, but this one was the first and it remains one of the greatest. The Maltese Falcon looks flawless on Blu-Ray, meaning that a bona fide masterpiece can now be yours, more pristine than ever.
Warner Home Video has also added a typically wonderful set of bonus features, starting with “Warner Night at the Movies,” which allows you to recreate the moviegoing experience of the 1940's. By choosing this option, you'll watch a series of era-appropriate shorts before the main feature. There is a newsreel, the musical short “The Gay Parisian,” two classic cartoons (“Hiawatha's Rabbit Hunt” and “Meet John Doughboy”), and several vintage trailers. The best thing about “Warner Night at the Movies” is that if, like me, you weren't born in that era, you can now get some sense of what an event moviegoing used to be. And if you were there at the time, it's a wonderful way to get nostalgic.
Other features on the Blu-Ray are an informative audio commentary from Bogart biographer Eric Lax; the featurette “The Maltese Falcon: One Magnificent Bird,” detailing the making of the film; a studio blooper reel; some makeup tests, a collection of trailers for other Bogart flicks; and three audio-only radio adaptations of The Maltese Falcon, two of which feature the film's orginal stars. The third features Edward G. Robinson. These supplements will keep you entertained for hours on end.
The Maltese Falcon on Blu-Ray is a film any serious movie lover will want to own.
The Maltese Falcon is available by itself or as part of Humphrey Bogart: The Essential Collection, a 12-disc set containing 24 of his most famous films. Read my review of that disc here.
( out of four)
The Maltese Falcon - Own it on Blu-Ray Oct. 5