Humphrey Bogart - Sam Spade
Mary Astor - Brigid O'Shaughnessy
Peter Lorre - Joel Cairo
Sydney Greenstreet - Casper Gutman
Ward Bond - Sgt. Tom Polhaus
Elisha Cook Jr. - Wilmer Cook
John Huston - Director
Hal B. Wallis - Producer
John Huston - Screenwriter
Arthur Edeson - Cinematographer
Adolph Deutsch - Film Score
Dashiel Hammett - Original Novel
In an apartment on Nob Hill, a few blocks west of the Mark Hopkins Hotel in San Francisco, Dashiell Hammett wrote perhaps the best of all private-eye novels. In 1930 the book was published and became a best seller. Warner Bros. bought the rights to The Maltese Falcon that year for $8,500 and produced two film versions within the next six years. By 1941, John Huston , the son of actor Walter Huston, was doing particularly well at Warners collaborating on the scripts for such films as Jezebel (1938), Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet (1940), High Sierra (1941), and Sergeant York (1941). But he wanted to direct.
"They indulged me rather," Huston told author Gerald Pratley. "They liked my work as a writer and they wanted to keep me on. If I wanted to direct, why they'd give me a shot at it, and if it didn't come off all that well they wouldn't be too disappointed as it was to be a very small picture." When Huston was asked what subject he would like to do he told them The Maltese Falcon, which the studio still owned and which could be done in a relatively inexpensive manner. "There was something in the Falcon that attracted me," Huston has said, "that hadn't been done in the other versions."
In the story Ruth Wonderley comes to the office of Spade & Archer and hires Spade. She soon admits that her real name is Brigid O'Shaughnessy and that she hadn't told the truth about her plight. Bogart reassures her, saying that he hadn't believed her--he had believed her two hundred dollars. Archer, who actually begins investigating the case, is shot and killed in an alley, and Spade, although he hates his partner and is having an affair with his wife, vows to find the killer. Spade learns that the lovely O'Shaughnessy is involved with a shady character named Casper Gutman who is in pursuit of a legendary statue of a falcon encrusted with jewels. Spade, under suspicion by the police for the murder of Archer, must prove his innocence while hunting for the real killer and working out a deal with the unflappable Gutman for a share of the fortune.
At the top of the roster of possible actors to play Sam Spade was George Raft, then under contract to Warners; in second position was Humphrey Bogart, followed by Edward G. Robinson, etc. Raft turned down the role on the advice of his agent. Also, Raft was uneasy about working with an inexperienced director, and his contract allowed him not to appear in any remakes. Bogart was in. Possibilities for the role of Brigid were Olivia de Havilland, Loretta Young, Rita Hayworth, Mary Astor, Paulette Goddard, etc. The decision was made to go with Mary Astor. She had recently signed a two-picture deal with Warners, and had been in films since 1921.
Sydney Greenstreet, who at the age of 61 had never made a film, was the prime choice for the Fat Man, Casper Gutman. Other possibilities included Laird Cregar, Edward Arnold, George Barbier, Lee J. Cobb, Gene Lockhart, etc. Greenstreet had been acting on the stage, both in his native England and in America, since 1902. he had spent over six years with Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne and was touring with them in There Shall Be No Night when John Huston saw him at the Biltmore Theatre in Los Angeles and persuaded him to break his rule about doing films. he was primarily a character comedian on the stae, but his screen career was to consist mainly of villains.
Peter Lorre was first choice for Joel Cairo with Martin Kosleck, Sam Jaffe, Curt Bois, and Elia Kazan (before he became a director) as follow-ups. (Kazan was also cinsidered for the part of Wilmer.) Dashiell Hammett had based some facts of his Maltese Falcon characters on real people he had encountered while working as a Pinkerton detective for several years. But he stated that Sam Spade had no original. He was "idealized . . . in the sense that he is what most private detectives I've worked for would like to have been."
Adolph Deutsch was assigned the film and created a subtle and properly mysterious score for The Maltese Falcon that was devoid of bombast. Deutsch was relatively unobtrusive in his approach and gve the edge more to the mood and colorings his use of woodwinds evoked. In a 1978 conversation, he said that he consciously avoided "the Wagnerian approach" and that he did not want obvious leitmotifs overpowering the picture. However, his Falcon theme sets the mood perfectly.
This modest little film, not a B movie incidentally, which cost $381,000, according to studio records, turned out to be a hit--both critically and commercially--and it was the forerunner of a number of films over the next several years that were a direct if somewhat belated result of its influence. The Maltese Falcon solidified further aspects of the emerging Bogey character: the classic loner, weathered, tough, disillusioned (or perhaps non-illusioned), somewhat sadistic, cutting right through to the bare bones of his women, and yet true to his own sense of ethics and professional integrity. Then came Casablanca (1942).
The first film version of The Maltese Falcon (1931) was a well-made film starring Ricardo Cortez as Spade and Bebe Daniels as Ruth/Brigid, and was renamed The Dangerous Female after the success of Huston's version. A second version, titled Satan Met a Lady (1936), was a disaster, with Bette Davis in the Casper Gutman role and Warren William as Ted Shayne. Oscar nominations went to Huston's film for Best Picture and to Sydney Greenstreet--in his first film--for Best Supporting Actor.
--RUDY BEHLMER, from the liner notes,
Classic Film Scores of Adolph Deutsch.
A selection of Maltese Falcon related films.
Find Maltese Falcon on eBay.com
A selection of Maltese Falcon in books.
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