Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Maltese Falcon (1941)

Needs more lady slapping and fat men.

In the fast talking, femme fetale laden, crime solving world of the film noir, few movies are as acclaimed as The Maltese Falcon. It's got everything you want from a classic, hardboiled detective story; Humphrey Bogart talking fast with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, someone called the fat man who lives up to the name, an effeminate Egyptian played by a German and a beautiful, but less than savory woman. The charm of the genre is really apparent in The Maltese Falcon and this charm carries the movie a long way. The film fluctuates between highly enjoyable and slightly frustrating, but this is a product of the conventions of the era and not the film itself.

The Maltese Falcon, based off the detective novel of the same name, is a pretty standard film noir. When he takes a job helping a beautiful women, detective Sam Spade, Bogart, is sucked into a dangerous web surrounding a relic from the crusades called the Maltese Falcon. It's up to Spade to solve the mystery, wrangle all the players and get himself off the hook for the murder of his partner. The movie comes with the typical amount of mystery, double crossing and fast talking associated with the genre and has become one of the classic examples of film noir. The film marks John Huston's directorial debut and was widely acclaimed at it's release, picking up three Academy Award nominations; one for Best Picture. Since then, the acclaim for the film has only grown. It's a fixture on many lists of the greatest films ever made for it's quality and influence.

While I won't deny lovers of The Maltese Falcon the satisfaction of hearing that the movie is good, I will say that it didn't manage to do anything other than meet my, somewhat mild, expectations. Even in modern cinema, I don't find crime drama or detective stories all that interesting. It's not that they are bad, it's just a genre that does little for me personally. This distaste for the genre is compounded by the conventions of the era. I don't like having things explained to me. When a film-maker spends as much time as Huston spends in The Maltese Falcon explaining and analyzing what is happening, I generally tune out. The old adage is "show don't tell" and I felt like the film should have taken that to heart. This is not necessarily a problem with The Maltese Falcon alone, many films from this era spend a lot of time explaining more than they should, but it's more obvious in a detective or mystery movie. While the film didn't quite live up to the hype, there is still a lot to praise about the film.

The Maltese Falcon is so influential in the film-making world because it is so well made. Everything about it is meticulously crafted and every element serves a vital purpose in the overall scheme of the movie. There are almost no loose ends here and that's something that can be truly respected. It's been a long time since a movie has wowed me in the closing minutes like The Maltese Falcon. It feels finished and the top-notch closing line helps. The performances are all quite respectable, the film is paced well and, even though it spends too much time explaining itself, the script has a pleasingly distinct sound to it. It's another film that lived up to, but failed to exceed my expectations. 

I'm glad to have checked The Maltese Falcon off of my list of movies to see. It was a pleasant film watching experience even if I wasn't wowed by the movie. It's certainly an important movie in cinema's history and deserves to be watched if only for that reason. It's also a fairly entertaining adventure, so it shouldn't feel like a chore. The film certainly has my respect for it's excellent film-making, but I don't think I will be watching it again. There's not all that much left to discover with a second viewing when a movie explains it all to you.


No comments: