THE MALTESE FALCON
In the realm of cinema, THE MALTESE FALCON ($25) truly is the stuff that dreams are made of. Not only did THE MALTESE FALCON serve as the directorial debut of one of filmdom’s most celebrated directors- John Huston, this film set Humphrey Bogart’s feet on the road to becoming the cinema’s most notable leading man. John Huston adapted his screenplay for THE MALTESE FALCON from Dashiell Hammett’s novel, which had been filmed before with far less successful results. Huston obviously understood the material better than anyone else, because it allowed him to visualize THE MALTESE FALCON in such an unforgettable way that it helped shape the genre that would come to be known to as film noir. Thanks to Huston’s guiding hand, as well as an impeccable cast, THE MALTESE FALCON has since gone on to being recognized as one of the 100 greatest films of all time by the American Film Institute.
THE MALTESE FALCON is a hard-boiled detective story with Humphrey Bogart portraying the greatest of hard-boiled private detectives, Sam Spade. The film opens with a beautiful woman named Brigid O'Shaughnessy (Mary Astor) needing a detective to follow the man she claims knows the whereabouts of her missing sister. Even though Sam Spade and his partner Miles Archer (Jerome Cowan) know Miss O'Shaughnessy is hiding something, they take her case, since she willingly overpaid for their services. Unfortunately, the case turns out to be far more complicated than Spaded expected, with both Archer and the man he was following turning up dead. With the police looking to pin something on him, Spade decides he better solve both crimes himself.
Since she started this unfortunate chain of events in motion, Spade becomes further involved with Miss O'Shaughnessy’s, who leads him into a web of lies, greed and murder. The pieces of the puzzle begin to fall into place when Spade encounters Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre) and Kasper Gutman (Sydney Greenstreet), two of Miss O'Shaughnessy’s less savory acquaintances. It seems both men are trying to recover a black enameled statue known as The Maltese Falcon, which they believe to be in Miss O'Shaughnessy’s possession. Why so much bother over the black bird? Well, you’ll have to watch THE MALTESE FALCON to discover its secrets. The cast of THE MALTESE FALCON also includes Gladys George, Barton MacLane, Lee Patrick, Ward Bond, Elisha Cook Jr., James Burke, Murray Alper and John Hamilton.
Warner Home Video has done a wonderful job with their DVD edition of THE MALTESE FALCON. I have never seen the film look better than it does on this DVD. The full frame black and with transfer is very strong and is taken from a film element that is in remarkably good condition. There are a number of visible age related blemishes in the print. Additionally, there are some missing frames, so I would imagine that there has been very little or no restorative work done on this 1941 film. Despite the problems, THE MALTESE FALCON is crisp looking, with a very good level of detail. Blacks are deep black, except for occasional shots that utilize rear projection. These process shots are far closer in appearance to gray than they are to black. Contrast for the most part is excellent, smoothly recreating everything from bright whites, through the various shades of gray, and finally down to absolute black. Film grain is somewhat noticeable in a handful of places, but it never becomes bothersome. There are no problems with digital compression artifacts during the presentation.
Age and the recording technology available in 1941 limit the fidelity of the Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack. The sound is about as good as one could expect from a film of this vintage. Dialogue is clean and always intelligible, although the film’s music is slightly distorted in places. Major problems like hiss, snaps, crackles or pops are not in evidence on the track. Overall, I’d rate this soundtrack as very, very good for its age. English and French subtitles are encoded onto the DVD.
The interactive menus include music, but are otherwise quite basic. Through the menus, one can access the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the DVD’s extras. Extras include Becoming Attractions: The Trailers Of Humphrey Bogart. This entertaining documentary on Bogart’s career at Warner Bros. is comprised entirely of film trailers. The documentary has me salivating in anticipation of all of Bogart’s movies being released on DVD- here’s hoping that we someday see THE RETURN OF DR. X. Also included is a trailer for THE MALTESE FALCON, as well as SATAN MET A LADY, an earlier version of Dashiell Hammett tale starring Bette Davis (which should also be released on DVD). Filling out the extras is a Bogart biography and an essay entitled A History Of Mysteries.
THE MALTESE FALCON is the kind of classic film that belongs in every DVD collection. Warner Home Video has delivered a solid DVD that is good looking and sounding. Recommended.
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