Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Maltese Falcon (1941)

Detective Sam Spade is hired by va-voom redhead Brigid O'Shaughnessy to find her sister ... only she doesn't have a sister, and people connected to the case keep winding up dead: a cargo ship's captain, a guy named Thursby, even Spade's business partner Archer. What's an amoral PI to do? Get to the bottom of it, of course, and in this case what everybody's chasing is a jewel-encrusted statuette of a black bird, paid in retribution by the Knights Templar to the King of Spain. Hooey, maybe -- but the bodies keep stacking up, so keeps Spade shifting allegiances in order to remain one step ahead of the law. John Huston's enduring take on Dashiell Hammett's quintessential grifter tale is still a hoot after eight decades. Humphrey Bogart is to Sam Spade what Boris Karloff is to Frankenstein's Monster. Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet turn in equally iconic performances as villains each looking to catch the mysterious Falcon for themselves. The penultimate scene, as the principals conspire to get their story straight for the authorities (and to hell with whatever really happened) is the greatest send-up of cozy butler-did-it mysteries ever concocted -- takes place in a parlor, even. Play it again, Sam.

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