johnlink ranks THE MALTESE FALCON (1931)

Quinn was crying, and Liz couldn’t sleep. I told her I’d bring him downstairs so she could get some rest. He settled down after a few minutes, so I figured I’d throw on a movie to pass the time until the 3:30 AM feeding, so Liz could sleep. The original MALTESE FALCON from 1931 (not to be confused with the Bogart version of ten years later) was on the DVR and came in at only 80 minutes. Sometimes, that is how movie watching decisions are made. On a side note, a good note, Quinn slept through the whole movie and Liz got to get an hour and a half of sleep.

I watched THE MALTESE FALCON (1931) on 9.9.10. It was my first viewing of the film.

With some identical titles, it is often quite possible to separate out the two versions and review them on their own merits. It’s tougher to do that with this first MALTESE FALCON, because both this and the Bogart version took the Dashiell Hammett novel and lifted the dialogue into the screenplay. Bogie’s version runs an extra 20-plus minutes, and is much better for it.

This one, with Ricardo Cortez as Sam Spade, is very different in tone. Cortez, here, is a womanizer who is laughing and joking and charismatic, where Bogart is a womanizer because he can be, who jokes sarcastically, and is mostly cold-hearted (even if his cold-heartedness reads as a defense mechanism). Bogart’s performance is layered and icy, where Cortez’s is more straight-forward and warm. Look at that picture above. You’ll never catch a smile like that out of Bogart in his FALCON.

The supporting characters are all the same, but the actors in the ’31 version have a harder time making an impact because the same number of people occupy a 20% shorter movie. There just isn’t time to care for them, let alone to figure out when Spade fell for his client and why he is so torn up. In fact, this ’31 version has an extra scene at the end of the film, with Spade visiting her in prison to show that, even though he sent her to prison, he really isn’t a bad guy.

The ’41 MALTESE FALCON ushered in the noir era in Hollywood filmmaking. It is a dark, moody film. The ’31 FALCON comes just as silent films are becoming talkies. The revolution was in the dialogue, and not much attention is paid to mise-en-scen or mood. Actually, the one scene that does do this is the last prison scene, with Spade appearing behind bars to express his emotional imprisonment. But because Cortez’s Spade is so light and fluffy, this isn’t at effective as it would be ten years later for Bogart.

Ultimately, the ’41 version is essential viewing. The ’31 version is distracting enough, and it kept me awake for 80 minutes so my son would sleep and my wife would sleep, but I would never choose to watch it over its remake.


FILM: 4; MOVIE: 6; ACTING: 5; WRITING: 6 (What is this?)



~ by johnlink00 on September 9, 2010.

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