Thursday, 3 November 2016

Da-da-da-da-DA-daaaa!; It's Film Noir season on Volcano Cat!.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica defines'Film Noir' (French; 'Dark Film') as a style of film-making characterized by elements such as cynical heroes, stark lighting effects, frequent use of flashbacks, intricate plots, and an underlying existentialist philosophy... and I'd guess they'd know. For me, Noir is a state of mind. Usually featuring Private Eyes down on their luck, Femme Fatales (Dodgy dames you fall for then stab you for either money or to escape justice) tired cops and plots of varying complexity and believability. 

The best of these would have to be Casablanca-at least technically, as to me, this was the finest film ever made. Described as 'the best bad film ever made', it was meant to be one more in a conveyor-belt production aimed at the movie theatres owned by the studios themselves. In the age before TV, a high output was essential. So why start with The Maltese Falcon?. Well, partly because I'm nervous of approaching such heights as the film that gave us so many great one-liners, but partly because, for me, Falcon is more of a purist's Noir; the romance is bitter and doomed in both films, but then Bogart's character is much the same-the hard-boiled and cynical man out for himself, but who cannot escape his strict moral code however much he tries.

The character of Sam Spade was Dashiell Hammett's finest hour. A Private Eye himself-Hammett worked for the legendary Pinkerton Agency, he quit after becoming disillusioned with the brutal tactics employed against the unions. Serving in both Wars, despite contracting TB, he started writing after World War I. A Communist, he campaigned to keep America out of WWII, but still served when the inevitable came. A complex man, he turned away from writing fiction over a quarter of a century before his death. Somewhat ironically, he was portrayed by Jason Robards in Julia, (1977) in which Jane Fonda played Lillian Hellman, Hammett's long-term lover. Robards became Lauren Bacall's second husband after Humphrey Bogart's death. Robards won an Oscar. 
The original story appeared in the legendary Black Mask magazine.
A First Edition of the Hammett novel.
Sam Spade appeared in only one full-length novel by Hammett, as well as three short stories-yet he is one of the best-known and possibly the greatest of Noir characters. Only Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe (Also portrayed by Bogart in 1946's The Big Sleep) compares. Although mainly a fan of Chandler, Spade as played by Bogart is, to me, the finest Noir detective. Incidentally, fans of the novel could do worse than look up the late Joe Gores' Spade and Archer (2009), a wonderful homage that fits beautifully with the original. A prequel, Spade and Archer is a valued part of my collection. Before we look at the film, let's leave the last word to the Master himself;

'Spade has no original. He is a dream man in the sense that he is what most of the private detectives I worked with would like to have been and in their cockier moments thought they approached. For your private detective does not — or did not ten years ago when he was my colleague — want to be an erudite solver of riddles in the Sherlock Holmes manner; he wants to be a hard and shifty fellow, able to take care of himself in any situation, able to get the best of anybody he comes in contact with, whether criminal, innocent by-stander or client.' - Dashiell Hammett

Dashiell Hammett
The Maltese Falcon

Over an image of a statuette depicting the falcon, we learn that in 1539 the Knight Templars of Malta paid tribute to King Charles V of Spain, sending him a golden falcon encrusted with the rarest jewels. The galley carrying this treasure was seized by pirates and the fate of the Maltese Falcon remains a mystery to this day...

San Francisco, this day... and in the offices of Spade and Archer, in the Commercial Building on Sutter. Sam Spade is making a roll-up with Durham tobacco. Spade is a smallish man, with a compact build and a dark, cruel face beneath a shock of black hair. Effie Perine, Sam's secretary (A plain, but bright blonde) announces a Miss Wonderly and an attractive woman wrapped in a fur enters. She's from New York and trying to find her sister, possibly in town with a man named Thursby, first name Floyd. Sam lights his smoke from the desk lighter (A rather wonderful mid-thirties Bakelite and chrome Ronson touch lighter, the one with the built-in clock.) Mother and Father are in Honolulu and won't be happy to hear this on their return. Her sister refuses to answer her letters and questioning Thursby, he wouldn't tell her where she is. Miles Archer-Spade's partner breezes in to be told Miss Wonderly is meeting this Thursby tonight. 

Spade tells their client there'll be a man tailing Thursby back to her sister tonight. Anxiously, Miss Wonderly asserts that Thursby is a dangerous man, who will stop at nothing. He has a family in England. She describes Thursby and a smitten Archer promises to look after the tail himself. Paying cash, she leaves. 

That night, Miles arrives at Bush and Stockton, his smile of recognition fading as the gun comes up and he is shot, his body tumbling down the dusty hill. Sam Spade is woken by his telephone with the bad news. 

He'll be there in fifteen minutes. He makes a call to Effie, giving her the news before telling her to keep Iva, Miles' wife, now widow, away from him. At the scene, the name of Tom Polhaus gets Spade past the cordon and the detectives, public and private discuss the murder site. Detective Polhaus is a friend; he kept Miles' body at the scene until Sam could look it over. Stating Miles got it in the pump, Tom shows Sam the murder weapon, a Webley-Fosbery automatic revolver, no longer in production. 

One chamber is empty. Declining the offer to go down the hill to see the body, Sam learns Miles' own gun was on his hip and his overcoat buttoned when he died. Robbery wasn't a motive as Miles had plenty of dough on him. Tom wants to know if Archer was working and Sam tells him about the Thursby job, asking him not to crowd him. As he leaves, Sam doesn't seem cut up that his partner's dead.

Calling from a drug store, Sam phones the hotel, learning Miss Wonderly has checked out with no forwarding address and he goes home. Home is a bachelor apartment in Post Street, a kitchenette off of a living room-cum-bedroom. No sooner has Spade sat down on the bed to pour himself a scotch than the buzzer goes. It's Detective Polhaus, with Lieutenant Dundy, a bull who speaks first and thinks never. Refusing a drink, the two get straight to it.

Dundy wants to know about guns; Sam's got some at the office. Any here?, Sam invites them to turn the dump upside down-if they've got a search warrant. Suddenly sharp, Spade asks why they've come. Conciliatory, Tom complains he can't treat them like this. They've got a job to do. Sam refuses to name his client and Tom complains some more.

Dundy wants to know what time Spade got home and when he tells him just now the bull reveals they tried calling him at home. Sam went for a walk, without witnesses. Visibly relaxed, relieved even, Spade gets up and, now he knows where he stands. apologises for 'getting up on his hind legs', Miles death got to him, but now he knows what it's all about. He asks Tom how he shot Thursby-irritably, Polhaus replies that he got four .44 or .45 slugs in the back from across the street. Unblinking, Dundy promises Spade a fair deal; he doesn't blame him for killing the man that got his partner, but he'll nail him all the same. Fair enough; but Sam would feel better if they drank with him (A trait he shared with the man portraying him.) He proposes a toast; Success to crime...

The next day's Post-Dispatch links the two murders on its front page. Spade arrives at the office to find a fraught Effie. Miles' widow is there. Sam isn't pleased, but poor Effie's had her all night and seeing her condition, Sam softens, apologising. 
Iva Archer is in mourning, an attractive blonde just on the wrong side of thirty-five. From the way they kiss it's clear there's history here. Iva asks Sam if he killed Miles and Sam's appalled at the idea. She thought he said if it wasn't for Miles... then asks Sam to be kind to her. Going to perch on his desk, Spade claps his hands and laughs, a cynical snort. Through curled lips and a wolfish snarl, he gives it to her. 'You killed my husband, Sam-be kind to me.' Her sobs are genuine, however and Spade's leer gives way to compassion. He suggests she goes home, promising to join her when he can. Replacing her veil, a widow once more, Iva Archer leaves.

Effie comes in and makes Sam a Durham while he tells her Iva's suspicion. The cops think he shot Thursby; who does she think he shot?. Is he going to marry Iva?-he wishes he'd never set eyes on the woman. Holding out the paper for Sam to lick, Effie wonders if Iva killed Miles and Sam laughs, calling her an Angel, a nice little rattle-brained Angel. Really?-Effie lights him from the Ronson, telling him when she got to the Archer place at 3 a.m. Iva had only just gotten home. Sam's impressed, but Iva didn't kill anyone. Effie is worried for Sam; he always thinks he knows what he's doing, but he's too slick for his own good. She answers the phone to Miss Wonderly and Sam takes it. She's at the Coronet apartments over on California Avenue, apartment Ten-Oh One. Name of LeBlanc. On his way out, Spade sets fire to the paper on which Effie Perine wrote the address, telling his secretary to remove Miles' desk and have the name 'Spade and Archer' on the windows and doors replaced by 'Samuel Spade.'

Over at the Coronet apartments. Spade buzzes the door of 1001 and is let in by Miss Wonderly, halfway through unpacking. She makes a confession-the story she gave Sam and Miles wasn't true; he tells her they didn't buy it anyway. Anyhow, what is her name?-it's O'Shaughnessy, first name Brigid. She paid too much; two hundred dollars was more than she'd have paid if she'd been on the level-and enough more to make it all right. Anxiously, she asks if she was to blame for last night, but Sam is indifferent; after all she warned them Thursby was dangerous. Unwisely, Brigid tries for pathos, with a line about Miles being so alive, so solid and hearty. Spade's not buying; he knew what he was doing, those are the breaks. She asks if he was married and Sam tells her 'Yeah, with ten thousand insurance, no children and a wife that didn't like him.' Anyway, out there is a flock of Policemen and assistant District Attorneys with their noses to the ground. He's kept her out of it so far, but he needs to be put in the picture. Brigid says she can't tell him now and launches into another act.


Sam needs more; for instance, Thursby. She met him in the Orient. He came in from Hong Kong last week and took advantage of her helplessness to betray her. Why the shadow?. She wanted to know who he was fixed up up, things like that. Did he kill Archer?-she says yes, but Spade knows Thursby was wearing a Luger. Does Sam think she had anything to do with it?; he asks her if she did and she says no, which seems to satisfy him for the moment. She claims Floyd always carried an extra revolver. The story goes in Hong Kong he was bodyguard to a gambler forced to flee the States, who then went missing. Floyd was supposed to know about the disappearance. He never went unarmed, even crumpling newspaper around his bed at night to warn of intruders. A nice sort of playmate, thinks Sam. So how bad a spot is she really in?. She fears for her life, but she's so vague Sam throws up his hands; it's hopeless-even she doesn't know what she wants done. When he threatens to tell the cops what he knows, that she'll have to take her chances, she agrees meekly. Ever the sap, Sam changes direction, asking her how much money she has. About five hundred. He wants it, but she tries to keep back some for her own expenses. No good; she'll have to hock her furs and jewels. Taking the key, he tells her he'll be back with some news as soon as possible, setting up a ring code so she'll know who's coming.

Back at the office Sam walks in past the painter busily repainting the door glass to his specification. He asks his angel to get his lawyer on the phone and goes in to his office to take the call, rolling a Durham while he does. He asks Sid, his lawyer how much it'll cost to tell a coroner to go to blazes and asks whether he can hide behind the sanctity of protecting a client's secrets. Dundy is getting rambunctious. It won't be cheap, but he tells Sid to go ahead as Effie brings in a card, which smells of Gardenia. Effie brings in Joel Cairo, a curious little man. Foreign, scrupulously polite and formal, Cairo first offers condolences then enquires if there's any relationship between Miles' death and Thursby's. 

All he gets for an answer is cool smoke. Apologising for his indelicacy, the small man then tells Spade he's attempting to recover an ornament that has been, mislaid. A statuette of a black bird. He is prepared, on behalf of the rightful owner, to pay the sum of $5,000 for the recovery. Effie buzzes through to tell Sam she's done for the day and he tells her to lock up on the way out.

Returning his attention to the prospective client, Spade notices the small automatic in his hand (A 1908 Colt vest model, a .25 with wooden grips no less). Swiftly standing, Cairo orders Sam to clasp his hands behind his neck, he's going to search the office. The oily little man orders Sam up to search him for weapons. Sam turns around-then turns, grabs the gun arm and whacks Cairo in the face with it, the little gun falling to the floor. Cairo is firmly in Spade's grip as the detective pushes him backwards across the office, a grim wolf-like grin on his face; he's enjoying this!.

Finally, pop!, he knocks the small man out cold. Going through Cairo's pockets, he finds little of interest; a Greek passport in the name of Joel Cairo, resident of San Francisco. There's also a French passport in the name Arnaud, and a British passport with the Cairo moniker, some Chinese coins, keys... and a ticket for the concert at the Geary Theatre on Wednesday. The money Sam finds doesn't come close to five grand. Coming round, Cairo isn't too happy, insisting the offer is a genuine one. When Sam tells Cairo the Falcon isn't here, he wonders why he stuck his neck out. 

He also refuses to name his employer, but Sam thinks it would be better if all the cards were on the table. As a gesture of faith, Cairo offers $100 as a retainer, Sam takes $200, telling him his guess about the bird is wrong, that he figures Cairo wants him to get it. The little man is staying at the Belvedere, but when Sam hands him his pistol back he goes through the 'hands up' routine all over. Laughing around his cigarette, Sam raises them and tells Cairo to go ahead.

As Spade leaves the Commercial Building, he picks up a tail, a kid in hat and overcoat with a nasty gleam in his eye. Spade makes him in no time and ducks into a cab outside the Bailey Theatre. The kid follows in another. Stopping at the Geary apartments, Spade ducks into the lobby and starts pressing buttons. Buzzed in, he hurries through to the back stairs and is back out grinning as he dodges the kid while he's still trying to work out which button Spade pushed. 

Back at the Coronet apartments, Spade buzzes the signal and lets himself in. He tells Miss O' Shaughnessy he's managed to keep her name out of it and she's grateful. Sitting, she goes into her prim and proper routine, while Sam watches with a big grin on his face. Taking a seat opposite her, he tells her she isn't the sort of girl she pretends to be-the schoolgirl manner, blushing and so forth. She admits her life hasn't been virtuous, she's been bad. He likes that because if she was that model of virtue they'd never get anywhere. Casually, he drops the name Joel Cairo and she tenses. Trying to cover her agitation, she goes into a 'poking the fire routine' before going to light a cigarette. Amused, Sam tells her she's good, very good. She asks what Cairo said about her, which was exactly nothing, but he offered $5,000 for the black bird.

She still holds back, claiming she needs to see Cairo. Remembering the theatre ticket, Spade realises Cairo will be there and the performance finishes soon. He phones the Belvedere and leaves a message for him. Protesting her terror of the little man persuades Sam to make the appointment at his place.

As they arrive, however, Iva Archer is waiting in a car outside. Ignoring her, Sam takes Brigid upstairs. As they discuss matters, however, Sam spots the kid lounging across the street. The buzzer announces Cairo has arrived and the little man tells Cairo there's someone watching the place. Brigid is worried, but Sam replies he already shook him before he went to her apartment. Polite as ever, Mr. Cairo proclaims himself pleased to see Miss O' Shaughnessy again. She goes over the deal; $5,000 for the Falcon. He admits he doesn't have the money on him, but it is available at short notice during Banker's Hours. Cairo can have it ready for half-ten the next day, but she hasn't got it. Sam watches this interplay with keen, shrewd eyes. And where is it?; where Thursby hid it. So why sell it to Cairo?. Simply, she's afraid-after Thursby's death she's afraid to touch it unless to turn over to someone else. The little man asks what exactly did happen to Floyd and she says simply 'The Fat Man.' This gets a reaction, Cairo standing with his cigarette to wonder if the Fat Man is here. What difference does it make?; it might make the World of difference...

Cairo mentions the boy outside, at which Brigid-with a hint of playfulness, teases him that he might get around him like 'the one in Istanbul.' What was his name?. Stung, Cairo starts to retort; 'You mean the one you couldn't get to...' WHACK! She slaps him, at which he raises his hand in fury. Quick as silver, Spade is up and throws the odd little man into an armchair. Cairo reaches and Sam chops his hand down onto his wrist. Once again, the pistol hits the ground and, furious, Cairo hisses that it's the second time Spade has laid hands on him. 

The answer to this is Movie legend; 'When you're slapped you'll take it and like it' and Spade slaps Cairo across the face, once, twice, thrice... four times!. A knock at the door; Dundy and Polhaus. They want to come in, but Sam's not entertaining the police tonight. Dundy wants to know if there's anything between Sam and Iva Archer. Not a thing. Then the Lieutenant puts it to Sam Iva wanted a divorce to put up with him. Nope. His back up, Sam snarls that Dundy's first thought, him killing Thursby falls apart if he blames him for Miles' murder too. Nose out of joint, Dundy denies any such accusation. Haven't they got anything better to do that call early every morning and ask fool questions?. 'And get a lot of lyin' answers' comes back. Dundy insists if Spade denies involvement with Mrs Archer he's calling him a liar and wants in. Spade holds his ground and the two detectives make to go, when a sudden ruckus is followed by Cairo screaming for help. Dundy speaks first; 'I guess we're going in.' Amusement in his voice, Sam retorts; 'I guess you are.'

Breaking it up, the cops find Cairo with blood on his face, screeching that Brigid did it to him. Dundy asks her if she did it; she claims she had no choice-he attacked her. Seething with outrage, the little man denounces her for a liar, claiming he came in good faith and the other two attacked him, that as soon as the police left they'd kill him. Then she struck him with a pistol. All alley-cat now, Brigid yells at the cops to make him tell the truth, giving the little man a hefty kick into the bargain. 

Dundy is for running the lot of them in, but all smiles, Sam sits and feeds them a line; Brigid is an operative in his employ, Cairo is an acquaintance of Thursby's who hired Sam to find something the dead man was supposed to have on him. It sounded funny, so Sam turned the job down. By now, with her back to the other three, Miss O' Shaughnessy is beaming at Sam as he continues with the spiel that he called Cairo up for questioning regarding the killings. This is all enough for Dundy and he wants to book all three. Sam only wriggles out of it by claiming the whole thing was a put-on, when the detectives showed up they agreed to goof around to put one over on them. Bull-headed as ever, Dundy wants to book Cairo for having a gun, but Sam tells him it's one of his. Unable to resist a jibe at the inept cop, Sam leers 'Too bad it's only a .25 or you could prove it was the gun Miles and Thursby were shot with.' Dundy gives him a right-hander for his lip and Tom has to hold Spade back.

Even now, the Lieutenant wants addresses and while he's getting them Cairo picks his moment to slink off. Dundy follows him. Ruefully, Tom Polhaus hopes Sam knows what he's doing...

Alone, Spade laughs it off and Brigid feels him to be the wildest, most unpredictable person she's ever known. He still wants that talk, making a cigarette while he listens. Look at the time!, she must be going. Maybe the boy outside hasn't gone home yet. Sam's suggestion stops her in her tracks, but she teases him when he asks about the bird. Relenting-a little, she describes a black figure, smooth and shiny, a bird, a hawk, a falcon about that high. What's so special about it?. She lies that she doesn't know, only that 'they' offered her five hundred Pounds to get it away from the possessor. In Istanbul?, no, Marmora. She tells Sam that Cairo jumped ship, intendeing to steal the Falcon for himself. Sam misses the look in the woman's eyes as she says neither was Floyd fair-hearted, intending his own double-cross. Sam asks what the Falcon's made of. Porcelain, black stone or some such. Admiring her cheek-but not falling for it, Sam calls her a liar. Turning her head, she admits it. She's always been a liar. Highly amused, Sam advises her not to brag about it and when she admits that very little of that yarn was true, he goes to fetch some coffee. They've got all night. When she realises she's in for the third degree, she feigns tiredness, but the wolf's back in Spade's eyes and she won't get away so easily.
Falling back, hand over her brow, she's suddenly tired of all the lies, of not knowing truth from fiction. No man is an island, and Sam's veneer is slipping. As he bends to kiss her, he spots the Kid, still watching from across the street.

The next day and Sam Spade walks into the Hotel Belvedere and places a call to Joel Cairo on the house phone. Spotting the Kid sitting reading a paper, Sam breezes over to sit next to him, making one of his perpetual smokes.

He asks where Cairo is and the Kid isn't happy about it, telling Sam to shove off. The accent is New York. Sam pushes it, mentions the Fat Man and gets the same reply. From his eyes and manner, the Kid is a psycho, a nut-job. Standing Spade warns him people lose teeth talking that way; if he wants to stay around he'd best be polite. Sam then signals for Luke, the house dick. Old friends, they exchange pleasantries and condolences about Miles. Spade shows the detective over to the Kid and shows him out as a cheap gun. Luke asks his business and when he won't answer, shows him the door. Voice strained, the Kid promises he won't forget either of them and gets a face full of smoke from Spade.

Spotting a dishevelled Cairo at the desk, Sam shakes Luke and goes over, but the little man is in no mood to talk after last night. Sam explains that he had no choice; how else is he to find out where the bird is?. Dundy had Cairo down at the station all night giving him a grilling.

Leaving Cairo to get some sleep, Sam heads back to the office where poor Effie is fending off Iva on the phone. The D.A.'s office called, Bryan wants to see him-and a Mr. Gutman called; he got the message Sam gave to the Kid.

He'll call later. Brigid O'Shaughnessy is waiting for him in his office; her apartment has been turned over and she's frightened again. She thinks the Kid, Sam thinks maybe Cairo.

Kissing her playfully on her nose, Sam asks Effie to turn her female intuition towards Miss O'Shaughnessy. She's ok, but probably in a mess through her own fault. Would she put Brigid up for a while at her place?. Effie asks if she's in any danger. Sam thinks probably, yes. Ever the Angel, Effie agrees to it, though her mother will have a green haemorrhage at the thought of trouble. They'd best get going now; Sam advises Effie to take Brigid out the back way, switch cabs a few times to be sure. Alone, Sam calls the D.A.'s office from memory, setting up an appointment with Mr. Bryan. Before he can finish the call, the Merry Widow is back, sobbing and begging forgiveness. It was Iva who sent the police to Sam's place in a jealous fit. Sternly, Sam advises her to go home and expect a visit of her own. By the way, where was she the night Miles died?. She says home, Spade knows better; but if that's her story it's fine by him. She leaves, the phone rings and this time Mr. Gutman wants an appointment. The sooner the better as far as Sam's concerned.

The elevator boy opens the car at the twelfth floor and Sam walks down the broad, plush hallway to 12 C. The Kid lets him in and Mr. Gutman walks across the sumptuous apartment to shake his hand, greeting him warmly. Gutman himself must weigh 300lbs, is in his early sixties, British and balding. Elegantly attired in frock coat and formal dress, Gutman is the soul of British gentility; therefore unlikely to be anything but a scoundrel. Leading Sam by the arm, Gutman shows him to a comfortable chair, indicating the Kid leave them as he pours two whiskies. 

Right from the off, Gutman butters Sam up; he likes a man that doesn't say 'when', he dislikes men that don't like to talk-he offers Sam a Presidente and it's all very pally. Spade gets down to business; the black bird. Gutman wants to know who Sam's working for and the detective is cagey as ever. Is it the girl?, Cairo? Who else is there?-there's Spade. The Fat Man finds something else to like; a man who looks after his own interests. Suddenly serious, Gutman wonders if his guest has any conception of the value of the Falcon. He doesn't. If Gutman told him half he'd think him a liar.

Spade wants to know what it actually is and Gutman seems surprised at this. Spade claims he knows where it it, Gutman knows what it is-and neither will budge, so Sam rolls the dice. Leaping up, he tosses the cigar, suddenly anger blazing in his eyes and voice. 'Think again and think fast!.' He's shouting now; 'I told that gunsel* of yours you' have to talk to me before you got through-he points-I'm telling you now you'll have to talk to me today or you are through!.' He hurls his glass, shattering it into fragments. As he continues his rant, the Kid comes in and Sam warns Gutman to keep him away or he'll kill him!. 

Gutman maintains composure throughout, remarking simply that Spade has a most violent temper. Sam tells him he's got until five o'clock, then he's either in or out; for keeps!. He storms out and up the hall, where he breaks into a broad grin. All an act. However, he can't quite stop his hands shaking as the right-hand elevator arrives. He gets in, still smiling as the other elevator opens and Cairo walks out, engrossed in his paper. Neither man notices the other.
*Gunsel refers to the Kid; originally the word referred to an inexperienced homosexual, but since this film it has become a derogatory reference to cheap gunmen.

At the District Attorney's office, Sam speaks with Bryan, a secretary taking notes in a shorthand pad with an Assistant D.A. sat in. The D.A. wants to know who killed Floyd Thursby; Sam doesn't know. Maybe he could make an excellent guess?. Maybe, but Mrs. Spade didn't raise any kids dippy enough to make such a guess in front of the present company. Bryan states he's an officer of the law round the clock, nothing short of Constitutional grounds (i.e. guilt) gives Sam the justification to with-hold evidence. Attacking in defence as always, Sam places his knuckles on the desk, using his belligerent stance to deliver. Both the D.A. and the police have as much as accused him of being mixed up with the murders. He's had trouble with both before and as far as he can see his best chance to clear himself is to bring in the killers all tied up. His only chance is to stay as far as possible from District Attorneys and police both-he breaks off to ask if the Stenographer is getting it all-is he going too fast?. He's not. Now, if the D.A. wants to go to the Board to revoke his licence; hop to it-they tried it once before and all it got them was laughs all round. Bryan tries to get one in, but Sam's through; if they want him, pinch him or subpoena him or something and he'll show with his lawyer.

Exiting the elevator at Gutman's apartment building, Spade walks side by side with the Kid, pockets bulging. Quick as a flash, Sam ducks back, yanks the Kid's overcoat down around his elbows and lifts two Colt .45's from his pockets while he's helpless.

Gloating at pulling such an easy one over, Sam says 'Come on, this'll put you in solid with your boss.' Gutman opens the door to be handed the iron, which he finds amusing-especially when Sam kids that a crippled newsie took them off the Kid and he made him give them back. His .45's back in hand, it's all the Kid can do to prevent himself plugging Spade on the spot. Pouring the drinks, Gutman owes Sam an apology, but he wants to talk turkey-the black bird. Claiming it will be the most astounding thing Sam's ever heard, Gutman settles into a chair and asks what he's heard of the Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem, aka the Knights of Rhodes and other things. 'Crusaders or something, weren't they?.' 'Very good, sid-down.' Sam takes the sofa and the Fat Man gives him the story.

Indeed.... they were rolling in it. For years they'd looted the Middle East of its treasures. For them the Holy Wars were largely a matter of loot. The knights were profoundly grateful to the Emperor Charles for his generosity. For his first yearly tribute they sent him not some paltry poultry, but a golden falcon, encrusted head to foot in the finest jewels from their coffers.

Sam isn't sure what to make of it, but Gutman insists these are historical facts. They sent the falcon in a galley, but it never reached Spain. A famous buccaneer took the galley and the bird. In 1713 it turned up in Sicily, by 1840 it had reached Paris, wearing a coat of black enamel. In that dull guise it went through several hands. Then in 1923 a Greek dealer by the name of Charilaos Konstantinides found it in an obscure shop. He knew right away what it was. Refilling Sam's glass his portly host continues; Konstantinides re-enamelled the bird and Gutman got wind of it, but too late. He packed a bag and jumped on the boat train, opening a newspaper to discover the Greek had been murdered and his establishment robbed. 

It took seventeen years, but he traced it to the home of a Russian General named Kemidov, in Istanbul. Refusing to sell what he thought was an innocuous statuette, Gutman was forced to send some agents, who suceeded. He hasn't got it... yet. Another refil. Spade puts it that the bird belongs to Kemidov-Gutman retorts you might as well say it belongs to the King of Spain. Hand on Spade's knee, his pally host asks how soon he can produce it. 'A couple of days' comes the answer.

Raising his glass to a fair bargain, Gutman proposes $25,000 on delivery with another matching amount later; or one quarter of what he realises on the Falcon. That would be a vastly greater sum, perhaps $100,000. Would he believe him if he names a sum that would seem a probable minimum?. Puffing his cigar, Sam says why not?. What would he say to a quarter of a million?. Somewhat bemused, Spade asks if Gutman thinks the 'dingus' is worth a million. In his own words-why not?. Now downright groggy, Sam blinks it away and thinks it a lot of dough. Minimum?-Gutman's face is now a blur to Sam-what's the maximum?. Gutman refuses to guess. Sam puts his glass down, knocking it over in the process. He stands-a supreme test of effort and will, swaying like a punch-drunk boxer as he knocks over a flower stand. Gutman calls for Wilmer and the Kid comes in as Sam reaches for and drops his hat. Wilmer trips Sam and he's down-a vicious kick to the head and he's out. Joel Cairo joins the party and, led by the Fat Man, the three leave Sam unconscious on the floor.

The room is in darkness as Sam, still groggy, forces himself up off the floor. Staggering into the bathroom, he throws cold water on his face, including the King-sized lump left my Wilmer's shoe. He calls Effie asking for Miss O'Shaughnessy, but she's not there. He tells her to meet him at the office then turns Gutman's place over, looking for something, anything that will tell him what his next move should be. It seems hopeless, but then he spots a paper; the shipping news. Someone has circled an entry in ink; the La Paloma is due in at 5:35, from Hong Kong...

Sirens blare and the ship blazes; firemen swarm over the mortally-wounded ship. The La Paloma has sailed her last voyage. Sam goes up to a Mate and enquires about a redhead that came aboard. The Mate tells him everyone got off o.k., only the Harbour Watch was aboard when the fire started. Nodding, Sam leaves him to it. Soon he's back at the office, with Effie nursing his bump. He's filled her in on all of it and she's thrilled about the bird. Just then, the door opens and a man staggers in with a package wrapped in newspaper. He's clearly dying and Effie lets out a piercer of a scream. 

He drops the heavy parcel at Sam's feet and says just three words; 'You know... Falcon' before he flops onto the leather couch, dead. Telling Effie to lock the door, Sam goes through the dead man's wallet. He couldn't have come far with those holes in him... 
Sam washes his hands and notices poor Effie on the brink of a faint. Going to her he shakes her out of it, not roughly. Putting the weighty item on his desk, Sam cuts at the twine binding it; it's the Falcon!.

A call; Effie answers and it's Brigid O'Shaughnessy, in some danger; she gives the address and screams down the phone before ringing off. Panicked, Effie yells that Sam has to help her. Okay, but when he's gone she's to call the police, say he got the call and didn't say where he was going, leave out the bundle-tell them what happened as it did, but with him taking the call and without the bundle. Grabbing hat, coat and bundle, he tells her to lock up and only open for the police. Does he know who the dead man was?; Captain Jacoby, Master of the La Paloma. Patting Effie on the shoulder and touching her chin, Spade tells his secretary she's a good man and leaves.

On his way, Spade stops off at the Union Bus Terminal and leaves the package in baggage, puts the ticket in an envelope addressed to a Post Office box, mail it and goes out to the rank to find Frank, his regular driver. He asks Frank if he knows Ancho Street or Avenue in Burlingame. He doesn't. They drive down and eventually find the street, but when Spade walks to number twenty-six, he finds a vacant lot. Asking Frank to find a phone booth, he calls the Perine home and asks for Effie, telling her it was a bum steer then asking how it went with the cops. She tells him and he tells her to get some sleep; he's going home.

When Frank drops Sam off at 226 Post, Brigid stumbles out from a nook into his arms. Despite the goose chase she sent him on, he helps her into the elevator and up to his place. As he opens the door, we see Wilmer, the Kid standing in the corner of the hall. As the lights go on, Spade freezes at the sight of The Fat man and Cairo in his living room. Wilmer goes to frisk Spade, but he snarls at him to keep away; to ask his boss if he wants him shot up before we talk. Seated himself, Gutman invites Sam to sit-in his own place!-but Sam wants to know if he wants the Falcon, is he ready to pay the first instalment. The Fat Man hands over an envelope containing $10,000. Spade isn't impressed, but Gutman insists its genuine 'coin of the realm' and a Dollar of it buys ten of talk. Besides, there are more of them to be taken care of now. That may be, but Sam points out he has the Falcon. Gun in hand, Cairo's response is that may be true, but they have him. Coolly, Sam slips his overcoat off and states that they've got to have a fall guy, a victim for the police to pin the three murders onto. Cairo at least is unaware there were three; his response that there were only two confirms it. Gutman can't believe Spade expects them to believe he's afraid of the police, but Spade insist; if there isn't a patsy it'll be him

He suggests giving them the 'Gunsel.' He actually shot Thursby and Jacoby after all. The Fat Man laughs as if it were the funniest of jokes; Sam really is a character, but he dismisses the idea, claiming Wilmer to be like a son to him. Surely he'd talk about the Falcon?. Let him, says Sam, he guarantees they'd do anything about it.

Taking a break from riling Wilmer, Spade goes over to Brigid and asks if she's any better, which she is. She is, however, frightened. Sam reassures her nothing very bad will happen here. She whispers for him to be careful and he resumes his campaign. Warming to the idea, but hiding this from the gunsel standing next to him, Gutman is magnanimous; he'll hear Spade out. How can he fix it so Wilmer can't hurt them?-Sam tells him that he'll tell Bryan that chasing after everyone will result in a tangled mess of a case; give them Wilmer and he'll convict standing on his head. 

As Sam has hoped, this is too much for the Kid, who starts forward, a mad look in his eyes-a curiously expressionless look on his face as he speaks, voice taut as a violin string 'Get up on your feet... I've taken all the riding from you I'm gonna take. Get up and shoot it out.' The wolf's leer answers him; 'Young Wild West.' Then, to Gutman; 'Maybe you should tell him shooting me before you get your hands on the Falcon's gonna be bad for business.' Gutman agrees and orders his gunsel to leave it. Tears in his eyes, he does-for the moment. The Fat Man has decided against the plan, so Spade goes after Cairo; the fall guy's part of the asking price now, as for Miss O'Shaughnessy, if Gutman thinks she can be rigged for the fall he's perfectly happy, unlike Cairo.

Leaning forward, Sam lays it on the table; if they can't afford to kill him, how can they scare him into giving up the bird?. Sternly, Gutman reminds him there are other methods than killing and threats. True, concedes Spade, going to sit at the Fat Man's arm. But none of them work without the threat behind them and if they start something, he'll make sure they have to kill him-or call it off. Amused, Gutman feels this an attitude calling for the most delicate judgements on both sides. The game of chess continues, with Gutman stating that in the heat of action, men forget where their interests lie and emotion carries them away. Spade says the trick from his end is to make his play strong enough to tie Gutman up, but not to make him mad enough to bump his off against his better judgement. The Fat Man is enjoying himself enormously, but then Cairo whispers in his ear and Sam resumes his divide and conquer tactics, buy goading Wilmer; Six to One they're selling him out. To Gutman; he hopes he's not influenced by the guns these 'pocket edition desperadoes are waving around.' He's practised taking guns away from these boys before. As he continues, Wilmer loses all self-control, stepping forwards like the amateur he is. 

A pro would have stayed back and shot Spade from a safe distance, but the Kid walks into it, raising his gun arm, which Gutman traps in his blubbery arms, leaving Sam clear for a right cross which sends Wilmer out cold, his .45 clumping to the floor, Brigid darting forward to grab it. Smiling coolly, Sam relieves her of it. In this world, Dames and guns spell trouble. Cairo and Sam heft the unconscious hoodlum over to a recliner and dump him there, Sam taking the other automatic. 
Turning his attention to Gutman, Sam insists Wilmer takes the fall-or he'll turn the Falcon and the lot of them in. The Fat Man isn't happy, but agrees. Sam won't be able to deliver the bird until daylight. Gutman feels it best they remain in each other's sight. Sam's okay with that and says he's arranged to have the dingus brought there. Gutman re-offers the $10,000 and Wilmer for the Falcon, with a few hours grace; Sam wants something straight... why did Wilmer shoot Thursby? And why and where and how did he shoot Jacoby?. Gutman admits Thursby died to send a message to Miss O'Shaughnessy that it would be best to ally herself with them. So they didn't try a deal first?. Gutman discloses that they did, but nothing could come of it. He was determined to remain loyal to Brigid. Wilmer tracked him to the Hotel and murdered him. Now Jacoby; Standing, Gutman claims the Captain's death was entirely Miss O'Shaughnessy's fault. After Cairo's release from police HQ he threw his lot in with Gutman. Cairo saw the La Paloma in the paper; Brigid had been seen in the Captain's company in Hong Kong. Wilmer lets out a soft groan, and Sam pauses in rolling one to add that's when Gutman decided to slip him a Mickey*... agreeably, Gutman admits there was no place for Spade in their plans. All three of them went to see Jacoby, catching Brigid there. The conference was long and difficult, but they came to terms-or so he thought. Leaving the boat for their hotel where he was to receive the bird, they were duped as she, Jacoby and the bird slipped away. The arson on the La Paloma was unintentional, at least it was due to Wilmer. He went about the boat looking for the Falcon and was, doubtless, careless with matches. They caught up with the Captain and Brigid at her apartment, Wilmer covering the fire escape. Sure enough, Jacoby came down the fire escape, hr climbed down, knocked Wilmer over and ran, despite being mortally wounded. They persuaded Brigid to make the goose chase call to divert Sam so they could search the office, but it was too late as the bird had flown once more. *A Mickey Finn was the practice of slipping chloral hydrate into someone's drink to knock them out. Named for a Chicago bar manager who uses the method to rob customers.

Wilmer comes to, realising he is bereft of pistols and friends. Every face in the room is against him. Gutman claims he's sorry to lose him; but lose a son you can get another. There is only one Maltese Falcon. Chuckling, Sam asks about coffee-asking Brigid to make it as he doesn't like to leave 'our guests.' Just a moment... Gutman asks her for the envelope before she's out of sight. Fanning the notes out, the Fat Man says business must be conducted in a business-like fashion. For example, there are only nine notes here now. There where ten when he handed over the money.

Going over to where Brigid stands, Spade wants answers. Her resolute shake of the head persuades him and he returns his attention to Gutman. Sure enough, the Fat Man has pocketed a note using sleight of hand and after trying to bluff, admits such, handing the crumpled note over. Spade is disgusted by such cheapness; he'd expect it from someone Wilmer's age. Gutman proffers the envelope, but Sam wants more than $10,000. Gutman insists its a first payment, but Sam wants fifteen. Frankly and candidly, upon his honour as a gentleman, (!) $10,000 is all he can raise. Beckoning Sam over, the Fat Man assumes a confidential tone. Beware of Brigid. She's dangerous. It's almost daylight, Gutman suggests Spade begins to get the Falcon, his face twitching with uncontrolled, naked greed. Sam calls Effie, apologising for the hour. In the Holland box at the Post Office there's an envelope, with a Bus-Station parcel room ticket. She's to get the bundle and bring it to his place P.D.Q.

The sun is coming up outside and everyone seems tired except Sam and Gutman. It could almost be the night after a party; Joel Cairo dozing in a chair, Sam and Brigid holding hands, smoking, Gutman immersed in a book, his cigar puffing away gently. Even Wilmer is asleep. The buzzer changes all that; it's Effie and she's brought it!. Handing it to Sam, she leaves, a wry look on her face. Gutman can hardly wait, ripping away the paper to reveal cloth, inside which rags protect... hang on, there's more rags... his forehead shiny with sweat, the Fat Man exclaims; 'Now, after seventeen years...' Clawing away at the packing, the statuette of a falcon is revealed, on its side. 

Setting the heavy bird upright, he has to be sure!. Picking up a pocket-knife from the table, he begins scratching at the enamel. Slowly at first, then ever more manically, he chips away at the black coating, a look of imbecile doltry upon his portly features. Its lead!. A phoney!.

Sam's more than had enough of this, snapping at Brigid that she's had her little joke and now's the time to tell. She looks aghast, screaming out that's the one she got from Kemidov-she swears it. So, too has Cairo had enough. His face transformed with rage, he launches a tirade at Gutman.

To Cairo, Gutman asks what he suggests-stay here and exchange names or go together to Istanbul?. Seventeen years-whats another?. Cairo seems pleased to be going, but then Gutman notices the absence of Wilmer. Searching the apartment, its clear he's lit out and Spade laughs at the Fat Man. A swell lot of thieves!. Gutman points out the World hasn't ended because of a setback and asks for his money back. Sam held up his end; Gutman got his 'Dingus'-not his fault it wasn't what he wanted. Placing his bowler on his head with one hand, the Fat Man levels a pistol at Spade with the other. Sam extracts a T-bill; to take care of his time and expenses. 

Now, Gutman says goodbye-unless Sam cares to undertake the Istanbul expedition?. He shakes 'Nope'. Gutman feels this a pity, but doubtless Spade will manage the police without a fall guy. And to Miss O'Shaughnessy, Gutman leaves the 'Rara Avis' on the table-as a little memento. With that, The Fat Man and Cairo take their leave.

Wasting no more time, Sam dials the police, asking for Sergeant Polhaus. As Brigid watches, Sam gives up Wilmer Cook for the Thursby and Jacoby killings. He's working for a man named Kasper Gutman, in association with Cairo. They've just left for the Alexandria Hotel. By now, Brigid looks distinctly uncomfortable. He warns Tom to watch himself going up against the Kid. Setting the phone down, Sam is urgent; they'll talk as soon as they're lifted-'We're sitting on dynamite.' Taking her by the shoulders, he tells her they've only got minutes, to give all of it to him and fast. 'When you first came to my office, why did you want Thursby shadowed?.' She repeats the betrayal line and Sam's not hooked like Thursby was; she wanted rid of him before Jacoby arrived so there was one less to split the loot with. What was the scheme?. Vaguely, she tries telling Sam she thought Thursby would be frightened by a tail. Again, no sale; Miles wasn't clumsy enough to be spotted the first night. 'You told Thursby he was being followed.' Noticing her lit cigarette as if for the first time, she turns away, stalling, before admitting she told him about the tail. She pleads she wouldn't have if he'd have killed Archer. 'If you didn't think he'd kill Miles, you were right, Angel.' The wolfish leer firmly on his lips, Spade digs in. 'Miles didn't have too many brains, but he'd had too many years' experience as a detective to be caught like that. But he'd have gone up there with you, Angel, he was just dumb enough for that.' She could have stood close to him in the dark and put a bullet through him with Floyd Thursby's gun.

Brigid throws herself at Sam, but he holds her firmly. Well, if she gets a good break, she'll be out of Tehachapi in twenty years and she can come back to him then. He hopes they don't hang her. He's not...? Yes, he's going to send her over. Chances are she'll get off with life. He'll be waiting-but if they hang her he'll always remember her. Tears moistening her cheeks, she still thinks he's fooling, even attempting a brave laugh. Through a face made of granite he tells her not to be silly; she's taking the fall. Bitterly, she breaks away from him, accusatory now. He's been playing with her-pretending he cares just to trap her like this-he doesn't love her.

Spade-I won't play the sap for you!
Brigid-You know it's not like that!
Spade-You never played square with me since I've known you!
Brigid-You know in your heart that in spite of anything I've done, I love you.
Spade-I don't care who loves who! I won't play the sap!
I won't walk in Thursby's, and I don't know how many others' footsteps!
You killed Miles and you're going over for it.
Brigid-How can you do this to me, Sam?
Surely, Mr. Archer wasn't as much to you as...
This won't do any good.
You'll never understand me, but I'll try once and then give it up.
When a man's partner is killed, he's supposed to do something.
It makes no difference what you thought of him.
He was your partner, and you're supposed to do something about it...
...and it happens we're in the detective business.
Well, when one of your organization gets killed, it's...'s bad business to let the killer get away with it...
...bad all around, bad for every detective everywhere.
Brigid-You don't expect me to think that these are sufficient reasons for sending me...
Spade-Wait'll I'm through. Then, you can talk.
I've no earthly reason to think I can trust you.
If I do this and get away with it, you'll have something on me...
...that you can use whenever you want to.
Since I've got something on you...
...I couldn't be sure that you wouldn't put a hole in me someday.
All those are on one side.
Maybe some of them are unimportant. I won't argue about that.

But look at the number of them.
What have we got on the other side?
All we've got is that maybe you love me and maybe I love you.
Brigid-You know whether you love me or not.
Spade-Maybe I do. I'll have some rotten nights after I've sent you over, but that'll pass.
If all I've said doesn't mean anything to you...
...then forget it and we'll make it just this:
I won't, because all of me wants to regardless of consequences...
...and because you've counted on it...
...the same as you counted on it with all the others.
Brigid-Would you have done this if the falcon were real and you got your money?
Spade-Don't be too sure I'm as crooked as I'm supposed to be.
That sort of reputation might be good business...
...bringing high-priced jobs and making it easier to deal with the enemy...
...but a lot more money would have been one more item on your side of the scales.
Brigid-If you'd loved me, you wouldn't have needed any more on that side.


And they kiss... the harsh blare of the buzzer shakes the moment away. Sam calls out for the police to come in and Dundy leads Polhaus in. Sam asks if they got 'em and they have. He then hands over Brigid. She killed Miles-and Sam has some exhibits to add to the haul; various guns taken from the group and the thousand-dollar bill he was supposed to be bribed with... and this black statuette that all the fuss was about. Dundy seems crestfallen and Sam can't resist gloating at this; doubtless when he heard Gutman's story he thought he had Sam. It's time to be going and Sam hands Dundy Brigid's fur for the Lieutenant to wrap her in. In what has to be one of the top five most famous movie lines of all time, Tom Polhaus picks up the heavy Falcon, asking what it is. Sam Spade's reply lines the halls of legend; 'The, ah... stuff that dreams are made of.' 

Spade takes the bird and walks out with it as Dundy closes the tiny elevator gate. Brigid O'Shaughnessy stands inside, a terrible look of desolation on her beautiful features.

Defeated, alone, lost. As Sam stands there, seeing her behind bars as it were, his face is a model of sorrow and pity. He sighs as the elevator door slides shut and the little car takes her away from him. Sam Spade takes the Maltese Falcon down the stairs, following Tom.


Had George Raft not turned the part of Sam Spade down-as he did with Bogart's breakthrough hit High Sierra and, allegedly with Casablanca, Humphrey Bogart's enduring friendship and collaboration with John Huston may never have happened. Bogart said yes-and the rest is history. Often cited as the first true Noir, The Maltese Falcon stands out, not for the average plot, but for the performances of the cast. The dialogue can seem, on close inspection of the script, a bit laboured-points are stated and re-stated for no apparent reason, as if appealing to the drive-in crowd. This doesn't hamper the film, which is surprising. However-you cannot deny the brilliance here; passages of dialogue flash incandescent off the screen; the closing scene between Sam and Brigid is electric, even though it should seem cornball. All through the film, the dialogue entertains, involves us, I think the reason for this is the bravura performances; no-one here is a passenger. 
Elisha Cook, Jnr plays Wilmer Cook, the 'Gunsel'. His frozen stare and air of barely-subdued paranoia lend the role real presence. Ward Bond plays Tom Polhaus, Sam's sympathetic, if harried, friend on the Force. Barton Maclane plays the clockwork-brained Dundy to type. Lee Patrick is Effie Perine, Sam's Secretary-an Angel with a simple, good nature and homely looks... but with a brain to match Spade's. Peter Lorre is Joel Cairo; an exotic name for an exotic character. Throughout there are hints that flew below the Hayes-Code radar; he probably shares a bed with Gutman. Sydney Greenstreet's first screen role, Kasper Gutman is a memorable figure. A massive man, Greenstreet's near 300lb bulk is used to great effect with his manner, an entirely trustworthy figure you'd be a fool to trust. His verbal jousting with Spade takes the form of a chess match between opponents and is one of the highlights of the film. 

Mary Astor is Brigid O'Shaughnessy, a pretty, scheming, capricious and deceitful woman who uses all the weapons of her sex to beguile and destroy men. Literally the Femme Fatale. Bogart-there is no need for the full name of such a star, is perfect. Words like 'cynical' and 'hard-boiled' have been worn to death, but the character of Spade is a good man in a lousy world. He protects himself with a ruthless, tough exterior, but even he's not immune to the charms of a woman. Bogart was born to the role. Describing his performance seems to me futile; watch the film. Just watch it. 

There were three versions made, The Maltese Falcon (1931) and a comedy version, Satan met a Lady (1936). The third hit the jackpot. High Sierra (1941) put the name Bogart on everyone's lips, but The Maltese Falcon released later that year was the film that sealed his fame.
Poster for the 1931 Version
Goofs; The Webley-Fosbery automatic revolver came in .455 and .38, but only the latter allowed for eight shots; Spade states the murder weapon in the film was a .45 automatic, eight-shot. The .45 variant only had six.
Cairo tells Spade he's at Room 635-but later asks the Hotel clerk for the key to 603.

Look closely at the helmets worn by the firemen as the La Paloma goes up; they are L.A.F.D., not San Francisco as they should be. One-clearly enjoying himself, looks at the camera then away.
Trivia; Seen briefly is the Bailey Theatre marquee, playing The Great Lie (1941) – another Mary Astor film.
Walter Huston appears as Captain Jacoby, in a cameo role.
Sydney Greenstreet's performance was so noteworthy, the first Atomic Bomb dropped on Japan was named 'Fat Man' in a (horrific) tribute.
For more on this phenomenal movie, we suggest the following;

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