Though Humphrey Bogart died more than sixty years ago, he remains one of Hollywood’s most enduring movie stars. Widely regarded as a cultural icon, The American Film Institute ranked Bogart as the greatest male star in the history of American cinema. While some may mention a few other names, it’s hard to argue that the man often simply referred to as “Bogey” is admired by film fans around the globe, no matter their age or socio-economic status.
One of the big reasons for Bogart’s iconic status, The Maltese Falcon (1941) was a bit of a happy accident. Typecast in a series of gangster films and B-films, Bogart got the lead in Falcon when George Raft turned down the part because of his contract stipulating that he did not have to appear in remakes. (The film was originally made in 1931).
John Huston’s directorial debut, The Maltese Falcon follows Dashiell Hammett’s novel closely. Hired by Miss Wonderley / Brigid O’Shaughnessy (Mary Astor), detective Miles Archer (Jerome Cowan) is shot dead. To discover the truth, Miles’ partner Sam Spade (Bogart) becomes part of a group of murderous adventurers. O’Shaughnessy leads him to the effeminate Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre) and the enormous Kasper Gutman (Sydney Greenstreet), all of whom covet a purloined artifact allegedly worth a million dollars. Whatever his loyalties, Spade had better be able to explain a string of murders to the cops, who are beginning to suspect that his cynical attitude may be hiding guilt.
The supporting cast is excellent. So good, that Warner would later reteam many of them in other Bogart films. Elisha Cook, Jr. plays the young-punk gunsel, whose felt hat and twin automatics are bigger than he is. Ward Bond and Barton MacLane are the cops, the sympathetic Detective Polhaus and the hard-nosed Lt. Dundy, hounding Spade at every turn. Gladys George plays Archer’s wife, with whom Spade has been carrying on an affair. And Lee Patrick is Effie Perine, Spade’s ever-loyal secretary and assistant. The director even has his father, actor Walter Huston, playing a brief, unbilled bit part as Capt. Jacobi, master of the boat “La Paloma,” a fellow shot in the chest and still clutching the falcon in his dying grasp.
The screenplay, penned by Huston, jabs, burns and crackles—as it should, taken almost verbatim from the novel. Critics often credit Huston and The Maltese Falcon with starting, or at least popularizing, the film noir genre which would appear in movie theaters throughout the 1940’s and 1950’s. Falcon has everything a classic noir film needs: the city setting, frequently photographed at night, its grim, dismissive attitude toward people and their motivations all influence our dark perceptions of the story. Yet it’s far from a depressing story despite its shady characters and suspicious events. Huston’s fast pace doesn’t allow us to ponder for long the consequences of any one scene or action. Instead, we get caught up in the pulse and excitement of the film.
Presented in the aspect ratio of 1.37:1, Warner Brothers 4K transfer is excellent in every sense. Sharpness is pleasing throughout. Definition is striking and the image is devoid of issues. If DNR is employed, its minimal, as the film maintains a natural level of grain. Blacks are deep and inky and shadow detail is brilliant. Low light shots offer fine clarity throughout. HDR adds range for blacks and increased contrasts for whites. This pristine transfer is everything one could want for a classic film.
The DTS-HD MA monaural soundtrack works well for a film its age. Dialogue is rendered cleanly and crisply, with little or no background noise at normal listening levels. The musical score comes across clearly and persuasively. This is a simple but above average soundtrack.
English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Castillian, and Dutch subtitles are available.
The 4K disc includes an informative audio commentary by Bogart biographer Eric Lax. The included Blu-ray includes the audio commentary by Bogart biographer Eric Lax. The Blu-ray disc includes the extras first found on the original Blu-ray release of the film. First up, is “Warner Night at the Movies 1941” that includes a vintage newsreel; the Oscar-nominated Technicolor musical short “The Gay Parisian” (twenty minutes of the ballet set to an arrangement of Offenbach tunes, “Gaite Parisiene,” and performed by the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo); a trailer for 1941’s “Sergeant York”; and two classic cartoons, “Hiawatha’s Rabbit Hunt,” in color with Bugs Bunny, and “Meet John Doughboy,” in black-and-white with Porky Pig.
Next, is the 2006 documentary, “The Maltese Falcon: One Magnificent Bird.” It’s thirty-two minutes long, and provides a background on Hammett, the book, and the movie, and contains comments from filmmakers, actors, and authors like Peter Bogdanovich, Richard Deakins, James Cromwell, Michael Madsen, Frank Miller, and many more. After that Robert Osborne hosts “Becoming Attractions,” a documentary made for the American Movie Classics channel. It’s a look at the career of Humphrey Bogart as seen through the trailers for his movies, showing the various ways Hollywood marketed him. Then there’s a hilarious, thirteen-minute studio blooper reel, “Breakdowns of 1941,” where we get to hear famous old actors cussing out their mistakes; and that’s followed by a one-minute series of makeup tests. The final items are audio-only bonuses from 1943 and 1946, three radio-show adaptations of The Maltese Falcon, two of them featuring the original stars, plus another version starring Edward G. Robinson. Two trailers finish the set. We get promos for 1936’s Satan Met a Lady–a forerunner to Falcon--and of course, The Maltese Falcon.