AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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The Maltese Falcon
Alternate Title: The Knight of Malta
Director: John Huston (Dir)
Release Date:   18 Oct 1941
Production Date:   9 Jun--18 Jul 1941; retakes: 8 Aug 1941, 10 Sep 1941
Duration (in mins):   100
Duration (in feet):   9,039
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Cast:   Humphrey Bogart (Samuel Spade)  
    Mary Astor (Brigid O'Shaughnessy [also known as Miss Wonderly])  
    Gladys George (Iva Archer)  
    Peter Lorre (Joel Cairo)  
    Barton MacLane (Lt. of Detectives Dundy)  
    Lee Patrick (Effie Perine)  
    Sydney Greenstreet (Kasper Gutman)  
    Ward Bond (Detective Tom Polhaus)  
    Jerome Cowan (Miles Archer)  
    Elisha Cook Jr. (Wilmer Cook)  
    James Burke (Luke)  
    Murray Alper (Frank Richman)  
    John Hamilton (Bryan)  
    Walter Huston (Capt. Jacoby)  
    Emory Parnell (Mate of the La Paloma)  
    Robert Homans (Policeman)  
    Creighton Hale (Stenographer)  
    Charles Drake (Reporter)  
    Bill Hopper (Reporter)  
    Hank Mann (Reporter)  
    Jack Mower (Announcer)  

Summary: At the Spade and Archer detective agency in San Francisco, Samuel Spade is interviewed by the beautiful Miss Wonderly, who wishes to hire him to find her runaway sister. Sam's partner, Miles Archer, agrees to be present when Wonderly meets Floyd Thursby, her sister's seducer, and then follow him to his hotel in hopes of finding the missing girl. Later that night, Sam learns that Miles has been shot. He calls Wonderly and learns that she has checked out of her hotel. Then Thursby is found with four bullet holes in his back and Sam is visited by Lt. Dundy and Detective Tom Polhaus, two policemen, who suspect him of murdering Thursby out of revenge for Miles's death. The following morning, Wonderly summons Sam to her new address, where she confesses that her real name is Brigid O'Shaughnessy and that the story she related the day before was completely false. Despite his doubts that she has told him the whole truth, Sam accepts her as his client. The announcement of Thursby's death draws an inquiry from a mysterious little man named Joel Cairo, who tells Sam that he is trying to recover a statue of a black falcon. When Sam denies any knowledge of the statue, Cairo pulls a gun and demands to search the office. Sam disarms Cairo, who offers the detective $5,000 to find the bird. Sam accepts the offer, and Cairo once again holds Sam at gunpoint while he searches the office. When Brigid learns of Cairo's visit, she asks Sam to set up a meeting with him and tells Cairo that she doesn't have the statue, but will in a few days. Their meeting is interrupted by the police, who have been sent by Miles's widow Iva, who is jealous because she and Sam had been having an affair. The police now begin to suspect Sam of Miles's murder, but he spins a complicated story to stop the police from arresting the three of them for questioning. Kasper Gutman, known as "The Fat Man," is also interested in the statue and summons Sam, but when Gutman refuses to explain his interests, Sam storms out. Later, Wilmer Cook, Gutman's gunman, brings Sam back to Gutman's apartment. Gutman tells Sam that after the Crusades, Charles V of Spain presented the Knights Templar with the island of Malta, requiring only the tribute of a falcon every year. The statue everyone wants is a golden, jewel-encrusted replica of a falcon that was stolen by pirates and afterward disappeared for centuries. After it reappeared in Greece, Gutman planned to buy it, but it was again stolen and he has been following its trail ever since. He offers Sam $50,000 to find it, but before Sam can accept, he passes out from doctored drinks. When he comes to, he searches the room and finds a paper announcing the arrival of a ship from Hong Kong, but at the docks, Sam finds the ship on fire. He returns to his office, where a dying man stumbles in with a package. The man is Jacoby, the captain of the Hong Kong ship, and the package contains the statue. A phone call from Brigid takes Sam on a wild goose chase, but first he checks the package and mails the claim check to himself. When Sam finally returns home, Brigid, Gutman, Cairo and Wilmer are waiting. Sam agrees to turn over the bird if Gutman will allow Wilmer to take the blame for the three murders. When Effie arrives with the package, however, it is quickly discovered that the bird is a fake. In the confusion, Wilmer escapes. After Gutman and Cairo leave, Sam calls the police and turns them all in. Brigid admits that she shot Miles, hoping to implicate Thursby. Even though he is fascinated by her dangerous beauty, Sam turns Brigid in for the murder of his partner. 

Production Company: Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.  
Production Text: A Warner Bros.--First National Picture
Distribution Company: Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.  
Director: John Huston (Dir)
  Robert Foulk (Dial dir)
  Jack Sullivan (Asst dir)
  Claude Archer (Asst dir)
  John Prettyman (2nd asst dir)
Producer: Hal B. Wallis (Exec prod)
  Henry Blanke (Assoc prod)
Writer: John Huston (Scr)
Photography: Arthur Edeson (Dir of photog)
  Wally Meinardus (Asst cam)
  Michael Joyce (2nd asst cam)
  William Conger (Gaffer)
  Mack Elliott (Stills)
Art Direction: Robert Haas (Art dir)
Film Editor: Thomas Richards (Film ed)
Set Decoration: Gil Kissel (Props)
  Keefe Malley (Asst prop)
Costumes: Orry-Kelly (Gowns)
  Cora Lobb (Ward woman)
  B. W. Kring (Ward man)
Music: Leo F. Forbstein (Mus dir)
  Adolph Deutsch (Mus)
Sound: Oliver S. Garretson (Sd)
Make Up: Perc Westmore (Makeup artist)
  Frank McCoy (Makeup)
  Joan Udko (Hair)
Production Misc: Al Alleborn (Unit mgr)
  Meta Carpenter (Scr clerk)
  William Steudeman (Best boy)
  E. F. Dexter (Grip)
  William McConnell (Scenic artist)
Country: United States

Source Text: Based on the novel The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett (New York, 1930).
Authors: Dashiell Hammett

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number Passed By NBR:
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc. 18/10/1941 dd/mm/yyyy LP10777 Yes

PCA NO: 7457
Physical Properties: b&w:
  Sd: RCA Sound System

 
Genre: Drama
Sub-Genre: Detective
 
Subjects (Major): Duplicity
  Murder
  Private detectives
  Statues
 
Subjects (Minor): Firearms
  Jealousy
  Knights of Malta
  Legends
  Partnership
  Police
  Robbery
  Secretaries
  Widows

Note: The film opens with the following written statement: "In 1539, the Knights Templar of Malta, paid tribute to Charles V of Spain by sending him a golden Falcon encrusted from beak to claw with rarest jewels--but pirates seized the galley carrying this priceless token and the fate of the Maltese Falcon remains a mystery to this day--"
       The film's working titles were The Gent from Frisco and The Knight of Malta . According to information in the Warner Bros. Collection at the USC Cinema-Television Library, the studio wanted to cast George Raft as "Sam Spade," but in a letter to Jack Warner, Raft stated that he considered the film not to be important and reminded Warner that he had promised Raft that he would not have "to perform in anything but important pictures." Modern sources state that Raft turned down the role on the advice of his agent and that his contract specified that he was to do no remakes. (Warner Bros. had made two earlier films based on the Dashiell Hammett story.) According to John Huston's autobiography, Raft was reputedly nervous about working with a first-time director. Warner Bros. files add the following additional information: Geraldine Fitzgerald was offered the part of "Brigid" and when she declined, it went to Mary Astor. Eve Arden was considered for the part of "Effie," and Lee Patrick, who played "Effie" in the film, was originally considered for the role of "Iva." Ben Welden was considered for "Miles Archer," Frankie Darro for "Wilmer," and Alan Hale and Charles Wilson were both mentioned as possibilities for the role of "Polhaus." Huston cast his father, Walter, in the uncredited role of "Capt. Jacoby."
       Modern sources add the following information: Olivia de Havilland, Loretta Young, Rita Hayworth, Paulette Goddard, Brenda Marshall, Janet Gaynor, Joan Bennett, Betty Field and Ingrid Bergman were considered for the role of "Brigid." On Jack Warner's orders, cinematographer Ernest Haller shot some retakes which included a simplified opening scene. Warner felt the new beginning was necessary because the audience at the 5 Sep 1941 preview found the original opening confusing. According to studio records reprinted in a modern source, the film's total cost was $381,000.
       Prior to making his film debut in The Maltese Falcon , Sydney Greenstreet had been a member of the Lunt-Fontaine theatrical troupe. The film earned Academy Award nominations for Sydney Greenstreet (Supporting Actor) and John Huston (Screenplay). It was also nominated as Best Picture. The film's popularity led the studio to consider a sequel, and Jack Warner approached Hammett to write it, but when Hammett demanded a $5,000 guarantee, the plan was dropped.
       Huston's first directorial effort was so successful, both financially and critically, that Warner Bros. quickly assigned him to another film, In This Our Life , which was based on a Pulitizer Prize-winning novel, and which featured a cast of well-known stars including Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland and George Brent (see above). The Maltese Falcon , which modern critics have called an early film noir , has continued to be popular. The film ranked 31st on AFI's 2007 100 Years…100 Movies--10th Anniversary Edition list of the greatest American films, although it moved down from the 23rd position it held on AFI's 1997 list.
       Dashiell Hammett's novel had been filmed twice before by Warner Bros: in 1931 Roy Del Ruth directed The Maltese Falcon starring Bebe Daniels and Ricardo Cortez. The 1936 adaptation entitled Satan Met a Lady was directed by William Dieterle and starred Bette Davis and Warren William (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40 ; F3.2671 and F3.3904). The 1931 film retained a scene from Hammett's novel in which "Sam" forces "Ruth" (i.e., "Brigid") to strip so that he can search her for a missing $1,000 bill. That scene was not used in the 1941 version because of more stringent censorship regulations. In 1975, Columbia released a parody of the tale, The Black Bird , starring George Segal as "Sam Spade, Jr." under the direction of David Giler. Lee Patrick and Elisha Cook, Jr. revived their original roles for that film. Neil Simon's 1978 movie The Cheap Detective drew on The Maltese Falcon as well as two other Bogart classics from the 1940s, Casablanca and The Big Sleep (see above). The Adventures of Sam Spade , a radio series based on the Hammett novel, ran from 29 Sep 1946 until 1951. In the beginning, the program starred Howard Duff as "Spade" and Lurene Tuttle as "Effie." In 1949, the series moved from CBS to NBC and Steve Dunne took over the lead role. Edward G. Robinson and Gail Patrick starred in a 8 Feb 1943 Lux Radio Theatre broadcast of The Maltese Falcon

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   4 Oct 1941.   
Film Daily   30 Sep 41   p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter   30 Sep 41   p. 3.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   4 Oct 41   p. 298.
New York Times   28 Sep 1941.   
New York Times   4 Oct 41   p. 18.
Variety   1 Oct 41   p. 9.

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
 
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