The Maltese Falcon
is still the tightest, sharpest, and most cynical of Hollywood's official deathless classics, bracingly tough even by post-Tarantino standards. Humphrey Bogart is Dashiell Hammett's definitive private eye, Sam Spade, struggling to keep his hard-boiled cool as the double-crosses pile up around his ankles. The plot, which dances all around the stolen Middle Eastern statuette of the title, is too baroque to try to follow, and it doesn't make a bit of difference. The dialogue, much of it lifted straight from Hammett, is delivered with whip-crack speed and sneering ferocity, as Bogie faces off against Peter Lorre and Sidney Greenstreet, fends off the duplicitous advances of Mary Astor, and roughs up a cringing "gunsel" played by Elisha Cook Jr. It's an action movie of sorts, at least by implication: the characters always seem keyed up, right on the verge of erupting into violence. This is a turning-point picture in several respects: John Huston (The African Queen
) made his directorial debut here in 1941, and Bogart, who had mostly played bad guys, was a last-minute substitution for George Raft, who must have been kicking himself for years afterward. This is the role that made Bogart a star and established his trend-setting (and still influential) antihero persona. --David Chute
John Huston made his directorial debut with this classic film noir adaptation of Dashiel Hammett's novel, starring Humphrey Bogart and Mary Astor. Sam Spade (Bogart) is a cynical private eye caught up in the hunt for a jewel-encrusted falcon while searching for the murderer of his partner, Miles Archer (Jerome Cowan). His fellow treasure hunters include a sinister 'little and large' act (Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet), a psychotic tearaway (Elisha Cook Jr), and the duplicitous femme fatale, Brigid O'Shaughnessy (Astor).