The Maltese Falcon

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

Polhaus: It's heavy. What is it?
Spade: The, uh, stuff that dreams are made of.

The...uh...stuff that dreams are made of.

The Maltese Falcon (1941) is a Warner Brothers film based on the novel of the same name by Dashiell Hammett, starring Humphrey Bogart as Hardboiled Detective Sam Spade, Mary Astor as his Femme Fatale client, Sydney Greenstreet in his film debut, and Peter Lorre and Elisha Cooke Jr. as his Ambiguously Gay sidekicks. The story concerns a private detective's dealings with three unscrupulous adventurers who compete to obtain a fabulous jewel-encrusted statuette of a falcon.

The Maltese Falcon has been named as one of the greatest films of all time by Roger Ebert, and Entertainment Weekly, and was cited by Panorama du Film Noir Américain, the first major work of Film Noir. Whether or not it is the first film of that genre, there is some debate as to whether the earlier M can be considered noir or proto-noir. The film was John Huston's directorial debut and was nominated for three Academy Awards.

An earlier (pre-Hays Code) version was released in 1931 starring Ricardo Cortez. It was far less ambiguous about Lorre's character in particular. It also suffered from a decidedly Out of Character portrayal of Sam Spade as The Dandy. The novel was adapted again in 1936 under the title Satan Met a Lady; this version also changed Sam Spade's name, to "Ted Shane".

Tropes used in The Maltese Falcon include:

But, well, if you lose a son, it's possible to get another. There's only one Maltese Falcon.

  • MacGuffin: Take a wild guess.
  • MacGuffin Title
  • Mock Guffin: The eponymous statue.
  • Nice Hat: It's a Film Noir, and it stars Humphrey Bogart. Nice Hats are guaranteed.
  • Pound of Flesh Twist: The bad guys take the Falcon. It's fake.
  • Punny Name/Meaningful Name: "Gutman" is fat (but also "good man" in German, which he isn't), "Cairo" is from abroad, and "Spade" never stops digging for the truth.
  • The Remake: The 1941 movie is the third adaptation of the novel to see the silver screen, proof that Remakes Are Not Bad.
  • San Francisco
  • Sexy Discretion Shot: Sam is leaning in and kissing Brigid in the window, suddenly it's the next morning and the curtains in the window are blowing gently in the sunlight.
  • Sissy Villain: Three of them, actually -- Joel Cairo, Kasper Gutman, and Wilmer. The novel, in particular, devotes quite a bit of text to disgustedly describing what a mincing little "fairy" Cairo is.
  • Slipping a Mickey: Gutman does this to Spade during their second meeting.
  • Small Role, Big Impact: General Kemidov is The Ghost, but even before the story begins, when Gutman wanted to buy the MacGuffin, he realized that it would be important and replaced it with a Mock Guffin that the gang found very easy to steal.
  • Taking the Heat: Sam Spade demands that one of Mr. Gutman's minions takes the heat for the three murders. Spade is innocent of the murders, but the cops would blame him for them anyway. Therefore, part of the price he demands for the falcon is a 'fall guy' to take the heat.
  • Terrible Trio: Cairo, Gutman, and Wilmer.
  • True Companions: If you are a private detective, a killed partner must be avenged. It's like a rule. According to Spade, this is true even if you didn't like your partner.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Cairo's outburst upon finding out the statue is fake probably counts as one.
  • Villainous Glutton: Gutman.
  • Yiddish as a Second Language: Spade's use of "gunsel" for Wilmer, as noted above.