The Maltese Falcon


1h 15m 1931
The Maltese Falcon

Brief Synopsis

In the first screen version of The Maltese Falcon, detective Sam Spade investigates the theft of a priceless statue.

Film Details

Also Known As
A Woman of the World, All Women, Dangerous Female
Genre
Crime
Mystery
Thriller
Release Date
Jun 13, 1931
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
The Vitaphone Corp.; Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States
Location
San Francisco, California, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett (New York, l930).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 15m
Film Length
9 reels

Synopsis

Ruth Wonderly hires San Francisco private detectives Sam Spade and Miles Archer to follow a man named Lloyd Thursby in hopes that he will lead them to the man who ran away with her sister. Miles takes the job, and later that night, Sam receives a call telling him that Miles has been murdered. When Thursby is found dead a short time later, the police suspect Sam has taken revenge for his partner. Sam demands an explanation from Ruth, but she begs Sam to help her without one. When he threatens to walk out, she tells him another story. Joe Cairo, who is waiting for Sam at his office, suggests that Miles's death may have had something to do with the statue of a black bird known as the Maltese Falcon and offers Sam $5,000 to recover it. He then tries to search Sam's office, but Sam stops him by force. Because Sam was having an affair with Miles's wife, Iva, the police now suspect him of killing Miles as well. Ruth spends the night at Sam's apartment, and while she sleeps, Sam searches her apartment for the missing statue. He does not find it, but is convinced that she knows where it is, so when Caspar Gutman tells him the complete story of the black bird, Sam agrees to retrieve the statue for a large sum of money. Meanwhile, Cairo tells Gutman that he suspects the falcon statue is on a boat arriving from China. Gutman drugs Sam and takes back his money. Sam returns to his office, where a Captain Jacobi staggers in with a suitcase and dies. After finding the statue of the falcon inside, Sam hides it. He returns home to find Gutman, Cairo and Wilmer, a gunman, waiting for him. Because the police have given him twenty-four hours to clear himself, Sam insists that he will deliver the statue as soon as they agree on a fall guy. Reluctantly, Gutman agrees to deliver Wilmer to the police. Sam's secretary, Effie, brings the statue to his apartment, where they discover it is valueless. Wilmer kills Gutman and Cairo, and Sam accuses Ruth of killing Miles. Even though he has fallen in love with her, he turns her over to the police, and at her trial, she is identified by a Chinese eye witness. As his reward, Sam receives a political appointment.

Film Details

Also Known As
A Woman of the World, All Women, Dangerous Female
Genre
Crime
Mystery
Thriller
Release Date
Jun 13, 1931
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
The Vitaphone Corp.; Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States
Location
San Francisco, California, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett (New York, l930).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 15m
Film Length
9 reels

Articles

The Maltese Falcon (1931)


In the first screen version of The Maltese Falcon, detective Sam Spade investigates the theft of a priceless statue.
The Maltese Falcon (1931)

The Maltese Falcon (1931)

In the first screen version of The Maltese Falcon, detective Sam Spade investigates the theft of a priceless statue.

Dangerous Female aka The Maltese Falcon


Dashiell Hammett's most famous detective, Sam Spade, reached the screen for the first time in 1931, when Warner Bros. picked up the rights to The Maltese Falcon. It wasn't the first Hammett story to reach the screen. Roadhouse Nights (1930), based on his Red Harvest, and City Streets (1931) preceded it. But this was the first outing for one of the screen's most unscrupulous hard-boiled dicks. It also represented Spade's only relatively uncensored screen outing.

Dangerous Female (Original title: The Maltese Falcon) was released in the days between the arrival of sound and the beginning of strict Production Code enforcement, when Hollywood's studios ignored the standards of morality they'd set for themselves and competed to see who could push the envelope on sex and violence further. The novel, with its mix of low-life characters on the trail of a legendary jewel-encrusted bird, seemed perfectly suited for such a pursuit. Spade has a reputation for seducing female clients and has also been having an affair with his partner's wife. One of his adversaries, Joel Cairo, appears to be gay, while the other, Kaspar Gutman, refers to his lurking assistant, Wilmer, as his "gunsel," prison slang for both a hired gun and a passive homosexual. The one element in Hammett's novel that would have added an extra kink to both Gutman and Wilmer's characters was cut for the screen and also missing in John Huston's classic 1941 version. Toward the end of the novel, Spade discovers Gutman's daughter, whose body is hideously scarred as a result of her sadomasochistic relationship with Wilmer and, some have suggested, her father.

Director Roy Del Ruth's staging, if anything, added to the film's sexual mystique. When Spade's female client spends the night in his apartment, the writers had Spade say that he would sleep on the couch to appease the censors. But when the woman wakes up the next morning, there's a clear indentation in the pillow she's not using to suggest where he really slept. The writers added a scene in which Sam, suspecting his client has stolen $1,000, makes her strip. Although her undressing was kept out of camera range, Spade gets a few articles of feminine clothing thrown in his face. When the head of the Production Code Administration objected to the scene, studio production chief Darryl F. Zanuck said that since she never threw her underwear at him the audience would know she wasn't naked. Although the film's gay element was relatively subdued, there's clearly something sexual about the way Gutman fondles Wilmer's cheek while setting him up to take the rap.

Helping Del Ruth play up the story's sexual aspects was a cast that combined the attractive with the eccentric. Spade was played as an inveterate womanizer by silent screen heartthrob Ricardo Cortez, who would continue tempting the studio's leading ladies to stray throughout the early '30s. Bebe Daniels, playing the client later assayed by Mary Astor, had also been a silent screen star, starting as Harold Lloyd's leading lady before establishing her career as a star of romantic comedies. And as Iva, Del Ruth cast the young Thelma Todd, a brilliant and beautiful comedienne whose career would be cut short by her mysterious murder. Bringing up the eccentric side were Dudley Digges, a stage actor noted for his appearances in Eugene O'Neill's plays, as Gutman, although he was too slim to be nicknamed "The Fat Man" in this version. As Wilmer, Del Ruth cast Dwight Frye, an expert at hysterics who had starred as Renfield in the original Dracula (1931) and would later play the hunchbacked assistant in Frankenstein (1931).

The Maltese Falcon earned solid reviews and did well at the box office, but its shelf life was limited. Four years after its release, threats of national boycotts of "bad movies" inspired the studios to accept strict Production Code enforcement under the decidedly tough Joe Breen. Warners submitted the film for Breen's approval so they could reissue it, but were turned down flat. In his opinion, there was no way they could make it into an acceptable picture. Instead, Warners remade it as Satan Met a Lady (1936), a film so rotten it inspired leading lady Bette Davis to attempt a walk-out on her contract. It would take writer-director John Huston to create a version that maintained the original's flavor while appeasing the censors. When his film became a hit, Warners simply stuck the earlier version in a vault. Decades later, the original version was deemed suitable for television, but to avoid confusion with Huston's picture, the title was changed to Dangerous Female.

Director: Roy Del Ruth
Screenplay: Maude Fulton, Lucien Hubbard, Brown Holmes
Based on the novel by Dashiell Hammett
Cinematography: William Rees
Art Direction: Robert M. Haas
Score: Leo F. Forbstein Principal Cast: Bebe Daniels (Ruth Wonderley), Ricardo Cortez (Sam Spade), Dudley Digges (Kaspar Gutman), Una Merkel (Effie Perine), J. Farrell MacDonald (Polhouse), Otto Matieson (Joel Cairo), Dwight Frye (Wilmer Cook), Thelma Todd (Iva Archer).
BW-79m. Closed captioning.

by Frank Miller

Dangerous Female aka The Maltese Falcon

Dashiell Hammett's most famous detective, Sam Spade, reached the screen for the first time in 1931, when Warner Bros. picked up the rights to The Maltese Falcon. It wasn't the first Hammett story to reach the screen. Roadhouse Nights (1930), based on his Red Harvest, and City Streets (1931) preceded it. But this was the first outing for one of the screen's most unscrupulous hard-boiled dicks. It also represented Spade's only relatively uncensored screen outing. Dangerous Female (Original title: The Maltese Falcon) was released in the days between the arrival of sound and the beginning of strict Production Code enforcement, when Hollywood's studios ignored the standards of morality they'd set for themselves and competed to see who could push the envelope on sex and violence further. The novel, with its mix of low-life characters on the trail of a legendary jewel-encrusted bird, seemed perfectly suited for such a pursuit. Spade has a reputation for seducing female clients and has also been having an affair with his partner's wife. One of his adversaries, Joel Cairo, appears to be gay, while the other, Kaspar Gutman, refers to his lurking assistant, Wilmer, as his "gunsel," prison slang for both a hired gun and a passive homosexual. The one element in Hammett's novel that would have added an extra kink to both Gutman and Wilmer's characters was cut for the screen and also missing in John Huston's classic 1941 version. Toward the end of the novel, Spade discovers Gutman's daughter, whose body is hideously scarred as a result of her sadomasochistic relationship with Wilmer and, some have suggested, her father. Director Roy Del Ruth's staging, if anything, added to the film's sexual mystique. When Spade's female client spends the night in his apartment, the writers had Spade say that he would sleep on the couch to appease the censors. But when the woman wakes up the next morning, there's a clear indentation in the pillow she's not using to suggest where he really slept. The writers added a scene in which Sam, suspecting his client has stolen $1,000, makes her strip. Although her undressing was kept out of camera range, Spade gets a few articles of feminine clothing thrown in his face. When the head of the Production Code Administration objected to the scene, studio production chief Darryl F. Zanuck said that since she never threw her underwear at him the audience would know she wasn't naked. Although the film's gay element was relatively subdued, there's clearly something sexual about the way Gutman fondles Wilmer's cheek while setting him up to take the rap. Helping Del Ruth play up the story's sexual aspects was a cast that combined the attractive with the eccentric. Spade was played as an inveterate womanizer by silent screen heartthrob Ricardo Cortez, who would continue tempting the studio's leading ladies to stray throughout the early '30s. Bebe Daniels, playing the client later assayed by Mary Astor, had also been a silent screen star, starting as Harold Lloyd's leading lady before establishing her career as a star of romantic comedies. And as Iva, Del Ruth cast the young Thelma Todd, a brilliant and beautiful comedienne whose career would be cut short by her mysterious murder. Bringing up the eccentric side were Dudley Digges, a stage actor noted for his appearances in Eugene O'Neill's plays, as Gutman, although he was too slim to be nicknamed "The Fat Man" in this version. As Wilmer, Del Ruth cast Dwight Frye, an expert at hysterics who had starred as Renfield in the original Dracula (1931) and would later play the hunchbacked assistant in Frankenstein (1931). The Maltese Falcon earned solid reviews and did well at the box office, but its shelf life was limited. Four years after its release, threats of national boycotts of "bad movies" inspired the studios to accept strict Production Code enforcement under the decidedly tough Joe Breen. Warners submitted the film for Breen's approval so they could reissue it, but were turned down flat. In his opinion, there was no way they could make it into an acceptable picture. Instead, Warners remade it as Satan Met a Lady (1936), a film so rotten it inspired leading lady Bette Davis to attempt a walk-out on her contract. It would take writer-director John Huston to create a version that maintained the original's flavor while appeasing the censors. When his film became a hit, Warners simply stuck the earlier version in a vault. Decades later, the original version was deemed suitable for television, but to avoid confusion with Huston's picture, the title was changed to Dangerous Female. Director: Roy Del Ruth Screenplay: Maude Fulton, Lucien Hubbard, Brown Holmes Based on the novel by Dashiell Hammett Cinematography: William Rees Art Direction: Robert M. Haas Score: Leo F. Forbstein Principal Cast: Bebe Daniels (Ruth Wonderley), Ricardo Cortez (Sam Spade), Dudley Digges (Kaspar Gutman), Una Merkel (Effie Perine), J. Farrell MacDonald (Polhouse), Otto Matieson (Joel Cairo), Dwight Frye (Wilmer Cook), Thelma Todd (Iva Archer). BW-79m. Closed captioning. by Frank Miller

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

The working titles of this film were All Women, A Woman of the World and Dangerous Female. A news item in Motion Picture Herald mentions that Brown Holmes was assisting Lucien Hubbard and Maude Fulton in adapting The Maltese Falcon for Bebe Daniels. Hubbard was not credited on screen. According to Film Daily, some scenes were filmed on location in San Francisco. The film was retitled Dangerous Female for television. In l936, William Dieterle directed Satan Met a Lady, which was based on the same source (see below). The story was filmed again in l941 under the title The Maltese Falcon, directed by John Huston and starring Humphrey Bogart and Mary Astor. A modern source notes that the 1931 film retained a scene from Hammett's novel in which "Sam" forces "Ruth" to strip so he can search her for a missing $1,000 bill. That scene was not used in the 1941 Huston version because of stricter censorship regulations. Columbia released a parody of the tale, The Black Bird, in l975, starring George Segal and Stephane Audran under the direction of David Giler. Neil Simon's l978 movie The Cheap Detective drew on The Maltese Falcon as well as two other Bogart classics, Casablanca (1942) and The Big Sleep (1946).