Friday, July 10, 2009

You're a good man, sister. And this is a great film.

The Maltese Falcon is one of those films I can watch a hundred times and never get bored, and with every viewing rediscover some gem, a moment never seen before or since on the silver screen.

Let's talk dialogue. Watch a modern action movie, spy thriller or mystery, then watch The Maltese Falcon. One of the first things you notice is that modern films have comparatively no dialogue. Even when the dialogue is memorable, it is spare and almost nonexistent relative to the camera moves and special effects. This is true even for films adapted from great books. But like a great novel, The Maltese Falcon is wall-to-wall talking, and you wanted to miss a single word.

You're a good man, sister.

He has a wife and three children in England.
They usually do, though not always in England.

You always have a very smooth explanation.
What do you want me to do, learn to stutter?

I am a man who likes talking to a man who likes to talk.

Check out the camera angles. John Huston was a visionary director. Who else would shoot Sydney Greenstreet from below, making The Fat Man look even more imposing? Tight shots of faces during tense scenes, intercut with group shots so beautifully framed you could hang them on your wall.

Characters. Peter Lorre as Joel Cairo. Greenstreet as Kasper Gutman. Bogart as Sam Spade. These are not stock characters but archetypes for a great mystery, quirky and morally ambiguous but never black and white. Even if you don't root for them all, you love every one of them

Respect for the readers and viewers. This film adapted the novel without translating it directly, like any good film, recognizing the goal is to capture the essence of the novel and knowing what to cut, change or leave out. But if you loved the novel, you'll love this film, and I have no doubt this movie inspired many to pick up Dashiell Hammett. And yes, I know this film is over thirty years old, but any film that inspires people to read more books is a timeless work of genius.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Tim -- thanks for the perfect valentine to my favorite Maltese Falcon! Isn't most of the dialog straight from the book?

If one ever doubts this film's brilliance independent of the book, try viewing the other two film versions. Not the same at all!!!!!!

I think I'm going to make a date with Sam Spade for tonight. Haven't seen Maltese Falcon in at least a year ;)