AFI #31: The Maltese Falcon

Humphrey Bogart is surely one of the greatest American movie stars — and I say movie star because he’s not much of an actor now is he? He’s the classic case of a guy who plays himself on screen and we love him for that, but acting isn’t his strong suit. He was nominated for an Oscar three times in his long career, but won only once late in his life for The African Queen. The AFI definitely loves Bogart as he is the star of four of the films in the Top 100. I say this because I really don’t think The Maltese Falcon is a great film — but it’s a great vehicle for Bogart and because of Bogart and the rest of the cast the film is considered a classic. And I for one love it.

The Maltese Falcon has always had a special place in my heart because, and I know this is stupid, but it’s the only film that has a character named Gutman! Sydney Greenstreet is Kasper Gutman, better known as the fat man. I suppose this is common place for you if your name is Smith or Jones, but it’s always been a point of pride for me. But the real reason I love the film is that it’s classic Bogie. As Sam Spade Bogart plays a tough and smart private dick who uncovers a plot to acquire an ancient jeweled bird potentially worth millions. Spade plays his cards close to the vest as the plot advances until the wonderful ending where he nicely wraps up all the details and even sends the beautiful Miss O’Shaughnessey “over” for the murder of his partner. And he closes the film with one of his most classic lines when the detective asks Spade what the bird is — “It’s the stuff that dreams are made of” he says. Classic.

Some other great Bogart lines from the film:

  • “We didn’t exactly believe your story, Miss O’Shaughnessy. We believed your 200 dollars.”
  • “I don’t mind a reasonable amount of trouble.”
  • “When you’re slapped, you’ll take it and like it.”
  • “Don’t be too sure I’m as crooked as I’m supposed to be.”

I’ve never read the novel so I don’t know if these and the other great lines are thanks to director John Huston or novelist Dashiell Hammett, but either way the film is full of great lines. And it’s also full of wonderful secondary performances by Greenstreet, Peter Lorre and Mary Astor whose over-the-top performance as Miss O’Shaughnessey is priceless.

Next: Apocalypse Now

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