The Maltese Falcon (1931)

Film Review

THE MALTESE FALCON

Release Date: 13 June, 1931

Studio: Warner Bros.

Director: Roy Del Ruth

Starring: Ricardo Cortez, Bebe Daniels, Dudley Diggs

Synopsis

Ruth Wonderly hires the firm of Spade and Archer to follow a man named Floyd Thursby who should lead them to her runaway sister. Archer takes the job and is murdered the first night. A few days later, Thursby is also murdered. The police suspect Spade of both murders. A man named Joel Cairo visits Spade's office and tells him that Archer's death is related to the hunt for a valuable statue known as the Maltese Falcon. He offers a substantial reward for finding the statue. Ruth's story about her sister was a lie, and she comes to Spade looking for protection from her former confederates who are searching for the Maltese Falcon. Sam visits one of these confederates, Caspar Gutman, who tells him the history of the statue. Cairo comes of visit Gutman and tells him that the statue is on a boat arriving from China. Ruth had arranged with the captain of the boat to bring the statue to her. Gutman drugs Spade, and he and Cairo head to the docks in search of the statue.

Later, the dying Captain Jacobi brings the statue to Spade's office. Spade hides the statue and takes Ruth to his apartment. Cairo, Gutman and Wilmer, a psychotic killer who is Gutman's gunman, are waiting for him. After negotiating with Gutman for a payoff and for a fall guy (who they agree will be Wilmer) to take the rap for the murders of Thorsby and Jacobi, Sam agrees to give them the statue. Sam's secretary retrieves it and brings it to him. Gutman, Cairo and Ruth eagerly gather around the statue but are disappointed to find that it is a phony. Meanwhile, Wilmer flees through a window. Gutman and Cairo leave to continue their pursuit of the statue. Sam notifies the police. Awaiting the police, Spade tells Ruth that he loves her, but so what, she killed Archer, and she must take the fall for it. He will not play the sap for her. The police arrive and inform Sam that Wilmer has killed Gutman. Sam turns Ruth over to them. At her trial, Ruth is identified by an eyewitness. Ultimately, Sam is given a political appointment.

Discussion

Although not as solidly played or tightly written as the 1941 version with Humphrey Bogart, this version has vitality, great character interactions, and a few excellent performances. It is worth watching. Ricardo Cortez's Spade is dynamic, good-looking, engaging, and sleazy. Bebe Daniels is alluring as Ruth Wonderly, alternating between pleading with Spade, enticing him, or conniving against him. Dudley Diggs is persuasive and oily as Gutman. Because it is a pre-code film, the sexual responsiveness among the characters is candidly portrayed. As the film begins, the woman-chasing Spade has obviously been making love to a woman in his office, and he freely paws his secretary and ogles Ruth. The homosexual relationship of Gutman and Wilmer is also obvious. The novel by Dashiell Hammett was originally serialized in the magazine Black Mask from September 1929 to January 1930, not long before this first film version.