The Maltese Falcon

Missing image
Poster of the 1941 Warner Brothers film version, directed by John Huston

The Maltese Falcon is a detective novel by Dashiell Hammett, made into a quintessential film noir movie.


Film versions

It was filmed twice under the name The Maltese Falcon in 1931 and 1941. The story also inspired the 1936 film Satan Met a Lady, directed by William Dieterle and starring Bette Davis and Warren William, as well as many spoofs and sequels. The 1941 version is the most famous, often considered a classic Hollywood film.

1931 Film

The 1931 film was directed by Roy Del Ruth and starred Ricardo Cortez as private detective Sam Spade. Other stars in the film were Bebe Daniels, Thelma Todd, Dudley Digges, Otto Mathieson, and Una Merkel. The screenplay was adapted from the Dashiell Hammett novel by Maude Fulton Brown Holmes. It was produced and released by Warner Brothers.

While the plot is much the same as the later movie version, the tenor is lighter, and there is rather extensive use of sexually suggestive situations in this pre-Hays Code film, containing a risqué scene of Bebe Daniels apparently nude in a bathtub.

In 1936, Warner Brothers attempted to re-release the film, but was denied approval by the Production Code Office due to the film's "lewd" content. For decades, unedited copies could not be legally shown in the United States.

The 1931 Maltese Falcon has also been released under the alternative title Dangerous Female.

1941 Film

The 1941 film was directed by John Huston in his first directorial role - he also wrote the screenplay - and stars Humphrey Bogart as the detective, Mary Astor as Brigid O'Shaughnessy, the femme fatale who hires him, Sydney Greenstreet in his exceptional film debut as the extraordinary Kasper Gutman, and Peter Lorre as Joel Cairo.

Also in the film are Barton MacLane and Ward Bond as policemen, Lee Patrick as Spade's long-suffering secretary, and Gladys George's confusing things as the wife of Spade's partner.

The 1941 version of the film has been deemed "culturally significant" by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.


Private eye Sam Spade and his partner are approached by O'Shaughnessy to follow a man.

During the tail Spade's partner is murdered, and Spade becomes embroiled with O'Shaughnessy, Cairo, and Gutman - three ruthless characters seeking the lost Maltese Falcon, a statuette of a bird, currently black but believed to be solid gold and jewelled beneath this veneer.

The Huston version exemplifies the noir aesthetic both thematically and visually. At the end of the film, the hero Sam Spade realizes that O'Shaughnessy, who hired him and with whom he has fallen in love, is responsible for his partner's death. He must decide between turning her in or running away with her. Typically, for the noir period film, the hero eventually makes the moral decision. Visually, as she is being led away, the woman enters an elevator, and the grate closing in front of her face symbolizes her jailing.

In the novel, Spade also gives up O'Shaughnessy, but in a more hard-boiled manner: It is a choice between which of them will be jailed for murder, and Spade is aware they will hang him but not O'Shaughnessy.


External links

de:Der Malteser Falke es:El halcón maltés fr:Le Faucon maltais (film, 1941) sv:Riddarfalken från Malta


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