Monday, 4 January 2010

The Maltese Falcon (1931)

There were two adaptations of Dashiel Hammett's famous novel before the definitive 1941 movie, and this was the first. It's really not bad at all (despite the terrible tacked-on ending), and sticks to the book pretty closely. I'm afraid what follows is more a comparison between the two versions than anything else, but the similarities and differences intrigue me.

The direction (Roy Del Ruth) is not up to John Huston's, and while I quite liked Ricardo Cortez's portrayal of Sam Spade, though he's a bit too flippant for my liking - from reading the book he always seemed more tough than smooth to me. Humphrey Bogart's portrayal was absolutely perfect, and of course old Humph just has so much on-screen presence that he'd be an impossible act to follow (er... pr precede). Bebe Daniels was fine as Ruth Wonderly; I liked her performance at least as much as Mary Astor's, possibly more.

However Duddley Digges was far too jovial as Caspar Gutman and Otto Matieson was simply too bland as Joel Cairo - Sidney Greenshtreet had far more charisma while Peter Lorre was genuinely creepy. The 1931 version had Una Merkel as Effie Perrine, Sam Spade's assistant - and with her around, it was difficult to believe he'd bother looking at other women!

The plot and dialogue of both films are close to the book - the dialogue is often word for word - but the silly ending of this 1931 film kind of spoiled the whole thing. Still, well worth watching if you like thirties movies.

CaptainD - Movie Reviews Blog

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