Most everyone has heard of The Maltese Falcon, starring Humphrey Bogart as detective
Sam Spade. Directed by John Huston, it was released by Warner Brothers in 1941,
and went on to be named one of the 100 best American movies of all time by the American
But only the most hardcore film buff would be aware that Warner Brothers had already
made two unsuccessful versions of Falcon, both of which are virtually unknown today.
THE MALTESE FALCON (1931)
Originally called The Maltese Falcon, but later renamed Dangerous Female for TV reruns. Now
it’s regained its original title. Ricardo Cortez plays Spade as a leering, smooth-talking
ladies' man in. The film follows the novel’s plot fairly closely, but does not use
much of Hammett's crisp dialogue. Some interesting alterations: Miles Archer had
just become aware of Spade's ongoing affair with Mrs. Archer, and would’ve confronted
Spade about it, if not for his untimely death. Spade produces a surprise witness
who actually saw "Miss Wonderly" gun down Archer. And cracking the case results
in Spade being hired by the district attorney's office! For more details, click
SATAN MET A LADY (1936)
Intended to be a “madcap romp” (or something), the plot is stripped to bare bones,
with all characters reworked and renamed. Even the falcon itself has transmorphed
into a bejeweled horn. Bette Davis called this film the “biggest dog” of her career. Still,
it’s kind of fun, if you ignore the fact that it’s supposed to be The Maltese Falcon.
For more details, click here.
THE MALTESE FALCON (1941)
Three different posters for John Huston's Falcon. Note the typical Hollywood hype: "A
story as EXPLOSIVE as his BLAZING automatics!" "He's a KILLER when he HATES!" In
actual fact, only a single shot is fired on camera, and it wasn't Spade holding the
Seldom has a movie so perfectly captured the feeling of a book. Brigid O'Shaugnessy,
Caspar Gutman and Joel Cairo were so smoothly translated to the screen that some
people assumed the book was written after the movie. And even though the novel's
Spade was tall, blond and built like a bear, Humphrey Bogart made the role his own. It's
not impossible to read the novel without hearing Bogart's voice... but it's pretty
darn hard! For more details, click here.
“AND THE POINT OF THAT STORY WAS...?”
While the 1941 film follows Hammett’s novel closely, there are some differences. One
is the ending: nowhere in the book does Spade comment that the falcon is “the stuff
that dreams are made of.” Hammett’s ending is more downbeat, showing an emotionally
exhausted Spade returning to his familiar office and secretary, to continue the same
life he had before he encountered Brigid O’Shaughnessy. He may have toyed briefly
with the idea of running off with Brigid (and a pile of money), but now he is back
to reality as he knows it.
Another difference was the omission of the story of "Flitcraft." In chapter seven
of the novel, Spade tells Brigid of a seemingly unrelated case from earler in his
career. Charles Flitcraft, a successful Tacoma business owner and family man, had
disappeared, following a near-death experience: a beam falling from a construction
site had impacted the sidewalk mere inches from him. He could easily have been killed,
but random chance dealt him nothing more than a scraped cheek.
Shaken, Flitcraft reexamined his entire way of life, and decided to drop out of sight
and roam the world as a free spirit. This lasted for a few years, but eventually
he drifted back to Washington state, not far from Tacoma. He remarried, started
a new business, and apparently never noticed that his “new” life strongly resembled
his old one.
Bottom line: Flitcraft couldn’t change who he fundamentally was, any more than Spade
could. However strong his feelings for Brigid, he was first and foremost a detective
– and the lovely Miss O’Shaughnessy was about to go down.
THE MALTESE FALCON COMES TO YOUR LIVING ROOM
Super-8 film with sound
Record album of dialogue from the soundtrack
Cartrivision (an obscure early-1970s format that never caught on)
RCA SelectaVision videodisc
VHS videocassette - two different examples of cover art
UK videocassette in PAL format
DVD - two different examples of cover art
11) Korean DVD
BOOKS ABOUT THE MALTESE FALCON
John Huston's The Maltese Falcon, by Richard J. Arnobile, 1974
The Maltese Falcon, John Huston, Director, edited by William Luhr, 1995
Monarch Notes: Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon, by Walter James Miller, 1988
Hollywood Classics: The Maltese Falcon, by Marie Cahill, 1991
Literary Masterpieces, Volume 3, by Richard Layman, 2000
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 280, by Richard Layman, 2003
Discovering The Maltese Falcon and Sam Spade, by Richard Layman, 2005
The Maltese Bippy (1969): Except for the title, this film has nothing whatsoever
to do with The Maltese Falcon; it's one of those gawd-awful 1960s “comedies” with
the required sniggering innuendo. Rowan & Martin (of TV’s Laugh-In) spend the night
in a gothic mansion, where strange (if not particularly funny) things happen.
The Black Bird (1975): In this comedy, George Segal plays Sam Spade Jr, working out
of the same office that his legendary father once occupied. Effie Perine is still
the secretary, again played by a now-much-older Lee Patrick. Elisha Cook Jr, another
member of the original cast, is also on hand.
The Cheap Detective (1978): Peter Falk delivers a hilarious Bogie impression, while
blending the plots of Falcon, The Big Sleep and Casablanca. A sequel-of-sorts to
1976’s Murder by Death (where Falk played a similar role), both films were written
by Neil Simon.
THE MALTESE FALCON: PART OF THE AMERICAN PSYCHE
Maltese Falcon cigars
A pop art print by artist Es Qui (2002)
A 1984 heavy metal album
A "Maltese Falcon" Daylily
A Sam Spade alarm clock, apparently designed by George Jetson
A Host A Murder-type role-playing game
A 1994 calendar
A “Maltese Falcon” athletic shoe
A 1946 comic book
An album of the movie's musical score
Maltese Falcon jewelry
An advertisement featuring a Bogart look-alike
The Maltese Falcon (the super-yacht)
An iPhone skin
A Maltese Falcon cigarette case
A Maltese Falcon trading card (1970s)
A Japanese rock album (1984)
A Maltese Falcon flask
Here's an oddball item: Obviously an American bald eagle, the words "Maltese Falcon"
are painted along the bottom. Even stranger: it was made in Malta!
A recording of a 1943 radio production of Falcon, starring... Edward G. Robinson??
SAM SPADE AFTER THE FALCON
Hammett never wrote another Sam Spade novel, although he eventually wrote three lackluster
short stories featuring the character (collected in Crime Stories and Other Writings).
A fourth, never-finished Spade story has recently resurfaced.
There was talk of producing a sequel to the 1941 Bogart movie, but nothing ever came
Sam Spade was on network radio between 1946 and 1951. The Adventures of Sam Spade
starred Howard Duff as Spade and Lurene Tuttle as Effie. Dunn’s version of Spade
was more lighthearted than Bogart’s, but still could get tough when the situation
called for it. Ironically, Duff found himself the target of the same Red Scare witch
hunt as Hammett himself, and was replaced by Steve Dunn during the show’s final season.