Satan Met a Lady (1936)

I was interested to learn that this second attempt at The Maltese Falcon came about cos Warner’s couldn’t reissue the 1931 version (which would’ve no longer passed the Production Code), so they just remade it. As a screwball comedy. As the film went on, I began to think it was as if Warner’s had decided that since Hammett’s Thin Man had been a big hit for them in 1934, why not retool Hammett’s earlier book in similar fashion, changing the title, character names, other not unimportant details… The end result has, I gather, much the poorest reputation of the three Falcons, loved by neither the critics, nor the people who made it (least of all Bette Davis); but, while there are a number of things about the film that don’t work, I actually found myself enjoying this frankly odd film much more than I’d thought I would. I quickly worked out that it helps if you try to ignore that it is, in fact, The Maltese Falcon we’re talking about (and, to be sure, Warner’s did their best to hide the fact by downplaying Hammett’s original authorship in the credits by not even mentioning the book’s name). Admittedly, this is not easy; it’s hard enough to not compare the 1931 Falcon to the 1941 version without trying not to compare either of those films with Satan Met a Lady… but it’s still interesting to see this material done as farce rather than tragedy, and it could be argued it actually does some things better than either (e.g. staging the showdown over the horn fairly quickly at the harbourside rather than at great length in the apartment). I don’t think I liked it quite as much as Marilyn Ferdinand did, and I don’t think it can be seriously claimed as a “lost classic”, but I found it rather more enjoyable to watch than it seems to have been to actually make.

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