The Maltese Falcon (1941)

Let’s face it, though, this really is more like the thing, not to mention a strong argument against the oft-made claim that remakes always suck. Given that two previous versions had bombed just a few years earlier, though, why did Warner’s go for a third one? Apparently because Jack Warner had promised John Huston could choose whatever story he liked for his directorial debut… Anyway, third time proved to be the charm, and watching this again right after the previous two attempts it becomes clear that it overtook them for good reasons (quite apart from the others just not being available for decades). Almost as soon as we see Bogart on screen, he just seems… definitive somehow. This is hardboiled stuff pretty much from the get-go, the sense of threat is stronger, Bogart feels a bit more desperate to get the cops off his back, and the overall tone of the film is constantly darker than that of the Cortez version. And Huston’s secondary cast of crooks is also rather more interesting than the 1931 mob, particularly Sydney Greenstreet, a stage veteran making a terrific screen debut. Huston apparently planned and storyboarded the film to within an inch of its life, and the end result looks like the work of an experienced hand, not a directorial novice, far smoother and slicker than either previous version. And yet I spent years not liking this film. Maybe it was because my first experience of it was the colourised print (shudder). Maybe I just wasn’t fully prepared for the knots the plot gets tied in (cos I know I got lost in it quickly when I first saw it). Took me a while to get it, but I’m glad I do. The 1940s have never really been my top movie decade, but this is the sort of film that mounts a good argument for those who do consider it a golden age.

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