No one could beat up another man like Humphrey Bogart. Maltese Falcon has him disarming a creepy Peter Lorre, grabbing the latter by the shirt, smoking and smiling nonchalantly, while delivering a hard right to Lorre’s chin. It is as perfect as they come, Bogart’s Sam Spade one of the greatest of all movie characters, seedy, gutsy, happy, and ingenious.
Spade is not so much a detective as he is a light psychiatrist, able to instantly deduce when a person is lying, but play along to gather more information. The film becomes so clustered with detours and lies, it is amazing anyone keeps it all together, least of all the audience trying to absorb the fast-talking, ’40s slang being tossed around.
It is a film of constant deception, every scene piecing the story together, the brooding mystery growing with every step and movement. Each scene has an air of tension, the brilliant camera set-ups and lighting adding dread to each shot. At times, you can even question if this multimillion dollar falcon relic of the crusades even exists, its identity seemingly known by no one truthfully, and its backstory as shaky as the characters trying to discover it.
Maltese Falcon fits that generic descriptor of “having it all,” because it does. You can place into film noir, ignoring its drama. You can dramatize it while missing out on its romance. Shoehorning it into romance ignores its thrills, and saying it’s a thriller only dilutes its comedy. Bogart is funny despite his keen, observant eye, smiling as he dupes the people he is working with, completely oblivious to his crooked clientele.
More impressive, Falcon jumps into its narrative. Characters are killed before you even know their names, the key players developed through the plotting. None of them are as they appear, Sam Spade seemingly an eager detective willing to do anything for a buck, and the film flips that around to reveal his brilliance: the money was purely part of his investigation into Brigid O’Shaughnessy (Mary Astor).
Falcon demands your attention, and doesn’t seem to be working to hard to get it. The direction and characters don’t have to. The opening frames have that rare movie aura about them, an instant gratification knowing this will be something special, and it is. [xrr rating=5/5 label=Movie]
As usual, Warner treats another of their classics with the utmost care, this one given a VC-1 encode that is more than sufficient for the material. Of note is the grain structure, wonderfully resolved, clean, and wholly natural. Never does it appear overly noisy or digital, preserving a generally sharp film behind it with enough detail to satisfy.
Facial detail is not common, but easy enough to spotted throughout. There are few extreme close-ups used in the film, sitting mostly in a mid-range which the encode easily resolves. Mary Astor’s pajamas at 19:05 carry a distinct texture, the patterned lines and the fabric itself clearly visible without fault. Wilmer Cook has a fine close-up at 1:16:05, his suit also rendered nicely.
The biggest concern is surely the gray scale, beautifully presented on this Blu-ray. Every shade is fully utilized, from the deepest blacks to bright whites, the latter apparent inside the hotel as Bogart meets Lorre the second time. Black levels are simply stunning, the depth of the image as Bogart answers the phone to learn of Miles’ death inside the dark apartment is remarkable.
The restoration has eliminated any judder and nearly all of the source damage. Few scratches dot the print, and no significant dirt is noted. Fades to black are not as noticeable as they usually are for the area, the brief softness that indicates an incoming edit barely seen given how quickly they are to pass. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Video]
Warner delivers a DTS-HD mono mix, an effort that definitely dates itself. The harps used over the opening credits, part of Adolph Deutsch’s fantastic score, are heavily distorted. There is a heavy lack of fidelity in the music, muddy and suffering from some hissing. Any drums or other deep portions are lost in the mess of low fidelity. That said, all things considered, it is full, instruments distinct the aged source or not.
Dialogue isn’t that bad though, certainly lacking in firmness, although it sounds fairly natural. A light echo can be made out within the closed-off sets, perfectly ordinary considering the setting. The slightest hint of a hiss can be made out, although removing it would certainly lessen the fidelity on display here. Left as it is, this is more than acceptable. [xrr rating=3/5 label=Audio]
Night at the Movies is a feature Warner inserts to recreate the experience of going to the movies back in the ’30s and ’40. Maltese Falcon has it, although unlike Adventures of Robin Hood Blu-ray, the Looney Tunes included are not in HD, a real shame. There is a newsreel and a trailer in there too.
One Magnificent Bird is a half-hour making-of made in 2006, nicely done with enough info to satisfy. A commentary from Eric Lax provides additional content. Becoming Attractions is a 45-minute piece from TCM that discusses how the studios sold Bogart to movie audiences. Breakdowns for 1941 is a compilation of bloopers from the various Warner films of the day, followed by some brief make-up tests.
Three audio sections, two radio dramas and an Academy Award ceremony, are next, followed by additional trailers. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Extras]