A Swell Lot of Thieves
The momentum with which The Maltese Falcon moves is special. In 20-minutes, there’s murder, suspicion, doubt, priceless artifacts, and a fedora-sporting Humphrey Bogart wandering the city, peeking from corners to solve this case. In terms of storytelling economy, few in the noir genre ever handled material with such efficiency.
There’s an engaging moral complexity too, more than the tough guy, ‘40s gumshoe dialog suggests. Bogart may spout phrases like, “cracking foxy,” but he’s doing so to extract information. Sam Spade (Bogart) – an elegant, wholly cinematic name for this type – drifts between doing what’s right and what edges him closer to solving the murder of his private detective partner. Never showing emotion, Spade’s impossible to read, the ultimate poker player, certainly.
Yet he’s also egotistical, assuming he’s smarter than his foes, to a naive degree. He gives a gun back to the surly Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre), and has the weapon immediately turned against him. Spade shares a drink with a potential thief, succumbing to drugs, all because Spade saw himself as a perfect investigator. The only ones falling for Spade’s guise, the police, drift in and out of this story, building confidence in Spade’s skills before the unseemly types enter this game.
Kasper Gutman (Sydney Greenstreet) defines Maltese Falcon in one line. “You’re an amazing character,” says Gutman about Spade, and that’s a fine summary. Maltese Falcon works because Bogart wholly inhabits this personality, stone-faced as he thinks – always calculating.
Elegant and classy, Maltese Falcon thrives via luxurious style, helped by the contemporary production design. At its core, this thin crime caper is unspectacular, fitted with femme fatales and twisty allegiances seen, read, and told hundreds of times prior. The hook is entirely in the characters, and not only Spade. Lorre, flawlessly cast as the shifty, chronic-anxiety-suffering bit player, gives Maltese Falcon its initial doubts. From there and because of him, every cast member becomes untrustworthy, even Spade himself.
Great as Spade is – or rather, thinks he is – it’s possible he knows more than he tells. Maltese Falcon needs a hero though and will eventually have one, but that detail is held until the absolute end, presenting a morally righteous detective that stands as the decade’s best, if not the greatest ever put on screen.
Another sightly Bogart UHD release (following Casablanca), the result is marvelous in its purity. Paying heed to the grain structure, Maltese Falcon transparently arrives on 4K without an ounce of visible filtering or processing. The imagery’s purity belies the age, and restoration carefully removes any damage or dirt.
Pinpoint sharp, the definition in close or from afar shows the full extent of the available resolution. Definition even in the mid-range betters most modern releases, the suits, hair, and other details forever preserved from what is an absolutely perfect presentation.
Maltese Falcon boasts extensive brightness in the contrast (bolder than most vintage catalog titles seem willing to go), and far better gray scale than the previous Blu-ray. Black levels not only elevate the the noir feeling, but better the film as a whole, drenching the drama in the deepest shadows.
Serene DTS-HD mono gives the score surprising range for the age, the crisp highs impressive and the surprising drums even catching the low-end slightly. A light wobble at the highest pitches aside, Maltese Falcon makes for stellar vintage audio. Rich dialog reproduction sounds clear enough to defy the early sound era origins.
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’s Blu-ray, the Looney Tunes shorts included are not in HD. 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.
Economical, twisty, and classy, Maltese Falcon provided a genre formula that’s never lost its ability to captivate an audience.
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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 38 full resolution uncompressed 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD: