Having been awed by Bogart in Casablanca I was eager to see him in other films. So when The Maltese Falcon popped up on the schedule for the Harvard Exit, my girl friend and I made a date to see it. Ahead of time, I didn’t know what to expect, not having read any Dashiel Hammett stories or novels. In fact, I had not heard of Film Noir or even the phrase “hard-boiled.” (I did take a class on film at Seattle U, but it was more of film appreciation type class. It would touch a bit on the how tos so that you knew what you were looking at. Really it was a film critique class. And it talked about genres – westerns, sci-fi, comedy, etc.Film Noir included – but this must have been later).
Come time for the show, we were settled in our seats, the lights went down, and the Warner Bros. Logo and a fanfare announced the film. And the music score (Adolph Deutsch) ushered us into the mystery heralded in glorious black and white (and charcoal and pearly grays).
So we were thrown into the mystery of the Black Bird, all wrapped up in the events surrounding the murder of Sam Spade’s partner Miles Archer. We were confused along with our hero as odd characters, one by one came on the scene, all trying to enlist the detective’s help and thwart the others in the quest for the fabled bird. Would Sam figure out what was going on? Would we? Would his feelings for Brigid O’Shaughnessy find fulfillment? We cared. And we were surprised.
Some years afterwards I read one of the bios about the director of the film, John Huston. Huston himself wrote the screenplay. He said that he simply took the story that Hammett had written and translated it page for page to the screen. And in my reading and viewing of the two I can concur. It is unusual for a film taken from another source to end up reflecting it in all its little perfections. The norm for this situation eventuates in two artistic expressions with the same title, but with little similarity thereafter. As the expression goes, Huston nailed it.
The Maltese Falcon would join Casablanca and Lawrence of Arabia as seeds sewn in my psyche. Or in another analogy – they were germs that gave me Hollywood Fever.