The Maltese Falcon Arrives On 4K Ultra HD

Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon. Courtesy of Warner Bros.

One of the greatest film noirs to hit the screen, The Maltese Falcon is now available for audiences to watch on 4K Ultra HD.

“The stuff that dreams are made of.” – Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart)

The film’s 4K UHD arrival is part of a continuing celebration of the Warner Bros. Studio turning 100 years old. In fact, the film is part of a trio making their 4K arrival on the studio’s anniversary itself. I’ve got to give some credit to John Huston and his secretary. Aside from one conversation turned into a phone call, it’s about perfect as any book-to-film adaptation can get. You don’t see this happening much, if at all, these days.

The film opens with the following note:

“In 1539, the Knights Templar of Malta, paid tribute to Charles V of Spain by sending him a golden Falcon encrusted from beak to claw with rarest jewels-but pirates seized the galley carrying this priceless token and the fate of the Maltese Falcon remains a mystery to this day-“

The Maltese Falcon itself is representative of greed. At the end of the day, this prop is just a macguffin to drive to film’s plot forward. It brings Spade together with Ruth Wonderly/Brigid O’Shaughnessy (Mary Astor), Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre), and Kasper Gutman (Sydney Greenstreet). Spade’s partner, Miles Archer (Jerome Cowan), gets murdered shortly after they take on Ruth/Brigid as a client. I’m not really going to expand much further on the film’s plot. The fact that it’s barely over an hour and a half is something of a shocker. When one looks at the genre these days, it feels like the films run around two hours, if not more.

On one hand, The Maltese Falcon is a noir but it’s really more than just a detective picture. It’s just a brilliant story altogether and that’s one of the reasons why the 1941 adaptation still holds up today. Obviously, Double Indemnity is the golden standard but this one comes pretty darn close. In any event, The Maltese Falcon might never have seen the light of day if not for novelist Dashiell Hammett having TB. Here’s a guy who was writing what he knew. He brought his own experience into the genre and the film noir genre is all the better for it. Warner Bros. acquired the rights and went onto make three different versions. As we all know, the third try was the charm.

John Huston had been working for RKO at the time. He had been a writer but he was ready to direct a film. Huston got his shot because of an inexpensive budget and Warner having the main cast under budget. As a result, Huston essentially launches his directing career and the rest is history in that regard. Regarding the casting of Sam Spade, the studio preferred George Raft but Huston wanted Bogart from the start. It took the casting of Bogart to elevate his career. The actor wasn’t quite a screen legend at the time–the fact that his four biggest films were also offered to George Raft first ought to tell one everything they need to know. Here was the guy getting parts offered because Raft kept turning them down. He also wasn’t even the first choice going into Casablanca!

Peter Lorre takes on the role of Joel Cairo and makes it his own. Lorre is on record as saying the film is his favorite. It would enable the actor to make a home at Warner Bros. Interestingly, the character is gay in the novel but filmmakers could not do this due to the Code. Lorre had great chemistry with the likes of Bogart and Sydney Greenstreet. By the end of their careers, Lorre and Greenstreet starred in nine films together.

Huston keeps things under control in his first stint behind the camera as a director. Of course, it also helps that Warner Bros. is essentially a studio factory by this point. Both talent and crew came in and did the work over a month and a half in summer 1941. The use of black, overexposure, rain, and smoky atmospheres playa role in film noir becoming what it is. They also borrow from the German expressionism style in regards to the camerawork. You can thank the number of filmmakers leaving Europe for the safety of the US at the time. Arthur Edeson isn’t German but the cinematographer was very influential in bringing their style to American cinema.

In addition to several AFI honors, the film would earn Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Supporting Actor (Sydney Greenstreet), and Adapted Screenplay. I still need to watch How Green Was My Valley but it was certainly quite the year for movies. Suspicion and Sergeant York were among some of the other Best Picture contenders. Speaking of the Oscars, the Warner Night at the Movies bonus features include two Oscar-nominated short films. For what it’s worth, one of the films hasn’t aged particularly well.

The Maltese Falcon gives Humphrey Bogart one of his best roles while playing a pivotal role in shaping the film noir genre for years to come.

Bonus Features

  • Commentary by Eric Lax
  • Warner Night at the Movies
    • Sergeant York Trailer
    • New Highlights of the Roosevelt Churchill Parley (newsreel)
    • The Gay Parisian (1941 WB short)
    • Hiawatha’s Rabbit Hunt (1941 WB cartoon)
    • Meet John Doughboy (1941 WB cartoon)
  • The Maltese Falcon: One Magnificent Bird
  • Extras
    • Becoming Attractions: The Trailers of Humphrey Bogart
    • Breakdowns of 1941 (WB short)
    • Make-up Tests
  • Audio Vault
    • 2/8/43 Lux Radio Theater Broadcast
    • 9/20/43 Screen Guild Theater Broadcast
    • 7/3/46 Academy Award Theater Broadcast
  • Trailers
    • 1936 Satan Met a Lady
    • 1941 The Maltese Falcon

CAST: Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Gladys George, Peter Lorre, and Barton MacLane, Lee Patrick, Sydney Greenstreet, Ward Bond, Jerome Cowan

Warner Bros. released The Maltese Falcon in theaters on October 18, 1941. Grade: 5/5

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.