Sunday, May 14, 2006

The Maltese Falcon (1941)

This is where hard-boiled was born, people. Humphrey Bogart is awesomely hard-assed as Sam Spade, the private dick you don't dick around with. I think what I liked most about this is that it anticipates the tangled morass of later noir and neo-noir (particularly The Big Sleep) by calling into question the entire idea of knowledge. Spade acts on instinct as a way to deal with the situation he's gotten into. Much talk of lies and trust sets up the notion of personal unknowability and deception (everyone's out for themselves and everyone's hiding something); it's pretty thrilling, then, when this theme seeps into the plot itself and Spade finds himself inside a hall of mirrors. The shifting ground of the plot reflects the shifting moralities and sympathies of its protagonists, and the only way for Spade to find the exit is to become the shiftiest of the shifty. It's all pretty awesome, especially when Bogart and Peter Lorre are one-upping each other -- Lorre's first scene is a wonderful example of dialogue as ping-pong game. Why have I not seen this before, what was I waiting for, etc. etc.

Grade: A-


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