Thursday, April 10, 2008

Free Bird: The Maltese Falcon

A good film noir is absolutely ruined by a dragging 25 minute climax. Humphrey Bogart manages to elicit a few grins as Sam Spade, a private eye working in San Francisco (all of this city is wasted in a few stereotypical shots). At the beginning, Brigid O'Shaughnessy (Mary Astor) brings to Sam a case that has to do with shadowing a man. After Sam's partner is killed by the man he's following, things start to go strangely. To top that off, a man named Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre) asks him to find the title bird. Co-starring are Sydney Greenstreet as a crooked guy going after the falcon, and Ward Bond, as a detective. The problems with this movie start with the comparisons. Humphrey Bogart as the leading man is about even with Jack Nicholson or Fred MacMurray in Chinatown or Double Indemnity, respectably, but Mary Astor is definitely not as good as the powerhouse actresses Faye Dunaway and Barbara Stanwyck. To sum it all up, Chinatown and Double Indemnity are much better pictures. Another problem with this movie, and possibly the biggest: the terrible climax. At approximately 75 minutes into the movie, Spade is trapped in his own apartment by Astor, Cairo, and Greenstreet. This scene is full of no action, no fireworks. As a matter of fact, it had nothing the scene needed. This might even be the reason that Bogart wasn't nominated for an Academy Award: no great final scene that sets the movie in your mind. Maybe if there had been, and this movie had been more legendary, then maybe Bogart might have even taken Best Actor. Why Greenstreet got nominated is beyond me: a lackluster performance. Anyways, the climax of the climax is that the bird that Bogart has is a fake, and no one knows where the real one is. Actually, to tell you the truth, the whole thing is a hoax. This makes the whole movie seem pointless. The ending: Bogart turns Astor in, and the last conversation between the two is pretty mediocre. To summarize the scene: terrible way to end a classic. Bottom line on the whole movie: decent acting, good suspense, no huge frills, and no memorable scene. B+

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