This year marks the 75th anniversary of the classic film noir flick The Maltese Falcon, directed by legendary filmmaker John Huston (in his directorial debut) and starring the incomparable Humphrey Bogart. Hailed as being the first major film noir to be commercially screened, Huston's shadowy masterpiece centers around Bogart's impeccably cool private detective who is hired by femme fatale Brigid O'Shaughnessy to find her wayward sister in the vast expanses of 1940s San Francisco. However, O'Shaughnessy isn't quite telling the truth about her alleged sister, a seemingly benign lie that ultimately finds Bogart in the midst of three thieving criminals whose treacherous minds are set on finding the priceless Maltese Falcon.
Will the murderous crooks finally get their hands on the elusive bird? Will those same scrupulous deviants get their comeuppance? Perhaps more importantly, will Bogey proclaim his love for a woman who may, in fact, be a stone cold killer?
The Falcon's narrative is full of rapid twists and turns that leave the audience in a pleasant, disoriented daze; the storyline was sophisticated enough to garner a Best Screenplay Oscar nom. The expert narrative leaves the viewer continuously guessing which of the three criminals are telling the truth (if any), so much so that the answers to the questions above remain unknown to the viewer right up until the last eight minutes of the film.
The Maltese Falcon spawned an entire film noir genre of cinematic storytelling. The film's use of intense shadows, an isolationist mood, unapologetically abrupt dialogue and the inclusion of a conflicted rogue charmed by a scheming woman all became staples of future film noir endeavors.
Double Indemnity. Out of the Past. The Big Sleep. Touch of Evil. The Third Man. Chinatown. Blood Simple.
All these highly regarded film noirs followed the narrative and stylistic template that was established by The Maltese Falcon in 1941. For that reason alone, I implore you to get out of your house and watch this seminal film on the big screen. In honor of its 75th anniversary, The Maltese Falcon will be playing in select San Antonio theaters on February 21 and 24.