If I had to provide just one reason to re-view the 1941 Maltese Falcon it would be this scene with Sidney Greenstreet – incredible dialogue and perfect delivery except for Bogart’s little tirade before the exit.
But in the process of catching up on my noirs I caught the older Maltese Falcon (1931) (as well as the execrable Satan Met a Lady (1936). And though missing Greenstreet and Lorre, and not even in the same ballpark cinematographically, it was nonetheless a greater pleasure than I thought it might be.
The narrative is much more ham handed and much of the acting is still making that transition to naturalism (much of the widened eye checking for a reaction) but it is a sexier version. The older film was made before the code and thus they could get away with all sorts of things. Though Spade is a womanizer in all versions, Bogart is quite restrained in comparison to Ricardo Cortez. Another difference is that Bogart and his doomed colleague grin wolfishly and look the ladies up and down, and overall seem like just barely repressed rapists. In the earlier film, Cortez not only obviously sleeps with every woman he encounters but seems to actually enjoy it. He genuinely likes the women much more than Bogart does.
Of course, some of my feelings about the film are influenced by not understanding anyone finding Mary Astor compelling. Though in real life she had just come off of quite the scandal (one of her ex-husbands had made public her diary which detailed her many indiscretions) she seems dispassionate and quaint while Bebe Daniels (and also Spade’s secretary played by Una Merkel) are steamy in comparison.
But before I was distracted with the above I was thinking about one of my chief pleasures in these older films is seeing older and often quite beautiful versions of everyday objects in everyday use. For instance in the Falcon, Bogart uses a nifty flint to light his cigarette.