|Why does Bogart have a different haircut in this movie than he has on this poster?|
I'm going to be completely honest with you right now. I am a huge fan of Dashiell Hammett's hard-boiled novels and am a fan of any movie that chooses to adapt his work. I am also a big fan of Humphry Bogart, at least in part because I've only seen him in his classic roles; I'm sure the man made some flops in his time, but history tends to gloss over those mistakes in favor of his more famous work. I am also a big supporter of director John Huston. And if none of that convinces you that this is going to be a great viewing experience, it was in the inaugural class of movies chosen for preservation in the Library of Congress' National Film Registry. If you're still hesitant to check out this movie because it's black-and-white or because it's old or because you only like movies with talking animals in them, my advice is simple. Man up and get some culture. It is significantly awesome.
The private detective firm of Spade and Archer consists of three people: the secretary, Effie (Lee Patrick), Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) and Miles Archer (Jerome Cowan). One day, a new client hires them to track down her sister, who has run away from home with an undesirable man named Thursby. The client, Ruth Wonderly (Mary Astor), doesn't tell a very convincing tale, but she waves around a lot of money, and that's enough for the detectives to take her case. Liking the looks of his sexy new client, Miles offers to be her proverbial white knight, boubie, and track down this Thursby himself.
|Did Miles Archer influence the character of Ellis from Die Hard? Surprisingly, they're pretty close.|
|Bogart, about three seconds away from giving you a facial burn for laughing at his toy bird.|
The acting and directing are nearly flawless. This is one of the two films that helped Bogart become a star in 1941 (the other was High Sierra) and was his first significant non-gangster role. What can I say? The man was born to play tough guy detectives. His timing with dialogue is perfect here, managing to be funny, witty, and sadistic --- sometimes in all in the same line. As someone who has read dozens of hard-boiled novels and seen many film noirs, I can state that Bogart's portrayal here is the archetypal noir hero. That might seem like a "no duh" in retrospect, but consider just how many classic actors from Hollywood's golden age tried similar roles; it's a great performance, but it's even more impressive when you realize how many other actors fail to live up to it.
|So that's where they got the hair idea for There's Something About Mary...|
When you add all that up, what do you get? In short, probably my favorite movie of all time (although Raiders of the Lost Ark is another good choice). It has great direction, a better script and a delightful cast. Is this an action-packed movie? No, but the story moves quickly enough to make you think otherwise. That might be the key to this film's longevity; even though times have changed, everyone loves the guy who outsmarts the competition and mocks his enemies. It's the American Way in (a slightly cynical) film format. In other words, in a genre --- this is vintage film noir, in case you hadn't realized it --- of tough men, dangerous women, and hazy morality, there is nothing better than The Maltese Falcon.