It’s thrilling . . . it’s chilling . . . it’s the most baffling mystery story in years !
It is a rare thing when a true gem of the classic age comes to blu ray. We’ve been blessed this month with not one or two, but three great classics. King Kong, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and The Maltese Falcon. Over the weekend I had the three sitting in the queue ready for viewing and had a bit of a conundrum over which to see first. After a few minutes The Maltese Falcon was the winner.
The Maltese Falcon is a story that any reader should be roughly familiar with so I won’t go to much into it here. Suffice to say it’s the tale of a less than model citizen detective, Sam Spade (played by Humphrey Bogart) and his interactions with three rather unique and oddball criminals in their search for a statuette of a black bird.
A rather unique film, The Maltese Falcon really launched the careers of two Hollywood heavyweights: actor Humphrey Bogart and director (and sometime actor) John Huston. Both had been in the industry for some time, but neither had found anything we would call success.
Bogart had been in numerous films, more often than not as a heavy- the bad guy so to speak. Perhaps best among these is the previously reviews The Petrified Forest (1936) with Bette Davis. Huston was known more as the son of actor Walter Huston. This film defined them both and they went on to be one of the most successful partnerships in Hollywood history. Huston probably did more than anyone to mold Bogie into the star who is known today.
The film itself is a great example of noir, with its rich textures, grim tale, and odd camera angles – try to count how many ceilings you see- the camera is often shooting UP at the cast. This creates a really nice visual effect.
The supporting cast of Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre as two of the heavies almost steal the show. Lorre alone with his bug eyes and intentionally effeminate personality (in a blatant attempt at hinting at homosexuality) are mesmerizing. Between Lorre’s visual impact and the resonance of the deep voice of Greenstreet Bogart has his work cut out for him.
No worry as Bogart is at his most triumphant and drives the picture with his usual (to that point anyway) role as the heavy. Not only is he having an affair with his partner’s wife, he’s also a bit cold hearted to the partner as well (note the immediate cleaning out of and relabeling the office after Archer’s murder). He’s also just shy of brutal with Mary Astor. It is only a twist at the end – when the bird is unveiled – that make him into the reluctant hero of the story. Masterful.
In 2006 Warners released a really nice standard edition DVD set of The Maltese Falcon, which also included the two previous lackluster filmed versions. Although I am never one to praise dropping additional content, these two other versions are not present on the new blu ray, and no one is the wiser to it.
The other extras have all been ported over, including Warners’ “Night at the Movies” format which seems to have been on the way out. If you don’t know this format shows an entire evening’s entertainment just as one would have experienced during the feature’s original release. Here we get a few trailers, shorts, and cartoons in addition to the feature. There is also a great commentary track with more tidbits of trivia than one can hope to absorb and a well done if fairly brief overview kind of documentary from WB.
As for audio and video quality, this disc is about what you would expect from WB. They’ve done a really good job in mastering and presenting this great treasure. Video quality isn’t great compared to contemporary releases, but is phenomenal for a film of this vintage. As good as the 2006 release looked, this looks that much better. There is a fair amount of grain, but nothing excessive. We get a lot of texture, both literally in terms of clothing patterns and weaves to flowers. Very nice. Audio to is strong for the time.
If you have never seen The Maltese Falcon now is the time. Although one finds it hard to believe any fit into that category. I’ve never really understood the need for older films on blu ray, but perhaps this sways me a bit towards understanding. Get it at you favorite retailer – brick and mortar or online, on October 5. Hey, you could even get it from The WB Shop. For the techies out there work your itunes account – you can get several Bogart classics, including The Maltese Falcon there by clicking Bogart on iTunes.
Anyone with half a collection of films needs this one.