The Maltese Falcon (1931), with Richard Cortez as Sam Spade

From Forum With No Name:

Saw Roy Del Ruth's The Maltese Falcon (1931), and it's interesting to see how Ricardo Cortez's playboy interpretation measures up to Bogart's iconic performance. Del Ruth was operating in a more liberal atmosphere, and he could openly show Sam Spade messing with his clients, his partner's wife, his secretary (sometimes two out of three, and in the same office); Bograt wasn't as lucky (although he made up for it considerably in The Big Sleep). Una Merkel as Effie is sexier than in Huston's version and Bebe Daniels has it over Mary Astor, who seemed miscast anyway (she was pretty, but a femme fatale?).

Del Ruth's version is, well, plainer; Huston makes the story flow from shot to shot (which it should; if I remember right, Huston, carefully planned each shot, the only time in his career he would do so). I do like Del Ruth's use (or lack) of music; I remember Huston's tended to simply mickeymouse the action.

It holds up surprisingly well, until the end, where Cortez seems to be simply kissing Daniels off goodbye, another dame he's tossed off like kleenex. Bogart played the scene as if it was high tragedy, which--when you think about it--was what Hammett probably intended, though Astor hardly seemed worth getting tragic about.

Chris H: There was also a 1936 version with Bette Davis in the Astor role, called Satan Met a Lady. I've never seen it, but I think the tone is supposed to be closer to The Thin Man than the darkness of the '41 version.

DH1: You see, for me the scene works even better in some ways with Mary Astor as that character, because the way I've always perceived it is that she wants to be a femme fatale but doesn't truly have the chops for it. She's over her head, trying to swim in the deep end with the big kids, but circumstances conspire to make it convenient for all involved that she be fed to the cops. To me, it makes it all the more tragic, with of course the undercurrent that while she's overmatched by the situation, she's not a nice person either, and it's not wholly undeserved.

Bogie's playing of the scene at the end, with Huston's direction, is just brilliant too, as you feel the slick, cynical meanness of his character, while coming close but neverquite going over the edge where you'd hate him for it.

In the book, and in the 1931 movie, and I believe Bogie says it too in his version, Spade tells her "you're good." Spade's achievement loses a lot if he was just outsmarting a woman who didn't know what she was doing; of all of them she's supposed to be the smartest operator, the one who keeps her hands clean. I think Daniels' performance really brings this out (there's a scene there, not in the book or 1941 version, I think, where she even holds out on Spade for a lot of money).

And Astor just doesn't have the zing to her. No sex appeal. Daniels was hot (so was the actress playing Effie--but the women in Huston's version seem less sleazy overall, and I miss that).

ted fontenot: I liked Astor. But,then, I like her in almost everything she's done. Una Merkel was hot,though, in her "teen" years. See that Lubitsch film with Morris Chevrolet and J. MacDonald, who was also hot in some pre-code films.

Huston's film is simply great. It's also just about a word for word adaptation of the novel. You can follow the dialogue from the novel as you watch the movie. Cortez is pretty repulsive. But, then, he's the opposite of Astor--I've never liked him in anything I've seen him in. Warren William was fine, always an interesting actor--he was very good in the lead in Capra's Lady for a Day. But Bogart is to Spade what Connery is to Bond--recreated the role so that it totally absorbs the original conception.

Huston's version is great, and Bogart plays the final scene like the tragedy it was meant to be, of course; never thought otherwise. The 1931 version, if not as memorable, does have a few things to recommend it--well, maybe not Cortez.

Nerdy Chick: A little National Enquirer-type crud: wasn't Mary Astor involved in a lurid divorce case in the late '20's? I wonder if casting her was an attempt to capitalize on this.

ted fontenot: While divorcing her second husband in 1936 her personal diary was entered in evidence in the custody fight for their daughter. Included among other well-publicized juicy bits was her secret affair with playwright George Kaufman [that's the great George S. Kaufman who wrote, along with Moss Hart, You Can't Take It With You and The Man Who Came to Dinner, among other popular plays]. Her career picked up after the scandal -- The PrisonerofZenda (1937), Midnight (1939) (again with Barrymore), _Brigham Young - Frontiersman (1940)_ , and a best supporting Oscar for The Great Lie (1941). Her crowning role was the lying Brigid O'Shaughnessy in The Maltese Falcon (1941).

From the IMDB

And there you are. Scandalous life, and she still seems as wholesome as Snow White.

ted fontenot: I've never thought of her as wholesome, although she did have the Grace Kelly part in the precursor to Mogambo. And she was thoroughly amoral in The Palm Beach Story.

You should check Daniels in Dangerous Female, ted. She's hotter than Astor was in the role (and I suspect Astor knew it, from the way she dressed).

ted fontenot: Oh, I have seen that version of The Maltese Falcon, and I do like Daniels (and agree she's pretty hot), although I think Merkel and Todd are more natural and modern, have more easily adapted to talkies at that point.

What is stands out about Astor's performance is how she exactly captures a certain type, a certain sort of woman -- the compulsive liar and betrayer at the service of egomania. If the movie didn't move so fast, if it slowed down some and allowed you to consider and connect, you might even find her comic -- she reminds me, in dispassionate repose, of Joe E. Brown in Alibi Ike. Like him, she wouldn't/couldn’t tell the straight truth even if it was to her benefit to do so. She, like Brown, like that certain type of compulsive liar, babbles, riffs from one deceptive embellishment to another. She can't stop running as fast, emotionally, as he can. If she does, she knows she'll be caught. She would lie even if it served no purpose; it’s simply her MO. It has to do with her worldview. She trusts no one. This is what makes her distinctive and original. It’s an especially unromantic and unsentimental interpretation. She uses sex as a matter of course to get her way and to exert her will. For all the wardrobe and cosmetics, it’s primal. She’s like the female version of Mitchum in Cape Fear. I get the feeling in those culminating scenes that Spade better watch it, better not let her near a knife or gun. Remember what she did to Cairo? Like Bruno in Strangers on a Train, she'd do the dirty with her dying breath even if it meant eternity in hell.

What I remember best about Astor in Falcon was her final scene--how she couldn't believe she's being handed over.The description in the book went something like Spade goes pale, and smiles a humorless smile, and Bogart's performance matched that moment exactly. Astor felt and acted like a sacrificial victim.

ted fontenot: Well, of course. It's the culmination of the pathology. They can't believe they've actually been found out, and they can't believe that they can't work their wiles so that they can slide one more time. If they can't prevail, it has to be because they've been wronged.

It's a great character, and a great role, and I'm sure Astor gave it her all. It's just that, when she offers herself one last time to Spade, and he swallows, looking at her, I don't quite feel what he feels (someone giving up a sex goddess to avenge a principle (and save his hide)). He makes me understand what he feels (he's excellent in that scene), but I don't feel it.

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