#58 The Maltese Falcon

Watched: November 04 2016

Director: John Huston

Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, Gladys George, Jerome Cowan, Lee Patrick, Sydney Greenstreet

Year: 1941

Runtime: 1h 40min

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Samuel Spade (Bogart) is a San Francisco P.I. working with partner Miles Archer (Cowan). One day, a dame (Astor) walks into their office. And what a dame. Legs up to here and an air of desperation about her. Just the way Spade likes’em.

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Desperation and a stole. Spade smells an easy payday.

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Now, this dame is looking for her missing sister, and she knows the lowlife who has her. She pays up for a stakeout and Archer, whose wife Spade is incidentally screwing, ends up dead on the job. Spade has a fairly laissez-faire attitude about the whole thing and proceeds to remove Archer’s name from the company window and door. He is nothing if not efficient and practical.

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The whole brooding private detective thing works better as a solo act anyway

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Of course, the dame isn’t telling the truth. She’s lied about her name, her intentions, and the identity of the man she wanted located. In fact, she’s caught up in an international conspiracy involving a golden falcon artefact, more than a few shady characters and several murders. It’s not long before Spade has a new visitor – Joel Cairo (Lorre) who tries to get the jump on the P.I. But one does not simply walk into Spade’s office and threaten him. Or, if one does, one leaves with one’s tail between one’s legs. Or in a body bag. Luckily for Cairo, the former is the option Spade goes with. This time.

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He’ll take you out without even dropping his smoke

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Once Spade is properly roped in, the dame, whose real name is possibly Brigid O’Shaughnessy, although she goes by several pseudonyms, drops her act and comes clean. More or less. Meanwhile, Spade has his own fun, pitting the various bad guys against each other and playing on their greed to manipulate them.

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“You know you need to sacrifice your little pet here, right?”

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The Maltese Falcon is a classic for very good reasons. It’s a wild ride from start to finish and Bogart is amazing in it, as are the others, but he really steals the show (along with his secretary Effie (Patrick), who we also loved). Spade is cynical and tough, but he also has a lot of fun and seems to enjoy his work and the challenges his opponents throw at him. Despite his methods (and his relationship with his partner’s wife) he has his own moral compass, and not even a desperate dame can make him stray from his convictions.

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All this drama for a statuette. Foreigners!

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Love this one – can’t wait for more noir!

What we learned: don’t get caught up in a drama revolving around a figurine. Also, never try to make a detective into a criminal.

Next time: Cat People (1942)

#57 Suspicion

Watched: October 28 2016

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Starring: Cary Grant, Joan Fontaine, Nigel Bruce, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Dame May Whitty, Auriol Lee

Year: 1941

Runtime: 1h 39min

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Shy, bookish introvert Lina (Fontaine) keeps running into charming (but creepy) playboy Johnnie (Grant). After parrying his first advances, she overhears her parents discussing her inevitable descent into spinsterhood and starts pursuing him instead. She rapidly goes from indifferent and interesting to lovesick and stalkery, all in the name of avoiding becoming a spinster.

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“I’d better marry the man who assaulted me on our first date. The alternative is just too horrible!”

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Back from their honeymoon, she realises he’s completely broke, living well above his means, and intends to live off of her income and future inheritance. Being a sensible woman (apart from marrying this guy) she suggests he gets a job. So he sells her family heirlooms to gamble instead.

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“Do you mean to say you love these chairs that have been in your family for generations and which your father gave us? Well, if I had known that I never would have sold them, monkey face!”

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Lina also starts to suspect her handsome, charming husband may have murderous intents, especially when his rich friend Beaky (Bruce) dies in a freak accident in France while Johnnie is out of town. It doesn’t help his case that he asks a lot of questions about untraceable poisons to Lina’s crime writer friend Isobel Sedbusk (Lee) and then starts feeding Lina suspicious drinks.

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“Just trying to be a good husband. God, I can’t do anything right, can I?”

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Suspicion is as suspenseful mystery from the king of the genre, Mr Alfred Hitchcock, and it is fun to see Cary Grant play a villainous character. Joan Fontaine is great as well and actually won an Oscar for her portrayal of the confused, helpless and scared Lina. The film has a great soundtrack and sound effects, and normal, everyday actions, such as carving a chicken at a dinner party, turn very dark and menacing due to the extreme tension throughout. Lina gradually covers up her neck (Johnnie’s favourite part of her body) as her suspicions grow, and the lighting in the film perfectly illustrates her state of mind (like some filmatic mood ring).

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The use of light and shadow is amazing in general – not just as Lina’s mood ring

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Despite the abrupt and slightly unsatisfactory ending, this is a great, tense mystery film. We loved the ’40s fashion as well – it is nigh impossible to look bad in those clothes.

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The typical “nerd attire” in the 1940s is particularly good, especially compared to its more modern counterparts

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What we learned: never marry a man who calls you “monkey face.”

Next time: The Maltese Falcon (1941)