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F Ilm: The Maltese Falcon
The...uh...stuff that dreams are made of.

The Maltese Falcon (1941) is a Warner Bros. film based on the novel of the same name by Dashiell Hammett, starring Humphrey Bogart as Hardboiled Detective Sam Spade, Mary Astor as his Femme Fatale client, Sydney Greenstreet in his film debut, and Peter Lorre and Elisha Cook, Jr. as his Ambiguously Gay sidekicks. The story concerns a private detective's dealings with three unscrupulous adventurers who compete to obtain a fabulous jewel-encrusted statuette of a falcon.

The Maltese Falcon has been named as one of the greatest films of all time by Roger Ebert, and Entertainment Weekly, and was cited by Panorama du Film Noir Américain as the first major work of Film Noir. (Though today, movie historians generally consider the first noir to be Stranger on the Third Floor, released one year earlier.) The film was John Huston's directorial debut and was nominated for three Academy Awards.

This movie contains examples of:

  • Affably Evil:
    • Kasper Gutman.
    • Joel Cairo as well. He even asks Sam to "please" keep his hands on the back of his head while holding him at gunpoint.
  • Agent Peacock: For a strongly implied gay man in a pre-gay age and a central antagonist, Cairo is quite fabulous.
  • Almost Dead Guy: Captain Jacobi, who comes staggering into Spade's office with the Falcon before expiring.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Joel Cairo. It's rather less ambiguous in the original novel and in the pre-Hays Code film adaptation (in the 1941 version, you could tell he was gay because he wore white gloves and smelled of lavender, not to mention Hammett's references to Wilmer as the 'gunsel', which is not slang for a gun-toting criminal).
  • Anti-Hero: It's up in the air for much of the story exactly which side of 'right' vs 'wrong' Sam Spade will ultimately fall upon. It's ultimately on the side of 'right'. Turns out you don't kill a private detective's partner, even if the private detective didn't like the partner.
  • Artistic License - History: The opening crawl states that the Knights Templar of Malta created the falcon in 1539. The Knights Templar were dissolved in 1312. (The director had probably confused the Knights Templar with the Knights of Malta, a separate organization that is still around today.)
  • Asshole Victim: Wilmer is set to be the fall guy by the other crooks. He was a Jerk Ass the entire time.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The bad guys are exposed and rounded up, but Spade turns over O'Shaughnessy, with whom he's fallen in love, over to the cops to avenge his partner. And it wasn't even the real Falcon to begin with.
  • The Cameo: Walter Huston, John Huston's father and a big movie star, appears here as Capt. Jacobi, the Almost Dead Guy.
  • Cut Himself Shaving: Mockingly offered by Spade to Dundy as a possible reason for a cut on Cairo's head.
  • Dead Hand Shot: Archer is dispatched by a glove-clad, gun-toting hand.
  • Decoy Protagonist: One would believe that Archer, Spade's associate, will accompany him on the adventure, probably playing a Watson to Spade's Holmes. Then the character is matter-of-factly killed in the very next scene.
  • Defensive Failure
  • Detective Patsy
  • The Determinator: Kasper Gutman is chasing the Falcon for 17 odd years; after he finds out that the bird they've stolen is a fake, he's ready in an instant to go back to Istambul to restart the search all over again
  • Did Not Get the Girl
  • Fall Guy: Sam Spade turns the criminals against each other by only agreeing to hand over the Falcon if Wilmer takes the fall for the murder of Sam's partner.
  • Fatal Attraction: Contender for the Ur Example.
  • Femme Fatale: Brigid. It doesn't work on Spade though.
  • Friend on the Force: Sgt. Polhaus is this, in contrast to Lt. Dundy.
  • Gayngster: Gayngsters and Film Noir went together like... two things that go together really well. Of course, 1941 being the height of The Hays Code, they couldn't be explicit about it, but see Getting Crap Past the Radar below.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: Spade refers derogatorily to Wilmer as "the gunsel", both in the movie and in the book. "Gunsel" was prison Yiddish slang for a a male passive sexual partner, but not many people knew that. As the slang was all but forgotten, it was re-imagined as slang for a gunslinger or a gun-toting hitman.
    • In Yiddish, the suffix -el or -eleh is diminutive, so the new definition of "gunsel" may have been thought to be Spade insulting Wilmer's prowess as a gunman.
  • The Ghost: General Kemidov, the real Magnificent Bastard of the story.
    • ..or so Gutman wants to believe, or else the dream he's been chasing for 17 years would crumble. It could be that the General replaced the real bird or maybe there wasn't any genuine bird from the start. We'll never know for sure, but Spade's closing description of the Falcon as "the stuff that dreams are made of" kind of suggests the latter.
  • Girl Friday: Spade's secretary Effie Perine.
  • Guile Hero: Sam Spade.
  • Guns Akimbo: Wilmer in the 1941 film
  • Harbinger of Impending Doom: Captain Jacobi
  • Hardboiled Detective: One of the codifiers.
  • I'm Dying, Please Take My MacGuffin: Capt Jacobi
  • Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain:
    • Peter Lorre as Joel Cairo. Or, you know... in general.
    • And there is Wilmer. Man, even in this trope he gets no respect. Though Wilmer is actually quite deadly and destructive, it is mostly off-screen. When he deals with Sam, he's basically a Butt Monkey that's Played for Drama.
  • Insistent Terminology: Spade repeatedly refers to the Falcon as "the dingus".
  • Inspector Javert: Lt. Dundy is fairly close in his desire to take Spade down.
  • It Must Be Mine: Most of the characters will go to any lengths to get it.
  • The Knights Hospitallers: The original owners of the fabled bird.
  • Like a Son to Me: Subverted. "I couldn't be fonder of you if you were my own son." What follows has to be one of the coldest lines in movie history.
    But, well, if you lose a son, it's possible to get another. There's only one Maltese Falcon.
  • MacGuffin: The Falcon, which has little use in the story other than to be something valuable enough to drive the plot.
  • MacGuffin Title
  • Meaningless Villain Victory: The bad guys take the Falcon. It's fake.
  • Mock Guffin: The eponymous statue.
  • Nice Hat: It's a Film Noir, and it stars Humphrey Bogart. Nice Hats are guaranteed.
  • Non-Specifically Foreign: Joel Cairo has three different passports (which are probably all fake), a generic name (alias?) which doesn't betray his ultimate origins, and a bizarre accent which swings between French, Russian, German, and whatnot.
  • Pretty in Mink: Brigid wears at leas four furs in the movie: a silver fox wrap, a Persian lamb coat, a stole of sables, and a mink coat.
    • Mrs. Archer wears a black fox muff and a black fox hat with a veil, as part of her mourning clothes.
  • Punny Name/Meaningful Name: "Gutman" is fat (but also "good man" in German, which he isn't), "Cairo" is from abroad, and "Spade" never stops digging for the truth.
  • The Remake: The 1941 movie is the third adaptation of the novel to see the silver screen, proof that Remakes Are Not Bad.
  • Repeating so the Audience Can Hear: Used in several of Spade's phone conversations.
  • San Francisco
  • Sexy Discretion Shot: Sam is leaning in and kissing Brigid in the window, suddenly it's the next morning and the curtains in the window are blowing gently in the sunlight.
  • Shout-Out to Shakespeare: Spade's last line, which provides the photo caption, is a slightly mangled quote from The Tempest.
    "We are such stuff as dreams are made on."
  • Sissy Villain: Three of them, actually — Joel Cairo, Kasper Gutman, and Wilmer. The novel, in particular, devotes quite a bit of text to disgustedly describing what a mincing little "fairy" Cairo is.
  • Slipping a Mickey: Gutman does this to Spade during their second meeting.
  • Small Role, Big Impact: General Kemidov is The Ghost, but even before the story begins, when Gutman wanted to buy the McGuffin, he realized that it would be important and replaced it with a Mock Guffin that the gang found very easy to steal.
  • Stolen MacGuffin Reveal: This is one of the interpretations. The other is that the Falcon was a Mock Guffin since the very beginning. Notice that Gutman, Cairo and O'Shaugenessy immediately bought the first version, such is the power of the falcon over them.
  • Taking the Heat: Spade demands that one of Gutman's minions takes the heat for the three murders. Spade is innocent of the murders, but the cops would blame him for them anyway. Therefore, part of the price he demands for the Falcon is a 'fall guy' to take the heat.
  • Terrible Trio: Cairo, Gutman, and Wilmer.
  • True Companions: If you are a private detective, a killed partner must be avenged. It's like a rule. According to Spade, this is true even if you didn't like your partner.
    Sam Spade: When a man's partner is killed, he's supposed to do something about it. It doesn't make any difference what you thought of him. He was your partner and you're supposed to do something about it. And it happens we're in the detective business. Well, when one of your organization gets killed, it's-it's bad business to let the killer get away with it, bad all around, bad for every detective everywhere.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Cairo's outburst upon finding out the statue is fake probably counts as one.
    Joel Cairo: (to Kasper Gutman) You... you bungled it! You and your stupid attempt to buy it! Kemedov found out how valuable it was! No wonder we had such an easy time stealing it! YOU...YOU IMBECILE! YOU BLOATED IDIOT!! YOU STUPID FAT-HEAD YOU!!!.
    • Gutman (Greenstreet) has one himself, even when he doesn't say anything: he only keeps stabbing the bird once and again, trying to find the gold and jewels below the lead. When it's obvious to everyone the falcon is false, he only collapses into a chair, like he is having a heart attack.
  • Villainous Glutton: Gutman.

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