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.
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.)
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.
Cut Himself Shaving: Mockingly offered by Spade to Dundy as a possible reason for a cut on Cairo's head.
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.
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
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.
..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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.