More than 65 years after the release of John Huston’s “The Maltese Falcon,” Warner Home Video presents a comprehensive package that shows why it took several versions of Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade yarn before the studio got it right.
Included with a stellar transfer of the 1941 classic — which looks as if it has been reshot on new black-and-white film stock — are the 1931 “Maltese Falcon” and the 1936 “Satan Met a Lady,” based on the same story. The former, done during the pre-code era, presents Spade as a leering letch, the latter as a wisecracking gumshoe.
As Bogart biographer Eric Lax points out in an encyclopedic commentary, the Huston version finally presented a world “where there are no good guys or good girls.” With Humphrey Bogart taking a leading role that George Raft turned down (he turned down many roles that Bogart took), the plot finally comes alive.
The moral ambiguity of the characters and the tension of the story are greased by asymmetrical angles, foggy settings and shadows and light. Watching images so iconic and parodied, it’s hard to remember that this was the real thing.
The accompanying docu also sheds light on the making of the movie, but Lax goes the extra mile. He’s best when he talks about Warner Bros.’ development of a cadre of players that included Bogart, Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre, who went on to make “Casablanca” and “Passage to Marseille.” Lax’s information is so extensive that it can get a bit grating. But for buffs who will snatch up this release, that is hardly a reason for complaint.