Monday, April 27, 2015
The Maltese Falcon
SPOILER ALERT! The plot of the movie will be discussed.
There’s a great line from the TV show The X-Files. Fox Mulder is talking to the “Deep Throat” character who supposedly is giving him inside information about the alien conspiracy. The FBI agent has become extremely cynical after being deceived so many times and says, “I’m trying to decide which lie to believe.”
Sam is contacted by “Wonderly” whose real name is Brigid O’Shaughnessy (Mary Astor). She seems like the helpless female. He learns from her that there was no sister, and Thursby was someone she knew who had double-crossed her. Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre) shows up at Sam’s office looking for a black statue of a bird.
reveals that Brigid is after the bird for herself. She hits Cairo over the head, showing she is not as
helpless as she seems. She fools Sam’s secretary, who says that Brigid is
“alright.” When the police show up, Sam, in keeping with the deception theme of
the film, makes up elaborate stories about himself, Cairo, and Bridgid, saying
they were “play acting.” It is further revealed that Brigid and Cairo are both looking for
the statue, and they mention that “the fat man” has arrived, and is also
seeking the treasured bird. When Sam and Brigid are alone, she tells more lies,
which Sam sees through. She admits that she is a liar. There have been so many
deceptions that she no longer knows what is or isn’t a lie. It is implied that Sam and Brigid have sex
that night, since the next day he is calling her “my one true love” and is
acting very sweet toward her.
Sam finds “the fat man,” who is appropriately named Gutman (Sidney Greenstreet). at
hotel. Gutman talks like a civilized man, but he is really ruthless, employing
the hitman, Wilmer (Elisha Cook, Jr.). Gutman says he likes “plain speaking”
people, which is ironic given all the lies thrown about. He tells the story of
the falcon, a gift from the crusades, whose black lacquered surface covers a
gold and jewel-encrusted figure. He says “the story is history” and that what
he has told are “facts.” Again, ironic, since the whole story is a fiction made
up by the author, Hammett. Gutman acts
like he is willing to pay Sam for the bird, but then drugs him to get him out
of the way so he can get it from Brigid, who he assumes has the object. When
Sam awakes, he sees a notice about a ship arriving circled in the newspaper. At
his office, the shot captain of the ship arrives and hands Sam a bundle before
he dies. It is the Falcon. Sam stores the bird at a bus station and sends
himself the collection tag. When he arrives at his office, Brigid, Cairo , Gutman, and Wilmer
are there. Sam says he wants the whole story if they want the bird. Gutman tried to get Thursby to cooperate, but he
wouldn’t betray Brigid. Wilmer killed Thursby, and also the captain, but he
escaped and was able to deliver the Falcon to Sam. When the black bird is delivered to the
office, Gutman determines that it is a fake. He decides to continue searching
for the “real” bird, (who knows if it really exists). Sam calls the cops to
round up Gutman, Cairo ,
and Wilmer. Cairo
But, he realizes that it is Brigid who killed his partner, Miles. She originally hoped Miles would scare Thursby off, so she could have the Falcon for herself. She then killed Miles so she could pin the murder on Thursby. She sought out Sam, using him as a protector. It is here that the complexity of Sam’s character is emphasized. He says that when your partner is killed, even though you slept with his wife, one is supposed to do something. If not, it’s bad business, since it can leave all detectives vulnerable. So, Brigid has to “take the fall.” Sam tells her that he won’t let her go because maybe he isn’t as crooked as he appears, since pretending to be somewhat crooked may be good for business. But, he says if the bird had been real, more money would have been one more point in her favor. Is he as deceptive as the others? Earlier on he says, “Everybody has something to conceal.” His name is “Spade.” Is he as black as the bird? At least he has a code he lives by.
The ironic thing is the black bird is exactly what it appears – a black, unimpressive figure. It was what Sam says at the end that it is: “The thing that dreams are made of.” Sometimes we wish to believe the lie, because it is all we have left.
Next week’s film is Quiz Show.