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“The Maltese Falcon” {Blu-ray} - (Wayne)
Wayne Klein
Studio: Warner Home Video
Release Date:
Special Features:

Documentary, cartoons, shorts, trailers, commentary track by Eric Lax; “Coming Attractions: The Trailers of Humphrey Bogart” Rated: G


Bogie and Huston like Cary Grant or James Stewart and Hitchcock (or for more modern audiences Russell Crowe and Ridley Scott; Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese) found that their best work and expression of their artistic intent often came about from working with each other. Perhaps they developed some sort of symbiotic creative relationship outside of the confines of actor/director or perhaps it was a comfort knowing that the other was like minded when it came to the material. Either way when you have a director/actor (or writer or DP) pairing that works as beautifully as this, you want to see it preserved for as long as possible and reoccur. It's rare to see in Hollywood today (although a couple of directors like the Scott brothers, Scorsese and others have preserved it) but adds to the wealth of subtext that informst the material. ***

The second film version of “The Maltese Falcon” remains the iconic one not just because of Huston (and the fidelity to the novel by Hammett) but primarily because of the chemistry of the Humphrey Bogart and Huston. The duo a number of films together over the years but “Falcon” remains their lean, mean masterpiece (although “Key Largo” and the dark “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” perhaps represented the pinnacle of that collaboration)with its straight forward narrative structure and strong iconic performances from a supporting cast that includes Peter Lorre and Sidney Greenstreet in career defining roles. ***

Sam Spade (Bogart) returns from an investigation to find his partner murdered and discovers that somehow its tied into his latest client Ruth Wonderly (Mary Astor)who seems an absolute stranger to the truth. It all appears to be tied into the title bird—a statue speckled with jewels that everyone including Joel Cairo (Lorre) and the “fat man” (Greenstreet) are willing to pay murder or pay a fortune for whichever is the easier way to obtain the statue. ***

Bogart’s world weary performances are legendary but he perfectly captures the feel of the jaded Spade and the dark recesses of the waterfront in San Francisco during the 1930’s. Anything bad is possible in Spade’s world and unfortunately if it’s possible, it will come true at some point putting his life and his client’s life in danger. What makes “Falcon” more than a whodunit is the moral complexity at the heart of “Falcon”, the duplicity of the complex characters and the subtle shading that director/writer Huston is able to highlight for each of the characters from Hammett’s classic novel. “The Maltese Falcon” helped to redefine the film noir genre even as it added to and sometimes subverted the growing genre. Most of the suspense doesn’t come from gun play instead relying on strong performances, the noir lighting of the film, well structured editing, direction and the plot from Hammett’s novel. ---

Image & Sound:

Warner continues to put out high quality mainstream and back catalog classic titles. Their lavish devotion to capturing the essential look of the film without altering it significantly and adding copious extras continues with “The Maltese Falcon”. This edition is comparable to something Criterion might have put out in many respects when it comes to quality and the quantity of bonus materials. ***

Presented in full screen the VC-1 encode allows for Art Edeson’s moody cinematography to create the stark, difficult world of Sam Spade. Blacks are solid throughout while textures are visible. The transfer here gives “Falcon” a depth only hinted at in the previous DVD edition. Nevertheless, the original DVD version can hold its own with the Blu-ray with the big difference here being slightly better detail and textures as well as additional depth to the images. ***

Audio remains crystal clear throughout with dialogue and music positively sparkling in this mono presentation. Warner has wisely chosen to avoid to try and create an artificial 5.1 mix for the film (created much like Duophonic stereo tracks were in the 60’s from mono recordings). We get multiple language tracks (French, German and Portuguese) as well as subtitles in 11 languages.

Special Features:

The special features from the previous 3 disc DVD deluxe set have been ported over intact with the exception of the 1931 film version of “The Maltese Falcon” and the sequel “Satan Met a Lady” that were included on that three disc set from 2006. ***

The rest from the commentary by writer Eric Law who wrote a revealing biography of Bogart which although informative is a bit formal sounding—it sounds like he’s reading from a script rather than riffing on the material in the film—to the SD presentation of shorts, trailers and cartoons are included. We also get the short film on the making of the film “The Maltese Falcon: One Magnificent Bird” in SD included. It would have been nice for Warner to go back to the original elements and provided HD transfers for these extras or something new and unique to this edition (how about a radio broadcast of “The Maltese Falcon” or even the two films missing from this set?) but it wasn’t to be.

Final Words:

Fans looking to upgrade “The Maltese Falcon” to Blu-ray will be pleased by a striking, sharp looking presentation that nicely renders fine detail and texture better than the DVD but they will be disappointed by some of the extras dropped for this edition and the fact that those that are included are in SD. Fans may want to keep disc 2 of their three disc set since the two feature films included there are MIA here.


Copyright @ Teakwood Productions 2000
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