'The Maltese Falcon' by John Huston Review: Creative, fun, and noir goodness

in Movies & TV Shows3 months ago


Today's panicked and very much last minute review comes at a time where it is no longer 'today' but instead, tomorrow. Late hours of the night, or should I say, morning? Drifting off to sleep and typing away at my phone screen as I have been lately due to the chaos of life. I watched The Maltese Falcon during the day, though put off reviewing it until I really had the time to recollect my thoughts on it. Gathering the ideas witnessed and fighting out what to make of them. Even now, on the brink of sleep, I am not sure as to how I should feel about the film. On one hand, I enjoyed it, on another, I found it lost me a little as it dragged on, having showed its best to me around the start. Only to linger on and not manage to capture that same magic it started with. The Maltese Falcon sat in my watchlist alongside many more of the noir genre, only to be seen months later after adding. Though a film I have heard its name of throughout the years. No stranger to its praise, that is for sure.

The Maltese Falcon is a noir film like most others of its time. A film surrounded with crime, deceiving women, detectives and rooms coated in a dense smoke from the endless cigarettes being puffed away at throughout the scenes. Characters of varying agenda but much elegance in their pronunciations, their vocabularies, and their general dialogue. The noir genre is one I love deeply for ultimately how cheesy it feels. But full of soul through its unique filmmaking styles that appear out of nowhere, as well as the various settings and attempts at narrative twists that aim to subvert any expectations you had. The Maltese Falcon still has much of these elements to enjoy, though is one of many that ultimately do the same thing, and the result is that, while very good, there are so many like it. And not enough for it to stick out; though this film certainly leaves its mark on you. Etched into time and deserving of its place.

The Maltese Falcon


This film has a strange but of lore to it. Originally shot in the 30s but having two remakes made a decade later for some reason. This film being one of those remakes. I guess Hollywood hasn't changed much at all in almost a century! Though its narrative is very much peak noir! A private detective gets caught up in the chaos of greed and manipulation as various people attempt to obtain a particular famous statue that holds a hefty price to it. Murder, manipulation, romance, and lies are common themes that find themselves scattered throughout the runtime. And it takes very little time to get things going into those themes. Starting off with your typical sketchy meetings in the dead of night, overcoats and guns held at waist level, of course not aimed properly at all. The film displays its most dramatic scene early on, and this setups up the way for our protagonist to pick things up.

The narrative, while constantly moving and showing its puzzle like structure with numerous characters that each display their own shady ways, was far from the most impressive thing to me, however. It was through the filmmaking that I came to appreciate The Maltese Falcon, watching the ways in which it relied on present (though I should state this now means old) and fresh techniques that were certainly more challenging with the technological advancements that film still had not seen until many decades later. One of which being the Steadicam, in which the camera is strapped to the operator's body and allows for the body to essentially be a weight that helps the camera move more freely. Like a mechanical arm. I noticed parts in which The Maltese Falcon had similar scenes in which they resemble Steadicam use. Though this still did not exist at the time. A tracking shot through the room and around corners as characters walked towards the camera and talked. The immersion through this direct perspective that places us beneath their footsteps and into their thoughts and mystery.

Typically similar scenes would be done through a dolly. Where a track is placed on the floor and the camera is pulled alongside it like a mini rollercoaster. Though no track is seen in the floor, fortunately. My assumption is that the director and cinematographer opted for a creative manner to produce this scene. Where the camera is very much moving, but not through the more conventional methods of technology available. It's pretty creative and impressive to see for the era! And shows how even their bulky, challenging cameras could still be pushed to their limits to pursue creativity. While there were a few shots like this, much of the film was typical noir style: fixed camera angles in the room and rather theatrical blocking in which the characters stand almost direct to the camera, facing the audience as to talk directly to the rather than each other. I quite enjoy this still, since its simplicity and immersion that take the reign as dialogue and performances take the forefront of all attention. Pushing the narrative forward with deliveries that vary and provide life to the scenes and characters.

The outcome of this is that The Maltese Falcon does seem like it has done all it can rather early on, and the rest is sort of only just realising it can tell a story and be a noir film. Coming to tie things up as it alters between characters of varying suspicion. It's to be expected for a film like this, that's for sure and I can't really fault it for that. Though I will admit that it did disappoint me a little by being so creative at the start only to lose some of that magic. Even in the editing there were a few mistakes; though I can't say whether that is part of the original film or not given the film itself was restored. All audio and visuals were given attention, so editing mistakes or issues cold easily be a result of this restoration process. For example, a character may be talking, lean back against the wall, only for the perspective to the change and they're in a different position very suddenly. It can be jarring to see, but again, this does depend on what has to be done to restore the film, even if it's slice things together weirdly.

For its time, historical importance, and its creativity, I can recommend this film if you like the noir genre. The older films with shorter runtimes and that simplicity that can be found with stories that do feel unique, even when they are part of a genre already very popular. It is definitely a noir film with much of the genre's elements to appreciate.

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