Black Bird Still Provides Dreams

DATELINE: MOVIE MASHUP

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We can’t recall the last time we watched The Maltese Falcon, and time has made us grow fonder.

What a brilliant work: cynical, sophisticated, timely, with great performances up and down. We noticed this time that Walter Huston, director John Huston’s father, had an unbilled cameo as a sea captain.

We relished the other scenes that came back to us: Peter Lorre and his phallic cane and gardenia scented calling card. There was no homophobia back then. Kaspar Gutman clearly had more than a father-son relationship with his “gunsel” Elisha Cook, Jr.

Had we forgotten what a romantic cad Humphrey Bogart’s Sam Spade truly was? He had been sleeping with his partner’s wife and disdained her.

He may have fudged feelings, or used them ruthlessly as part of his job as a detective. His repartee with the Fatman, Sydney Greenstreet, was a delight. And, Huston filled the screen with a wide shot of the Gutman’s gut. You might wonder why Greenstreet’s billing was so low—but it really was his debut as a nemesis for Warner Brothers crime dramas.

Mary Astor’s deadly female was far more nuanced than we had thought, though she could not be believed as Spade realized.

The cops are Barton McLaine and Ward Bond, bad and good, but playing the stereotype with freshness.

As for that Black Bird, his entrance always is hilarious and staggering, unwrapped amid the drooling pursuers.

For decades, detective movies have used this template, but this one is the original—and it seems almost effortless from directing, writing, and performing. What a treat.

 

 

 

 

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