The Maltese Falcon (1941)

falcon1.jpg2016.20: The Maltese Falcon (Blu-ray)

Another of those classic films that somehow I’d never gotten around to, the steelbook Blu-ray I’d bought has patiently sat on the shelf for something close to two years until now. Having enjoyed Casablanca so much a few weeks ago it was inevitable that I would get around to finally watching this at last (and yes, I’m certainly getting through the ‘to-watch’ list this year).

The Maltese Falcon is no Casablanca, but it nonetheless deservedly merits its status as a film classic. I was actually surprised how demanding this film is. From the very start you have to pay keen attention to the twists and turns of its fairly labyrinthine plot (though I’m told its by no means the most confusing of the noir thrillers of the period). Its fascinating to consider how sophisticated its script is compared to the simpler fare that gets made today; I certainly cannot imagine many modern-day multiplex-goers sitting through a film this dense without walking out perplexed.

Hardboiled private detective Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart), is hired by mysterious femme fatale Ruth Wonderly (Mary Astor) to tail a man who has ties to her estranged sister. When Spades business partner Miles Archer is murdered that evening, Spade finds that he is a police suspect and is thrown into a complex web of lies and double-dealing concerning the location of the Falcon of the title. Along the way we meet some remarkable characters- notably Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre in possibly his finest role) and Kasper ‘The Fat Man’ Gutman (Sydney Greenstreet in what is, incredibly, his first screen role, stealing every scene he is in and defining the silver-screen ‘evil criminal mastermind’ forever).  The economy with which this film tells its tale and divulges its secrets is quite breathtaking, it’s really a very little film with a small cast and minimal sets but it packs quite a punch. A film like this could really teach modern-day screenwriters and directors something about scale and storytelling.

If only because the film answered some decades-old questions of my own regards a Jon & Vangelis song, I rate this film as something special, and it’s certainly a classic. You can see it creating the film noir/private eye genre right before your very eyes. All those films that came afterwards owe so much to this film.Funny thing is, and something that I had no idea of until I watched some of this excellent blu-ray disc’s special features, is that this is not the first screen attempt at filming The Maltese Falcon. It’s actually the third film made based on the story. Well, you learn something new everyday…

The 2014 Hitlist Revisited

Readers with a long memory may recall I started this year with a hitlist of movies to watch during 2014. A wishlist of films that either had been on the shelf for too long or new discs I had yet to see, I set up the hitlist thinking it might be enough to drive me into actually watching some of the films. Well, it had mixed results really, and if I decide to set up a 2015 Hitlist I’ll need to be more disciplined/determined about nailing it. Or more choosy about what I put on it.

So looking back at the 2014 Hitlist, what do we have, and how did I do?

betty1) Betty Blue– Well, we’re off to a bad start immediately, as this one somehow slipped through the cracks and didn’t get watched at all. Which is rather odd as I ‘ve always been curious about it, ever since a friend raved about his VHS copy many moons ago. Maybe one to add to the 2015 Hitlist then.

2) Cinema Paradiso– This one I watched, and really enjoyed. Finally I could understand all the fuss and attention around this film for all those years. Indeed, one of the better films that I would see all year.

3) Only God Forgives– Watched this one too. Found it rather odd and disappointing really, particularly after I had enjoyed Drive so much before. Smacked of over-indulgence on all levels really, to the detriment of ‘proper’ or effective storytelling. One to revisit sometime maybe.

4) Cleopatra– Another one slips through the cracks. I’m not expecting anything special, which is why I guess I’ve been putting it off still (well, that and the length of the darn thing). Maybe because I know its a film more famous for the stories behind it than for the film itself. Which is something true of the next film on my list-

hgate5) Heaven’s Gate– What a shocking disappointment this was. I really wanted to like it but good grief it was so poorly constructed with a really lacklustre script. I think it should be screened every year in Films Schools as an object lesson in How Not To Do It. Really, its one of those rare films that even though its bad, I’d actually recommend, particularly to film buffs as its quite an eye-opener. In an odd way, it almost forgives Hollywood for all the ‘safe’, over-marketed and simplistic/sanitized crap we get these days. Subject for discussion one day: Its because of Heavens Gate that we now suffer Transformers.

6) The Maltese Falcon– Didn’t get around to it. Shame on me.

7) Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Deluxe Edition– This I did see, and quite enjoyed. Frustrating thing is, watching it I have the constant thought that this should have been a live-action Batman or how Nolan’s trilogy ended.

8) Harry Potter 8-Film Collection– Hey, now this I did watch, a boxset binge of a massive film franchise that passed me by on its cinema releases. Unfortunately this is how movies are going these days; turning into boxsets. Its a strange thing really. The Potter films are fine but increasingly fail to function as individual movies, which is a bit of a problem. As a series boxset, there is also an issue that the best of the films is the third instalment, and that its frankly all downhill from there. But hey, its eight films so it was some kind of result actually getting through it. Of course this is how some people now ‘discover’ the Star Wars films or the Lord of the Rings films (one day it’ll be a LOTR saga of six films, which will give newbies a struggle getting through three bloated Hobbit movies before getting to the good stuff).

9) Lolita (possibly the last Kubrick film I have yet to see)- Ah, no. Didn’t get to it, so its a Kubrick I have still to see. It occurs to me that there is something very wrong with the world if I watch so many rubbish films and yet still have a film by Kubrick that I have yet to see.

10) Marnie (one of the few Hitchcock’s I have yet to see) ) No, not this either. Again, I watch stuff like Transformers 4 but I have a Hitchcock film on the shelf unseen? Okay, I hear its hardly vintage Hitchcock but all the same, its got to be seen, yes?

Beyond those ten, I had a further ten, which were films I had seen before but not yet in HD. These were Blu-rays I’d bought usually as upgrades from DVDs but hadn’t watched yet. Unfortunately I only watched two of them, so won’t go into any detail here. Other than to say I must try harder next year, and I cannot believe I haven’t watched my Blu-rays of Big Trouble in Little China or Invasion of the Bodysnatchers. What the hell have I been doing in 2014?

 

The 2014 Hitlist

Here’s a list of films on Blu-ray I have STILL to watch that escaped through the net during 2013, which will HAVE to be watched during 2014- it may take awhile for some of them but mark my words, they WILL be watched and (hopefully) reviewed:

1) Betty Blue (there’s two versions on the Blu-ray, theatrical and director’s cut, if anybody knows which is the best version to watch, let me know!)

2) Cinema Paradiso (again, there’s two versions on the Blu-ray, theatrical and director’s cut, if anybody knows which is the best version to watch, let me know!)

3) Only God Forgives

4) Cleopatra

5) Heaven’s Gate

6) The Maltese Falcon

7) Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Deluxe Edition

8) Harry Potter 8-Film Collection (well, I’ve seen films 1-3 before when they first came out, but I need a refresh after all these years before I tackle the remainder so it’ll be a Harry Potter movie marathon sometime soon)

9) Lolita (possibly the last Kubrick film I have yet to see)

10) Marnie (one of the few Hitchcock’s I have yet to see)

I’m very curious, and also rather guilty,  about many of those. And adding onto the list those films I’ve actually seen before in years past but not yet in HD-

11) Lawrence of Arabia

12) Perfect Blue

13) Barry Lyndon

14) Full Metal Jacket

15) Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

16) Big Trouble in Little China

17)Universal Monsters Collection (8 films!)

18) Vertigo

19) 12 Angry Men

20) Brides of Dracula

There’s a few more but I draw the line there; twenty titles with two box-sets amongst them. Plenty to be getting on with, alongside the numerous titles I’ll inevitably pick up as the year progresses. We’ll see how it goes…