» » The Maltese Falcon (1931)

Short summary

Sam Spade is quite the womanizer. When his secretary tells him the new customer waiting outside his office is a knockout, he wastes no time before seeing her. It turns out she's a knockout with money. And she wants to spend it on his services as a private detective. She has some story about wanting to protect her sister. Neither he nor his partner, Miles Archer, believes it. But with the money she's paying, who cares? The job proves to be more dangerous than either of them expected. It involves not just the lovely dame with the dangerous lies, but also the sweaty Casper Gutman, the fey Joel Cairo, and the thuggish young Wilmer Cook. Three crooks, and all of them are looking for the statuette of a black bird they call the Maltese Falcon.

When originally sold to television in the 1950s, the title was changed to "Dangerous Female" in order to avoid confusion with its illustrious remake, The Maltese Falcon (1941). Fifty years later, Turner Classic Movies restored its original title card. However, as recently as April 27, 2017, the service used by cable companies to provide data for their viewing guides used the "Dangerous Female" title for TCM's showing of the movie on that date.

Art director Robert M. Haas performed the same function on The Maltese Falcon (1941).

The American Film Institute Catalog of Feature Films 1931-1940 credits the uncredited role of the District Attorney to Oscar Apfel. This is incorrect; the role is played by an unmistakable Morgan Wallace as correctly listed on IMDb.

When Sam Spade (Ricard Cortez) makes a phone call to his secretary Effie at home, he calls out her phone number as Berkeley, Double 0-7.

The paper money frequently exchanged back and forth may most likely be stage money, but has the exact same look as the real paper money of the period, a welcome improvement over the artificial looking stage money imposed upon filmmakers of the post-code era.

Vitaphone production reels #4808-4816 and #4781 (trailer)

Towards the end of the movie when they show the newspaper with the headline police solve 3 maltese falcon killings ! .. There is a fly walking on the headline .

User reviews

  • comment
    • Author: Minnai
    In 1931 Roy Del Ruth became the first director to bring Dashiell Hammett's THE MALTESE FALCON to the screen. Although it received favorable reviews and did a brisk business at the box office, like many early talkies it was soon eclipsed by ever-advancing technology and forgotten--until television, with its endless demands for late-late show material, knocked on Hollywood's door. Retitled DANGEROUS FEMALE in order to avoid confusion with the highly celebrated 1941 version, it has haunted the airwaves ever since.

    DANGEROUS FEMALE is interesting in several ways, and perhaps most deeply so as an example of the struggle that ensued when sound first roared. What had proved effective on the silent screen suddenly seemed highly mannered when voices were added, and both directors and stars struggled to find new techniques--and DANGEROUS FEMALE offers a very vision of the issues involved.

    It is a myth that the advent of sound forced directors to lock down the camera, but it is true that many directors preferred simple camera set-ups in early sound films; it gave them one less thing to worry about. And with this film, Roy Del Ruth is no exception: in a visual sense, DANGEROUS FEMALE is fairly static. The performing decisions made by the various actors are also illustrative and informative, particularly re leads Ricardo Cortez and Bebe Daniels. Cortez is still clearly performing in the "silent mode," and he reads as visually loud; Daniels, however, has elected to underplay, and while she is stiff by current standards, her performance must have seemed startlingly innovative at the time. And then there are two performers who are very much of the technology: Una Merkle as Spade's secretary and Thelma Todd as Iva Archer, both of whom seem considerably more comfortable with the new style than either Cortez or Daniels.

    The film is also interesting as a "Pre-Code" picture, for it is sexually explicit in ways most viewers will not expect from a 1930s film, and indeed it is surprisingly explicit even in comparison to other pre-code films. Hero Sam Spade is a womanizer who seduces every attractive female who crosses his path--and the film opens with a shot of just such a woman pausing to straighten her stockings before leaving his office. Still later, the dubious Miss Wonderly tempts Spade with her cleavage, lolls in his bed after a thick night, splashes in his bathtub, and finally winds up stripped naked in his kitchen! It is also interesting, of course, to compare DANGEROUS FEMALE to its two remakes. Directed by William Dieterle and starring Warren William and Bette Davis, the 1936 Satan MET A LADY would put Hammett's plot through the wringer--and prove a critical disaster and a box office thud. But then there is the justly celebrated 1941 version starring Humphrey Bogart and Mary Astor under the direction of John Huston.

    Both the 1931 and 1941 films lifted great chunks of dialogue from Hammett's novel, and very often the dialogue is line-for-line the same. But two more completely different films could scarcely be imagined. Where the 1931 film strives for an urbane quality, the 1941 film is memorably gritty--and in spite of being hampered by the production, considerably more sexually suggestive as well, implying the homosexuality of several characters much more effectively than the 1931 version dared.

    In the final analysis, the 1931 THE MALTESE FALCON (aka DANGEROUS FEMALE) will appeal most to those interested in films that illustrate the transition between silent film and sound, to collectors of "pre-code" movies, and to hardcore FALCON fans who want everything associated with Hammett, his novel, and the various film versions. But I hesitate to recommend it generally; if you don't fall into one of those categories, you're likely to be unimpressed.

    Gary F. Taylor, aka GFT, Amazon reviewer
  • comment
    • Author: Irostamore
    Over the years, the version of The Maltese Falcon released in 1941 has accrued an enviable reputation: As an opening salvo in the film noir cycle, as Humphrey Bogart's first big starring vehicle and John Huston's directorial debut, and as a favorite example of the pleasures to be found in `old' black-and-white movies. But it was the third crack that Warner Brothers took at Dashiell Hammett's breakthrough novel. Probably best forgotten is the 1936 Satan Met A Lady, where a bejewelled ram's horn subbed for the black bird; even Bette Davis couldn't salvage the movie. But this first filming (later retitled Dangerous Female), made the year after the novel's release – in the technical infancy of the sound era – retains enough punch and flavor to give the formidable forties version a run for its money.

    Starring as Sam Spade and Miss Wonderly (who never becomes Brigid O'Shaughnessey) are Ricardo Cortez and Bebe Daniels, the talkies' first immortal guy/gal team. And joining them is the familiar ensemble of grotesques: As `Dr.' Joel Cairo, Otto Mathiessen; as Casper Gutman, Dudley Digges (who, lacking Sidney Greenstreet's girth, is never called The Fat Man); and as Wilmer the gunsel, gimlet-eyed Dwight Frye, familiar from the Dracula and Frankenstein franchises. And while Huston's cast in each instance has the edge, it's not by much – these pioneering hams have a field day.

    Huston trusted Hammett enough to preserve more of his astringent dialogue intact, but Dangerous Woman shows surprising fidelity to the book. The subplot about Spade's affair with his slain partner's wife Iva Archer stays prominent, and the merry widow is played by Thelma Todd (herself later to fall victim in one of Hollywood's most notorious unsolved murders). Owing to less prudish times, before the Hayes Office tried to make sex un-American, the scene is kept where Spade, in his quest for a palmed $1000 bill, makes Wonderly strip naked (though left largely off-screen). And in calling Wilmer Gutman's `boyfriend,' Spade makes a mite more explicit their old-queen/rough-trade dynamic.

    Roy del Ruth, who directed, was an old newspaper man who came to Hollywood in the silent era, racking up a workmanlike list of credits (in 1949, he would return to San Francisco locales for the unusual noir Red Light). He adds some deft touches, as when, after Spade departs with her bankroll, Wonderly blithely extracts a fat wad of bills from her stocking. Much of what he might be credited for, however, may be inadvertent. Since the novel was published and the movie made on that critical cusp between the Roaring Twenties and Old Man Depression, an authentic period tang asserts itself – Daniels' marcelled hair, for instance (not to mention the Vienna-born Cortez' being palmed off as a Latin lover).

    The movie deviates from the novel in ending with a scene in the women's house of detention that manages to be simultaneously sassy and poignant. Dangerous Female offers an instructive lesson in how the various versions, with their differing tones and emphases, shed their own light and shadow on a classic American crime novel.
  • comment
    • Author: Tinavio
    I got such a kick out of this filmed version of Dashiell Hammett's detective novel that I think I was grinning from ear to ear throughout the movie. Because it was a pre-code film it was much more open to the sexiness of the original novel, for instance here we have Miss Wonderly (Bebe Daniels in the role played by Mary Astor in the 1941 version) actually undressing in the kitchen scene. In another scene, when she claims someone is following her and she is frightened to be alone, Sam Spade (Ricardo Cortez, who is much more handsome than Bogart) offers her his bedroom for the night. "You can have my bed, I'll sleep out here." She turns to him coyly from the sofa and says "Aw, don't let me keep you out." I burst out laughing. Couldn't imagine this repartee between Bogie and Astor!

    Una Merkel was superb as the devoted secretary of Sam Spade. She constantly gives off the aura that she has had a physical relationship with him in the past and that some of it still hangs around even though it is essentially over (note their sitting real closely on a chair in one scene, lingeringly holding hands). Thelma Todd plays Archer's wife, who has also had an affair with Sam in the past, and she adds some more spice to the film which is already loaded with it compared to the 1941 version, which was made under the control of the Hollywood Production Code.

    The other cast members are wonderful, including Dudley Digges as Casper Gutman, Otto Matieson as Joel Cairo, and Dwight Frye as the psychotic Wilma Cook. They completely hold your attention and are just as interesting, perhaps even more so, than the 1941 version actors.

    I am a Bogie fan, but Ricardo Cortez steals the picture with this performance. He is a much more selfish, less noble character than Bogie's Sam Spade, and that makes him more interesting to watch on screen. For instance, in the 1941 version, Bogie's Sam Spade reluctantly gives over the girl to the police because "when your partner is murdered, you are supposed to do something about it." In the 1931 version Ricardo's Sam Spade hands her over simply because he himself doesn't want to be charged with murder. He's saving his own neck, not acting out of some false loyalty to a partner he didn't even like. In fact in this version Ricardo as Sam states firmly, "I couldn't shed a tear for Archer, dead OR alive." This is a lot more honest and realistic.

    Don't miss your chance to see this early talkie gem. It is fascinating to watch on its own merits, and also to compare with the later, more famous, Bogart version.
  • comment
    • Author: Raelin
    This is a fascinating version of the story definitively filmed ten years later by John Huston, because of the ways in which it comes close to capturing the Hammett novel-- and the ways in which it doesn't. As a pre-Code film it's often more explicit than the Huston version-- especially about the fact that Spade was having an affair with his partner's wife, and about the homosexuality of the male crooks (this movie's Gutman is plainly depicted as a seedy john rather than as the refined aesthete Sydney Greenstreet would play). But hardboiled attitude is what really matters, and Ricardo Cortez (a good early talkie actor who always tried hard) just isn't playing Hammett's hardboiled, unsentimental Spade-- he's playing the more typical suave gentleman detective of the period, like Philo Vance. As a result, it's the love affair with Ms. Wonderly that takes over, and the shocking bite of Hammett's ending is lost. It was capturing the Hammett worldview that was John Huston's great accomplishment, and that made his Falcon so influential over the films noir to follow.

    All the same Huston, who was working at Warner Bros. when this was made, must have liked something about this movie-- the scene where Spade first meets Joel Cairo (Otto Mattiesen, doing an excellent Peter Lorre imitation years before the fact) is repeated almost shot for shot and inflection for inflection in the Huston version, the only such case of direct inspiration I spotted here. Mattiesen, a familiar silent era character actor, sadly died not long after the film came out; had he lived he certainly could have had as interesting a talkie career as Lorre eventually did.
  • comment
    • Author: Elildelm
    DWIGHT FRYE plays Wilmer Cook in this version! Imagine my amazement at finding this out. Don't get me wrong, Elisha Cook Jnr. was extremely good in the later version and Dwight's role is considerably smaller but if you asked me to pick which one was the deffinitive Wilmer I would have a very hard time. The role does not call for subtlety; Wilmer is a psychotic who enjoys his work a little too much. Both men do an admirable job playing a role that is more complex than appears on the surface. The audiences first impression is to laugh at the baby faced kid waving his big .45 automatics around and talking tough but as soon as we find out that not only is he not shy about using his weapons he is darn good with them too he becomes a frightening image because his young, fresh faced looks hide a true monster beneath the surface. Well done, Dwight. I have a new respect for this hard-to-find early version of the famous novel now and it's all thanks to you.
  • comment
    • Author: Moswyn
    As everyone knows by now (at least if they're on this IMDb page!), this was the original film version of "The Maltese Falcon". And, of course, it (being pre-code) is a lot sexier than the Bogart version, which is to say, comparable to a racy 1970s TV movie. We see Miss Wonderley sleeping in Spade's bed, and actually see her naked in the bathtub (from the shoulders up) at one point.

    As in "Satan Met a Lady", the detective is made out to be a sleazy ladies' man in this movie. When we first see him, he's kissing a woman goodbye; we never actually see her face, but we see her adjusting her stocking, and when Sam returns to his office, the pillows from his couch are in disarray. He seems to be getting some from Effie as well (and I must point out that Una Merkel, as Effie, is hot, hot, hot in this movie; quite a contrast to the matronly Lee Patrick in the 1941 version).

    Overall, though, this movie is still somewhat unsatisfying. I suppose if we had never seen the Bogart/Huston version, this would stand as an acceptable adaptation of Hammett's novel (by the standards of the time). It follows the novel fairly closely, but skimps on the plot somewhat. The subplot where Wonderley disappears, and then reappears (as O'Shaughnessy) because she realizes Gutman is in town is missing, as is all the great interplay between Spade and Wilmer ("Just keep riding me, buster", "This'll put you in solid with your boss", etc.) that was such a treat in the later version. True, this movie is a little more explicit about the relationship between Gutman and Wilmer, but Wilmer is such a minor character (with literally only a few minutes of screen time) that their relationship still seems more fully-developed in the 1941 movie. There's also a very odd change at the end (just before the prison scene) that seems like something of a cop-out.

    And, finally, it must be pointed out that Ricardo Cortez really stinks in this movie. He spends most of the movie with a smirk plastered on his face, and his performance in general is extremely stiff. I suppose that's to be expected in such an early talkie, but, combined with the general aura of sleaziness that his character exudes, it makes it impossible to really care what happens to him. In the end, this is an enjoyable movie, but mainly for reasons of historical curiosity, and it never comes anywhere near the "classic" status that the later remake has achieved.
  • comment
    • Author: Darkshaper
    I have seen this version of Maltese Falcon three times, from off-the-air taping. Of course, it follows the same basic plot line of the 1941 film, but that early film noir classic becomes more like a morality play, with relatively little emotion. From the start, Sam Spade is portrayed as a ladies man: an approach validated by the smooth good looks of Ricardo Cortez and his urbane manner. It is difficult to imagine a first shot of a woman's legs coming out of Sam's office as the first shot of the 1941 film, in light of Bogart's understated performance. Moreover, one gets a strong impression that there is a real attraction between Cortez and Daniels, conveyed not so much by the scene in Sam's apartment with its bathtub scene and her stripping in his bedroom, where she has spent the night; rather, in the last scene where Sam is visiting her in her prison cell (instead of turning her over to the police with no regrets, as in 1941) and tells the matron to provide her with every luxury she wants, and we see her alone in the cell, weeping and bitterly commenting on (their?) love. There are other interesting features. Whereas in 1941 a homosexual relationship between Greenstreet and Lorre lay beneath the surface, in this film Gutman strokes Wilmer as "my own son" and seems truly troubled at the thought of giving him up as the "fall guy". Dwight Frye as Wilmer has only a few lines, but gives his usual expressive performance of mental unbalance, without the hardness of Elisha Cook, Jr. in 1941. It's interesting for me to speculate how I would have evaluated the 1941 film if I had seen this one first, and used it as the basis for comparison.
  • comment
    • Author: Samugor
    Before Humphrey Bogart, Ricardo Cortez, as Sam Spade, was looking for that big black bird in 1931's "The Maltese Falcon," also starring Bebe Daniels, Una Merkel, and Thelma Todd. Since it's 1931 and therefore pre-code, the emphasis is on sex and Sam's libidinous nature. In the first scene, a woman leaves his office straightening the seams in her stockings. Bebe Daniels as Ms. Wonderly takes a bath in Sam's tub, strips in the kitchen - you name it. Thelma Todd is on hand as the wife of Spade's partner, Miles Archer who, if you know the story, gets it in the first reel. Sam's had a thing with her too. He keeps them all on the hook.

    I found this version slow going, mainly because it's an early talkie - the dialogue pacing isn't quite right. You can drive a truck through the pauses. The only one with a more modern feel for the dialogue is the handsome, smiling Cortez, and he's absolutely marvelous as Spade. His Spade is more relaxed than Bogie's, less sardonic, more delightfully crooked - in short, he has a lot more fun. He fits just as well into this version as world-weary Bogie does into the 1941 version.

    Bebe Daniels is attractive and alluring as the greedy and totally ruthless Miss Wonderly. The gay subplot between Greenstreet and Lorre everyone assumes isn't as apparent in this film between Wilmer (Dwight Frye) and Caspar Guttman (Dudley Digges).

    I found the comments in the first post on the actors' approaches to their roles very interesting; I'm not sure I totally agree, but for sure, Cortez spoke louder and Daniels did underplay (which she did not do in "42nd Street" - at all). However, as far as the pace, I still Cortez did better in keeping the dialogue going than anyone else.

    This is a fascinating film - so different from the 1941 version, which I hope to see this evening - it's definitely worth catching.
  • comment
    • Author: fr0mTheSkY
    It might have been wise to watch the two earlier versions of Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon before I re-watched the 1941 classic. It would have reminded me just how great Huston's film is. The '31 version isn't bad, per se. It has the same major flaw that most films of this early talkie era had: leaden dialogue delivery. It's also a bit stagy, though by no means the worst I've seen from the time. None of the actors are as good as their '41 counterparts, with the possible exception of Bebe Daniels, most famous for her role in 42nd Street. She's a bit sexier than Mary Astor, and it's more believable that she could hold sway over men. I also thought Otto Matieson was pretty good as Joel Cairo. Una Merkel is very cute as Effie, Spade's secretary. Thelma Todd, of Marx Brothers' movies fame, also co-stars as Iva Archer. Ricardo Cortez plays Sam. He's a bit too nice for the part, like he should rather be starring in musicals (Daniels doesn't suffer this way – she's appropriately ruthless). The film only runs 78 minutes, but it feels a lot longer. It excises even more of the novel than Huston's version, but the pacing is really slow (the '41 movie runs 100 minutes). It seems the major success in Huston's movie – well, besides the awesome cast – was its lightning pacing. It also changes some things around at the end, if I remember right. I actually really liked the final sequence, not in the '41 version and (if memory serves me correctly) not in the novel, either, where Spade visits Ms. Wonderly (which isn't a pseudonym in this movie) in prison. I wouldn't say it surpasses the '41 version in any way, but then again I've never quite been satisfied with Spade's final exchanges with Brigid O'Shaughnessy either.
  • comment
    • Author: Chilldweller
    Having seen the later version first and stumbled on this earlier version later, I was struck immediately by how closely the later version followed the earlier. It seemed to me that the later used the same script and set the action in the same or very nearly the same scene.

    I also found Ricardo Cortez and Bebe Daniels more convincing in the leading roles. For instance, in both versions, there is an exchange between Sam Spade and his police buddy where Sam says something like "...what do I know about women !" and his police buddy replies "since when." These lines are just throwaway in the later version as this aspect of Sam's character has not been defined properly for the viewer. However, in the earlier version, the viewer already has some idea that Sam is a ladies' man and can turn on the charm.

    Likewise, the Miss O'Shaughnessy character is obviously meant to be a femme fatale for whom men fall and gladly sacrifice themselves for her. Bebe Daniels plays this role to perfection and fits the bill far more satisfyingly and believably than does Mary Astor in the later version.

    The earlier version is more convincing in portraying the charged atmosphere and obvious attraction that Sam Spade and Miss O'Shaughnessy have towards one another. Consequently, it makes the scene between the two of them later, and the dilemma Sam faces between handing her over to the police to face the music ("Don't be silly, you'll take the fall and like it !" and "...sure I'll have some sleepless nights...") and not implicating her to the police, more poignant.

    Having said that, no one could better Sidney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre in their respective roles. Majestic, magnificent and they never stop playing their roles, even when they are in the background of a scene e.g. Peter Lorre when Sidney is whispering a warning to Humphrey in his (Sam Spade's) flat and Peter (Joel Cairo) interrupts the putting into his mouth and lighting of a cigarette to focus his attention on Sam Spade and 'Fatman' Gutman.
  • comment
    • Author: Briciraz
    Despite the silent-to-talkie transition style, I liked this one better than the Bogart one. In fact, I think it exposes Bogart's counterfeit toughness (among other things, he was too short). Ricardo Cortez was a great choice. Perhaps George Raft might have been a better Sam Spade in the 1941 version. The similarity in dialogue between the two movies begs the issue of insufficient originality in the later version.

    Comparing 1931 v 1941 characters, I think only Sydney Greenstreet provides a more interesting product. As the same (or similar) character, Alison Skipworth, as Madame Barabbas in Satan Met a Lady 1936, finishes second. From that same movie, Marie Wilson finishes second to Una Merkel as Effie, with 1941's Lee Patrick a distant third.

    I like them all. I like the structure of the mystery. It reminds me (it's just me) a little of John Le Carre mysteries where, as in Tinker Tailor, the investigator knows the answer from the beginning.
  • comment
    • Author: Anyshoun
    This film, like the 1941 version of the same movie, is about a group of rogues searching for a famed gold and jewel encrusted statue. Along the way, greed resulted in the murders of several people and the police suspect Sam Spade (Ricardo Cortez) for the murders--or at least thinking he knows far more than he's admitting.

    While the 1941 version of THE MALTESE FALCON has become a classic, this original version from 1931 is oddly forgotten. While I could understand a little of this (after all, Bogart was better as Sam Spade), it's not fair that the 1931 be given its just due. That's because much of this 1931 film is copied word-for-word in 1941--making the 1941 a rather by the numbers remake. Sure, there are improvements here and there, but nothing essentially ground-breaking or significantly different.

    So how is the original better and worse than the 1941 film? Well, it's better because Spade is grittier and more amoral--much more like you'd think a real private eye might be. Plus, since it is original, I usually feel that original's are best and deserve to be seen. On the negative side, the 1931 film is lacking much of the wonderful incidental music. This was common for films in 1931, but the 1941 movie sounds better and this makes the film come alive. The pace is also much better in 1941--as the film is less rushed and hence unfolds better. Also, Bogart was a bit better in the lead--a bit more rugged and bigger than life. Finally, the tacked on ending in the 1931 film was unnecessary and actually blunted the impact on the final confrontation scene.

    Now one way they are VERY different but which is neither better nor worse is that the 1931 film was made before the strengthened Production Code was enforced. This allowed Spade to be much more of a sexual Lothario and there was a scene where it strongly implied that he'd had sex with Bebe Daniels' character--something that did NOT happen in the later film.

    Overall, this is a terrific film--especially since it was so much better than the average fare of the day. While not quite as good as the 1941 version, it's so close that frankly it's almost a toss up as to which is best. Despite all the hype, the 1931 FALCON is a great film and one not to be missed by film historians and lovers of Pre-Code cinema.
  • comment
    • Author: JOIN
    Discovered this original film of "The Maltese Falcon" 1931 and was amazed how this version of the story was produced. The film stayed pretty close to the Humphrey Bogart, Sidney Greestreet and Peter Lorre theme. However, Ricardo Cortez (Sam Spade) and Bebe Daniels(Ruth Wonderly) acted completely different and the cheating of money from an envelope, caused a gal to have to take all her clothes off, in order to find out where she might have hid the money. Just mentioning the word take your clothes off in those days was probably horrible in a film during the 1930's. The ending of the picture was completely different, and the gal in question was treated with kid gloves. I always felt the Bogart Maltese Falcon could have done away with Mary Astor, the gals in this picture were more sexy and attractive that the 40's version.
  • comment
    • Author: Drelalak
    While this film is a classic, it is NOT Humphrey Bogart (Bogart might be the greatest screen detective in film history). The main reasons to watch are the women. Bebe Daniels Ruth Wonderly (Much sexier than Mary Astor), Una Merkel & Thelma Todd. Beyond that, the Cortez Spade is very different than the Bogart Spade. While Bogart was a tough guy, this Spade is more of a ladies man. People have talked about the gay subplot, and since that did not interest me, seeing it did nothing for the film. I happen to like the Detective to be real tough, like a Mike Hammer, or Phillip Marlowe, or brilliant like a Sherlock Holmes. and this Spade is neither. That said, it should be required watching for fans of the genre.
  • comment
    • Author: Nikobar
    The Maltese Falcon with Humphrey Bogart is one of my all-time favorite movies largely because of Bogart's portrayal of Sam Spade. Bogart played Spade as a tough guy with some obvious character flaws, but a guy who seemed to be a good man. In this version, The Dangerous Female, Ricardo Cortez portrays Spade a little bit sleezier, a guy you can't really trust. When he comes back to the office after his partner is killed, he seems almost too happy to ask his secretary to have Archer's name removed from the office door. The Dangerous Female is an interesting piece (not bad, either), but The Maltese Falcon with Bogart, Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet and Elisha Cook Jr. ("keep on riding me and they're going to be picking iron out of your liver") is a classic.
  • comment
    • Author: Aria
    I'll try to be fair in my review of this early version of "The Maltese Falcon", but with Bogart as my favorite actor and the 1941 remake as one of my Top 10 films, it's going to be difficult. Not that this isn't a serviceable story, it is, but if you've seen the Bogey crew in action, there's no comparison, at least for this viewer.

    I never read the Dashiell Hammett novel, so I don't know which Sam Spade more closely resembles the literary version. I can say though, that I didn't care for the Ricardo Cortez portrayal here all that much. Perhaps it's because he was a flagrant womanizer, or because he didn't trade barbs with Polhaus (J. Farrel MacDonald) and Dundy (Robert Elliott) with the sardonic wit of Bogart's Spade. On the flip side though, the fact that Spade understood Chinese was an interesting idea; it's not till late in the story that we learn that Lee Fu Gow told Spade who killed his partner. So he knew all along, and kept it close to the vest to see how things played out.

    Character for character match-ups between the two pictures makes it a hands down proposition for the later film. How can you top Greenstreet, Lorre and Elisha Cook, Jr. as the heavies compared to the statue hunters here? As Ruth Wonderly, Bebe Daniels uses only one name in the story compared to Mary Astor's character, and Sam's secretary in this version, portrayed by Una Merkel, gave every indication that she had a past, present or future in the romance department with her boss. Bogart's Spade wisely kept his hands to himself around his secretary, maintaining a professional relationship instead of a lecherous one.

    I guess there are those who'll see things just the other way around with this pre-code version of The Falcon. There's something to be said for the free wheeling attitude displayed toward sexual innuendo in the story. It helps explain how Miss Wonderly wound up with a woman's kimono in Sam's apartment - it belonged to partner Archer's wife!!

    I did get a big kick out of one thing that blows by pretty quickly if one is not attentive to it. Listen carefully when Sam Spade makes a call to Effie's home phone - her number is Berkeley, Double O-7! It would be a couple decades before writer Ian Fleming came up with that designation for his secret agent, James Bond! I wonder if he saw this picture.
  • comment
    • Author: Malann
    Something went out of Bebe Daniel's personality in the talkies. She had made the transition with ease (apart from being dropped by Paramount because they didn't think she could talk but she soon put them wise). Apart from a few early musicals, the roles she was given were shady ladies, dutiful secretaries, or mistresses. The vivacity and impish appeal that had made her silents such fun was gone.

    "The Maltese Falcon" also went under the title "Dangerous Female" when it was released to TV, so it wouldn't be confused with the later Humphrey Bogart classic. It was also identified as "The Woman in the Floral Pyjamas" and has some of the raciest, sexiest scenes I have ever seen in a pre-code movie, and along with "Baby Face", it was one of the films that hastened the dreaded Breen Code of 1934.

    The movie positively oozed sex - from the opening shot of a woman client, adjusting her stockings as she kisses Sam a fond farewell. Is there something going on between Sam and Ettie (Una Merkel)?? I don't think so - Ettie seems too smart for that and she is the one constant in his life, besides, he simply doesn't have the time!!! He has just met Mrs. Wonderly (Bebe Daniels) when who should phone up but Iva Archer (Thelma Todd) upset because he has been ignoring her. Another person who overhears the conversation is Miles Archer (Walter Long) but before he has time to teach his two timing wife a lesson he is shot in an alley.

    Ricardo Cortez is no Humphrey Bogart - I don't mean that in a "putting down" way. Cortez plays Sam Spade as a flinty, smart alecky womaniser, with a sprinkling of humour (also a sprinkling of good taste as well - I am sure that was a photo of Louise Brooks in his apartment). Bogart played him as world weary but someone you could sympathise with. Of the three villains - no one could put more menace into the phrase "I'm a man who likes to talk to a man who likes to talk" than Sidney Greenstreet but Dudley Digges was excellent in the role. He certainly didn't have the domineering presence of Greenstreet (who did?) but he specialised in roles of quiet evil ("The Mayor of Hell", "Massacre"). I thought Dwight Frye was more than a match for Elisha Cook Jnr - he didn't have as much to do and he only uttered a few lines but he bought a vulnerability to his role. The person I thought let the team down was Bebe Daniels. Don't get me wrong, I really love Bebe in the silents and in some of her talkies ("Silver Dollar", "Counsellor at Law" (she matched John Barrymore in sincerity) and "42nd Street" (she played her role with a lot of feeling)). I just think Mary Astor played the role with more warmth and sincerity, so you really cared about what happened to her at the end. Bebe just didn't seem to have the emotional depth.

    The two people I really loved in this movie were Walter Long (so fantastic as the hardened criminal who takes an intense dislike to Laurel and Hardy in "Pardon Us") and Thelma Todd. There is another sexy scene in this movie where Iva bursts into Sam's apartment, sees Bebe and shouts "What is she doing in my dressing gown"!!! The way Bebe takes it off - like it is poison!!! Anyway Thelma Todd and Walter Long play Mr. and Mrs. Archer. Walter Long married to Thelma Todd - that is surely the stuff that dreams are made of - his dreams!!!

    Highly, Highly Recommended.
  • comment
    • Author: RUL
    Seeing this movie, as I just did for the first time on Turner Classic (which lists it as "Dangerous Female"), can only multiply your appreciation for the 1941 Bogart-Astor version. Ricardo Cortez must have been getting paid by the smirk. I hope he remembered his dentist and his Brylcreem salesman in his will; they made him the actor he was. The women are all good, but no better than that. Well, Una Merkel is a little better. More interesting are the "original" Joel Cairo and Mr. Gutman, who competently deliver many of the individual tics but almost nothing of the set-changing atmospherics of their successors in the roles, Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet. Humphrey Bogart and Mary Astor somehow transcended the essential seediness of their characters in the remake; here, Sam Spade and Ruth Wonderley(!) can't.

    This movie doesn't exactly stink; it lies there like a big slice of ham. Its chief value today is as a reminder that great movies like the '41 "Falcon" don't just happen. On the 1-to-10 scale I rate it a 4, mainly for the camera work and the supporting players.
  • comment
    • Author: Agamaginn
    I first saw this original pre-code 1931 version of The Maltese Falcon titled "Dangerous Female" on the big screen in 1994 & I was shocked & impressed by just how good it was & it gives the classic 1941 version a run for it's money. For it's an interesting historical curiosity. I can see why this version was very successful & well received in 1931 but I can also see why it was soon forgotten.

    Having read the novel by Dashiell Hammett detective Sam Spade was a ladies man but not to the extent to where Ricardo Cortez took him. Cortez went too far & was a bit excessive & extreme even for a pre-code movie. Spade was also a hard boiled cynical private eye with a code of ethics. Cortez did capture this to a certain point when he wasn't womanizing.

    Because of it's suggestive, sexual explicitness this version was not re-released when the strict censorship code was enforced in 1934 governing morality & decency. This original version deviates from the book considerably & only touched on the original story & the cast is not that memorable for the most part with the exception of Dwight Frye, we all know him from Dracula & Frankenstein.

    Ricardo Cortez, Otto Matiesen & Dudley Digges pales in comparison to their 1941 counterparts more stronger screen presence of Humphrey Bogart, Peter Lorre & Sydney Greenstreet in their respective roles as Sam Spade, Joel Cairo & Kasper Gutman the fatman. I will say that it's a toss up with Dwight Frye & Elisha Cook Jr. as Wilmer the gunsel. Both were equally good & right for the part.

    As for the females, Bebe Daniels, Thelma Todd & Una Merkel are very sexually seductive exciting women more so than Mary Astor, Gladys George & Lee Patrick respectively as Brigid Wonderly, Iva Archer & Spades secretary Effie. Even though the women in the 1941 version were less appealing, for some reason they were more memorable than the more sizzling hot women in the 1931 version. Although I don't think Mary Astor was a great Brigid, I think Bette Davis or Barbara Stanwyck would've been better.

    It was these factors in addition to the definitive indelible 1941 version that contributed to why this pre-code version was reduced to a dim memory. Did people even remember this version by 1941 ?? Of the 3 versions of The Maltese Falcon it was the John Huston directed film that was the most faithful & closest adaptation that stayed true to Dashiell Hammett's book.

    It was John Huston's direction giving the film a dark, cynical, gloomy & atmospheric quality that permeates through the entire story. And the dramatic use of lighting & shadows & the expressive camera-work of Arthur Edeson bringing us into the world of film noir. This is why the 1941 version became the enduring classic cinematic quintessential prototype private detective thriller. Something that the 1931 version lacks to some extent.

    But this original version should be seen & enjoyed in it's own right as a forerunner to the later classic & also as a historical reference point as to what these early talkies were like before 1934. I would like to see this version again & obtain a copy on DVD & watch it back to back with the '41 classic. If you're into pre-code cinema by all means see this original version.
  • comment
    • Author: Uscavel
    I was quite impressed with this. Ricardo Cortez plays Sam Spade and does it in a flip, confident style that counters Bogart's more sullen, dispirited presentation. The story is the same. The police have no time for Spade but they do respect him. When Archer, Sam's partner, is murdered, Sam doesn't bat an eye. The two seemed to hate each other and Sam has had dalliance with Mrs. Archer. Bebe Daniels (Ruth Wonderly) is willing to do anything and kill anyone to achieve riches. She double crosses anyone that comes along, including Sam. Casper Gutman and Joel Cairo are very well done, with some of the same idiosyncrasies as those in the future film. I was ready to be disappointed, but really found myself entranced with this film.
  • comment
    • Author: Tane
    'The Maltese Falcon', one of the few exceptions to the rule that movie remakes are generally poorer than their originals, is best known as the Bogart version released in 1941.

    However, in the previous decade, Warner Brothers had made two other versions, of which the 1931 film was the first. Instead of Humphrey Bogart, we have the smirking Ricardo Cortez (who gives a new edge to Sam which is both entertaining and dangerous), while Mary Astor gives way to Bebe Daniels, a big star in early talkies who makes an interesting foil for the vain detective.

    'The Maltese Falcon', 1931-style, runs slightly less time than its more well-known namesake, but is tightly plotted and benefits from crisp delivery, a bit of pre-Code naughtiness, and small roles from the likes of Dudley Digges and Thelma Todd. It is an efficient and entertaining thriller which would be much higher regarded had the Bogart version not been made.

    Still, it holds up well in comparison. Perhaps not a classic, but good enough to be enjoyed in its own right.
  • comment
    • Author: Ces
    DUE TO SOME other pressing tasks, of late we haven't been very attentive to doing our regular time at the reviewing desk. The just finished screening of this 1931 (original screen version) THE MALTESE FALCON has brought us just about directly to the old keyboard. While we saw many differences, the end result was that of great satisfaction.

    BEING DONE A full decade before the John Huston directed/written screenplay had, by virtue of its belonging to a new era of film, a very different mood, feel and appearance. Although there are so many of the typically Warner Brothers' elements in both, the earlier one bore a rather intimate relationship to the Silents; which had of course just recently "rode off into the sunset." Its Humphrey Bogart vehicle remake had the advantage of all of the elements of the highly developed and polished Warner product of the 1940's war years. In essence, it was the Warner Brothers movie being at the very zenith of their power.

    BEING THAT THIS production is one of the "pre-code" era, there is a lot of material that is, while not necessarily explicit, very highly implied. We are referring mainly to the sublet of S-E-X. We see ladies' man (now called a "womanizer" in today's vernacular) in several highly 'adult' situations, always in the company of females. The opening scene has Sam revealed to be in a 'private' conference with a briefly shown 'flapper'; who has to adjust her stockings before departing his office. Mr. Spade then tidies up his couch, having to pick up the multitude of throw pillows that are scattered about the floor.

    HID LATER MEETING with Miss Wonderly include their sharing his apartment for the night. Although any even partial nudity and simulated sex is never shown, there's no doubt in our minds. (The nudity and intercourse were about 40 years ahead in the Hollywood of the '70's) IN DEFENSE OF this "original" version of the FALCON, in many respects the plot seems to be somewhat clearer to we, the audience. This applies mainly to understanding the relationships between those contesting for possession of "the Black Bird."

    HAVING VIEWED THIS '31 version for the first time today, after years of familiarity with the latter, provided us with a sort of scrambling of our Time/Space continuum. The only previous similar experiences were in viewing some other previously made movies after the later, more familiar. They are: THE SPIRIT OF NOTER DAME (Universal, 1931), which in many ways laid the foundation for Warner Brothers KNUTE ROCKNE: ALL-American (1940); RIO BRAVO (Warners, 1959)remade as EL DORADO ()and especially ZERO HOUR (Paramount, 1957) which was fractured and remade into AIRPLANE (1980).

    ANY REVIEW OF this film must refer to the casting that was done. Of course we had Bogart in for Ricardo Cortez (Spade) and Bebe Daniels giving away to Mary Astor's Miss Wunderly. Others who were very different than the later cast members are: Walter Long/Jerome Cowan (Miles Archer), J. Farrell McDonald/Ward Bond (Det. Sgt. Tom Pohlhaus0, Una Merkel/Lee Patrick (Essie),Thelma Todd/Gladys George (Iva Archer).

    BUT FOR OUR money, the two roles that are so different in casting are that of Dudley Diggs to Sydney Greenstreet's Casper Gutman; as the mannerisms were similar, but where's the bulk, Diggs ? The other is Dwight Frye to Elisha Cook, Jr. as Wilmer. Dwight had a lot less to do and only a few lines. He was also the king of the creepy characters in the 1930's Universal horror epics. Elisha's characterization was able to fully develop that of a psychotic killer. (Oddly enough or maybe because of this fact, Wilmer's surname is given in the '31 version, but not in the latter. It is Cook!)

    WE GIVE THIS on many thumbs up and recommend it to any and all !
  • comment
    • Author: Villo
    Roy Del Ruth directed the original adaptation of the Dashiell Hammett novel in 1931, which starred Ricardo Cortez.

    In a nutshell, THE MALTESE FALCON told the story about a San Francisco private detective named Sam Spade, who finds himself drawn into a search for a valuable falcon statuette first created during the Crusades, while investigating three murders.

    The story began with a Miss Ruth Wonderly hiring Spade and his partner, Miles Archer, to find her missing sister and a man named Floyd Thursby. When Thursby and Archer end up murdered, Spade discovered that Miss Wonderly is one of three people searching for a statuette called the Maltese Falcon. A mortally wounded ship's captain delivered the statuette to Spade's office before dropping dead, making him the case's third murder victim. The entire case spiraled into a game of cat-and-mouse between Spade, Miss Wonderly, a wealthy fat Englishman named Caspar Gutman and an effeminate continental European named Dr. Joel Cairo. Spade also had to deal with the police, who are determined to pin the three deaths on him.

    In the end, this version turned out better than I had expected. However, the movie is not without its faults. There were times when I felt I was watching a filmed play (very common with early talking movies). But the film's main problem seemed to be its pacing. It seemed too slow for what was supposed to be a witty murder mystery. Especially during the first half hour. By the time Joel Cairo was introduced into the story, the pacing finally began to pick up. The dialogue provided by screenwriters Maude Fulton, Brown Holmes and an unaccredited Lucien Hubbard failed to improve over the course of the movie. Not only did the screenplay allow the dialogue to drag throughout the entire film, the latter was not that memorable.

    Considering that this is the only precode version of the film, it is not surprising that this version is considered the sexiest of the three filmed versions of the novel. Del Ruth, along with Fulton, Holmes and Hubbard, did an excellent job of conveying the womanizing aspect of Spade's character by revealing his affairs with Archer's wife Iva, his casual flirtation with his secretary Effie, and visual hints of his relationship with Ruth Wonderly like a small indent in the pillow next to the client's head, which hinted that Spade had spent the night with her. Other signs of precode sexuality included Spade bidding a female client good-bye at the beginning of the movie, a nude Miss Wonderly in a bathtub, and a hint of a homosexual relationship between Caspar Gutman and his young enforcer Wilmer Cook.

    This version lacked the sharp wit of the 1941 adaptation. Considering that I have never read the novel, the screenplay did allow me to completely understand the story in full detail for the first time, without leaving me in a slight haze of fog. I found nothing memorable about William Rees' photography or Robert M. Haas' art direction except in one scene. The scene in question featured an exterior setting, namely a street in San Francisco's Chinatown where Miles Archer's body was discovered. I suspect that this particular scene gave both Rees and Haas an opportunity to display their artistry beyond the movie's usual interior settings.

    There is also a solid cast here. Ricardo Cortez, led the cast as detective Sam Spade. Cortez gave a very sexy interpretation of Spade in his performance. His constant smirks and grins in the film's first ten to fifteen minutes seemed annoying. But in the end, Cortez grew on me. I can honestly say that not only did I find him very effective in portraying a sexy Sam Spade, he also managed to superbly capture the character's cynical humor, toughness and deep contempt toward the police.

    Bebe Daniels, another survivor from the silent era, portrayed Ruth Wonderly, and this role has to be considered as one of her best. She managed to give an excellent performance as the ladylike yet manipulative woman who drew Spade into the labyrinth search for the Maltese Falcon. Mind you, she lacked Mary Astor's throbbing voice and nervous manner. But that is merely a minor hitch. Daniels still managed to portray a very convincing elegant temptress.

    Irish-born Dudley Digges portrayed the wealthy and obsessive Caspar Gutman, who is not above murder, bribery and a score of other crimes to acquire the falcon statuette. Digges lacked the style to believably portray a man wealthy enough to conduct a twenty-year search for a valuable artifact. Instead, Digges reminded me of a corrupt minor official at a British post in the tropics. He seemed to lack talent and subtlety for infusing menace into his character. Whenever he tried to menacing, he only ended up giving a hammy performance. On the other hand, Otto Matieson gave a more believable performance as Dr. Joel Cairo, Gutman's Continental accomplice. Matieson portrayed Cairo as a no-nonsense and practical man who is careful with his money and with whom to trust it.

    Una Merkel gave a humorous performance as Spade's Girl Friday, Effie. Her Effie is not hesitant about expressing her attraction to Spade, yet at the same time, she seemed to find the detective's other amorous activities rather amusing. Todd seemed to be trying too hard as a scorned lover without any subtlety. At least Dwight Frye fared better as Gutman's young enforcer, Wilmer Cook. He did a solid job in conveying the portrait of a baby-faced killer.

    I'd suggest watching the 1931 version and the 1941 versions back to back, to get an idea of how Warner Brothers "grew up" during the 1930s. Remember they were just a poverty row studio mainly known for their Rin Tin Tin silent until The Jazz Singer made them rich.
  • comment
    • Author: Fearlessdweller
    Striving to make a clever headline, you may think I'm dismissing an inferior imitation of the Humphrey Bogart movie. Not so. This film can stand on its own; I just mean it's a truncated version of the later classic. It is a pre-code and is a little more daring than the '41 picture, and depicts Sam Spade as a ladies man. Bogart was scowling and all business, but here he is genial and smiling.

    Ricardo Cortez plays Spade but was not nearly the actor Bogart was. There are similarities between the two versions but are not exact copies of one another. This earlier one is easier to follow but the crucial role of the femme fatale suffers with Bebe Daniels in the part. She was no match for Mary Astor. Dudley Digges plays Casper Gutman almost as well as Sidney Greenstreet, who must have patterned his part after Digges's. But Greenstreet's was a more idiosyncratic portrayal and not nearly as eccentric. And Peter Lorre was a more fascinating Cairo, and, combined with Greenstreet, they made a more explosive team. Left out for obvious reasons was a scene in which Spade is looking for a missing 1,000 bill and makes Bebe Daniels strip (off-screen) to prove she didn't steal it. This is a scene from the book which was omitted in the later version.

    Most reviewers know the story, but it's always interesting to compare different versions of the same film. The later film is a well-known favorite to most of us, but there is a lot to recommend this earlier picture. If you get a chance, check it out. It's good but suffers by comparison.
  • comment
    • Author: Tamesya
    While the fun tough-talking dialog of the much more famous 1941 version isn't as prevalent here, there is much to admire in the forgotten original film which has a much more light-hearted atmosphere, slightly comic, but not as farcial (or off-putting) as the 1936 disastrous remake "Satan Met a Lady". The 1941 version follows closely to this, adding more detail to stretch out the running time somewhat, but never adding material which is unnecessary to that version's overall plot. The grinning Ricardo Cortez is playboy detective Sam Spade, seen in the very beginning saying goodbye to a female conquest (presumably his partner's wife), then flirts openly with his officious secretary (Una Merkel). In comes femme fatal Bebe Daniels, a bit younger looking than her replacement Mary Astor, but still quite deadly. (In fact, to escape confusion with the remake, the title was changed to "Dangerous Female" for television, but fortunately changed back with its original titles for the DVD release).

    Then, there are the other villains. Dudley Digges takes sleaziness to a new level in the future Sydney Greenstreet role of Casper Gutman. There is nothing to trust in this man; In fact, the character oozes with creepiness and at times, you can't watch him without thinking "eeew!" to yourself. The same can be said of the film's Joel Cairo, here played by Otto Matieson with a different effemininity style than Peter Lorre's. He seems like the type of creep that would shoot or stab someone, then comb and re-style their hair so at least they'd be found properly coiffed rather than a corpse with hair out of place. And who better in the early 30's to play the dumb Wilmer than Dwight Frye, the fly-eating psycho from "Dracula"? So the detail for character is dead on here, if not a bit frightening.

    As a pre-code film, this outdoes its superior remake, perfect as a film, yet missing the fun of the innuendos of this version. Once it was re-vamped in the 1940's, it took on a different quality which makes the same story seem quite different. So feel free to watch both versions back to back (I suggest skipping "Satan Met a Lady" other than to see a young Bette Davis in a film she detested) because they are different enough even with all of their similarities to be judged on completely different merits.
  • Complete credited cast:
    Bebe Daniels Bebe Daniels - Ruth Wonderly
    Ricardo Cortez Ricardo Cortez - Sam Spade
    Dudley Digges Dudley Digges - Casper Gutman
    Una Merkel Una Merkel - Effie Perine
    Robert Elliott Robert Elliott - Detective Lt. Dundy
    Thelma Todd Thelma Todd - Iva Archer
    Otto Matieson Otto Matieson - Dr. Joel Cairo
    Walter Long Walter Long - Miles Archer
    Dwight Frye Dwight Frye - Wilmer Cook
    J. Farrell MacDonald J. Farrell MacDonald - Det. Sgt. Tom Polhouse
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