The Maltese Falcon

Una Merkel and Ricardo Cortez in The Maltese Falcon (dir. Roy Del Ruth, 1931).

You'd have to be nuts to prefer this first cinematic version of The Maltese Falcon over the 1941 John Huston version with Bogart and Astor, but in its own way it conveys some of Hammett's tone even more successfully. Part of this is because the film code hadn't kicked in yet, and the sleaze level is accordingly high. The hardest part to accept is Ricardo Cortez's Sam Spade, who grins like a baboon all the time for no apparent reason. Other than that, he's pretty good. The whole cast dives into the material with gusto--especially fun to watch are Una Merkel as Spade's secretary Effie, Dwight Frye as the sociopathic boy toy Wilma Cook, and Otto Matieson as Dr. Cairo.

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