Case Number 19881: Small Claims Court


Warner Bros. // 1941 // 101 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Roman Martel (Retired) // October 11th, 2010

The Charge

"It's the stuff dreams are made of."

The Case

Those of you "in the know" are wondering one thing: is it worth picking up this fine picture on Blu-ray? I'm gonna get to that, but first let me talk to all the greenhorns and newbies who've never seen The Maltese Falcon.

What you've got here is a real classic; a movie that influenced so many others and started more than a few careers. It's got a great story, a swell cast, and masterful direction. No one will argue those facts. But here's the truth bub, this movie isn't a relic, its just a darn good picture, no matter how you slice it. It's as entertaining now as it was back in 1941, and you can't say that about all films labeled as classics.

The story is simple. Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre) is your typical hard boiled detective. This dame comes in with a case, and Spade's partner ends up on the bad end of a pistol. The dame comes back to Spade, claiming that she's Brigid O'Shaughnessy (Mary Astor, Meet Me in St. Louis) and that she's in trouble because of a bird. You see this statue known as the Maltese Falcon is worth millions and a whole band of crooks is after it. Spade says he'll help, but is he only out for himself, or has he fallen for Brigid? And what about the cunning Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre, M) and the urbane but deadly Gutman (Sydney Greenstreet, Casablanca)? Are they going to give up the Falcon without a little maneuvering or violence?

The Maltese Falcon is a wonderful melding of all its parts. The acting is top notch, with each character delivering lines that come almost verbatim out of Dashiell Hammett's book. Beyond that, though, they add even more depth to their roles, making each of the characters real. The direction is amazing, with great use of light and shadow as well as camera angles. A few bits of choppy editing keep it from being perfect, but it also keeps the running time lean and mean. The score is a bit over-the-top for our modern ears, but it works well enough. What keeps you coming back are the performances and the twisting story. None of these characters can be trusted and, in the end, anything can happen.

Warner Bros. has provided us with a swell image. Presented in its original 1.37:1 aspect ratio, the 1080p high-definition transfer looks great; cleaned up to emphasizes the shadows and light. Never before had I noticed the firelight playing on Sam's face during his conversation in Brigid's room. The DTS-HD 1.0 Master Audio track is nice and clear, with one slight exception: during the scene where Sam and Gutman talk, Gutman mumbles a few things under his breath I found difficult to catch this time around. I suspect this had something to do with the source audio.

The bonus features are a mix of items from previous DVD releases. They include a commentary track by film historian Eric Lax, a featurette about the film, and one on Bogart's evolution as an actor. This featurette uses the movie trailers from his films to show you how Warner Bros. molded their up-and-coming actor into a full fledged star. There's also a bizarre little blooper reel from films made in 1941, and a makeup test. The Maltese Falcon also features Warner Home Video's "Night at the Movies" option, which provides a series of short films and cartoons released in the same year. This neat time capsule recreates the movie-going experience of old. Finally, we're offered three radio versions of the story, including one with Edward G. Robinson in the cast.

Here's the deal, folks. If you don't already own a copy of The Maltese Falcon and you love classic noir movies, this Blu-ray is the version to get. If you have a previous DVD release, the decision to upgrade is a bit tougher. Warner Bros. three-disc DVD set of the film included two older versions of the same story, which aren't available here, although I imagine the Blu-ray is using that same transfer. On technical merits alone, the high-def treatment doesn't make that big of a difference.

The Verdict

Even with all the shady characters, this one's not guilty.

Review content copyright © 2010 Roman Martel; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Judgment: 95

Perp Profile
Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
* Full Frame (1080p)

Audio Formats:
* DTS HD 1.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (German)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Portuguese)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Spanish)

* English (SDH)
* Danish
* French
* German
* Greek
* Norwegian
* Portuguese
* Spanish
* Swedish

Running Time: 101 Minutes
Release Year: 1941
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks
* Night at the Movies
* Commentary
* Featurettes
* Outtakes
* Radio Plays

* IMDb