The Maltese Falcon (1941)

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Released 4-Sep-2000

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Thriller Theatrical Trailer
Featurette-Becoming Attractions-Trailers Of Humphrey Bogart
Main Menu Audio
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1941
Running Time 96:25
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (27:38) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By John Huston
Studio
Distributor

Warner Home Video
Starring Humphrey Bogart
Mary Astor
Gladys George
Peter Lorre
Barton MacLane
Lee Patrick
Sydney Greenstreet
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $29.95 Music Adolph Deutsch


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
French
Italian
Dutch
Arabic
Spanish
Portuguese
German
Romanian
Bulgarian
English for the Hearing Impaired
Italian for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    And so I finally get to review what some may consider the greatest film of all time, arguably the piece de resistance of the Warners 4th September 2000 release list and certainly a film that is an all-time classic. The Maltese Falcon has been placed highly in the American Film Institute list of the 100 Greatest American Films. The Maltese Falcon rests at number 35 in the Internet Movie Database Top 250. The Maltese Falcon is arguably one of the very first - if not indeed the very first - film noir to grace the silver screen. The Maltese Falcon is one of those seminal films that even if you have never seen it, you will certainly have heard a lot about it. And what they have said about it is almost certainly true. And yet what makes this such a great film? A great story, one of the most unbelievable directorial debuts of all time and Humphrey Bogart just reaching the height of his powers. This is a gripping film that has enough twists and turns to satisfy even the most dedicated Alfred Hitchcock fan, and this is certainly one of those rare occasions when an American director managed to assemble something that could almost pass muster as part of the oeuvre of the great Hitchcock.

    Based upon the novel by Dashiell Hammett, you can toss as many superlatives at this one as you can muster. I will not bother to add too many more as plenty of highly qualified people before me have added more than I can possibly add about this film. Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) is a private detective given the task of following a person known as Thursby by Brigid O'Shaughnessy (Mary Astor). This little job has dire consequences for Sam's partner Miles Archer and it starts to become obvious that all is not as it seems here. Slowly Sam ekes the story about a fabled treasure called The Maltese Falcon out of a conniving Brigid, which becomes the focal point of the story. It seems that this fabled treasure is much in demand and so Sam receives a visit from the slightly mysterious Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre) who just so happens to work for a collector known as Kasper Gutman (Sydney Greenstreet) who has spent a long time trying to get his hands on the treasure. Sam, though, has his own problems as he is the prime suspect in the murder of his partner, as well as that of Thursby. So whilst trying to keep the police at bay, Sam engages in something of a tightrope walk in order to gain possession of the treasure and sell it to Gutman for a fair price.

    At just about every level, The Maltese Falcon offers up something memorable. One of Bogey's first really big roles, he is of course the focus of the entire film. And why not? In his own way, Humphrey Bogart was one of the most charismatic actors to ever grace the screen and there is no doubt as to why, when you see the way he carries this picture. But it is by no means all Bogey and the wonderful Peter Lorre makes yet another of his seemingly endless appearances in films of the 1930s and 1940s. This was the acting debut for Sydney Greenstreet who went on to make many films with Bogey, and he is quite memorable as the English collector determined to get The Maltese Falcon. The only real disappointment here to me is Mary Astor, as there simply did not seem to be any real chemistry between she and Bogey. But, perhaps my judgement is being clouded by memories of the truly great pairing that was yet to come. The cast must have satisfied the studio as they were all reassembled the following year for Across The Pacific, which was promoted as a sort of follow-up to The Maltese Falcon, even though it had nothing to do with the film. It really is quite amazing that this was the directorial debut for John Huston, who also wrote the screenplay, as a more memorable film first up would be hard to imagine. It was the first of a number of collaborations between he and Bogey, the most famous of which would be The African Queen from 1951 for which Bogey finally gained an Oscar.

    One of the truly great classic films of all time, this commands inclusion in any reasonably comprehensive film collection. Perhaps not quite in the league of Casablanca but certainly as worthy an inclusion as that film in any Top 100.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    It is a pity that Warners have not given this classic film a full restoration job prior to committing it to digital immortality. That is not to say that this is a dud transfer in any way, but rather that the stature of the film surely demanded a little bit more respect in the transfer stakes.

    The transfer is presented in its original Full Frame format, and is of course not 16x9 enhanced.

    Part of the mild disappointment with the transfer, no doubt due to the lack of a full restoration, is the fact that there are some short sequences of the film which are rather damaged and this effects the overall sharpness and appearance of the transfer. A few sequences really are a little too diffuse to ignore. Of course, this is not a transfer problem but rather a source material problem. Detail is quite decent throughout, although obviously not in the league of a more modern film. Shadow detail at times is a little ordinary, but overall I was reasonably happy with this aspect of the transfer, especially considering that so much of the film takes place at night. Clarity at times leaves something to be desired and there are certainly a number of sequences that give the distinct air of having been shot through dirty lenses. There was something of a problem too with grain throughout the transfer, with the odd hint of low level noise thrown in for good measure. The overall transfer is good, but I really feel that it could have been done a whole lot better if some real restoration work had been done on the film. I really feel that this is an opportunity lost by Warners.

    This is not the most stunning black and white film that you are ever going to see, and really the overall lack of any real depth to the black and white tones is just a little tiring for the film. It never really descends in anything like murky grey tones, but the constant feel of the film is very grey. The lack of depth to the black and white tones is at least very consistent and we are thankfully spared the variability of "pulsating" black and white that can be an issue of films of this age. Whilst I would have perhaps expected a little better here, this is less of a disappointment than the lack of a full restoration.

    There did not appear to be any significant MPEG artefacts in the transfer, although there were some slightly noticeable instances of telecine wobble here and there. Nothing too extreme though, just the sort of minor issue that I do expect from films of the era. There did not appear to be any serious problems with film-to-video artefacts in the transfer, although there were a couple of instances where aliasing was just a little noticeable: the usual suspects of sharp edges are the culprits. The film is however riddled with film artefacts, comprising all sorts of dirt marks, scratches, blemishes and so on. Some are rather too noticeable to ignore, but perhaps no worse than we should rightfully expect for an unrestored film of this age.

    This is an RSDL formatted DVD with the layer change coming very early at 27:38. This is a very well-handled layer change, coming in a scene change and therefore completely non-disruptive to the film.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    There are just two audio tracks on the DVD, being an English Dolby Digital 1.0 mono soundtrack and an Italian Dolby Digital 1.0 mono soundtrack. I will give you a tip: you do not want to watch The Maltese Falcon in dubbed Italian!

    Dialogue is generally clear and easy to understand throughout and there did not appear to be any problems with audio sync in the transfer.

    The musical score comes from Adolph Deutsch, and whilst it is not the greatest thing ever written, it is nonetheless a reasonably complementary soundtrack that evokes all the right responses in a generally clichéd way.

    This is quite a decent monaural soundtrack and does a fine job. There is little to really worry about here as far as problems are concerned. There are no major flaws as far as distortion or congestion are concerned, and this is a quite clean sounding mono sound that is not in any way raw. Obviously we are not talking any sort of surround channel use or bass channel use at all. The soundtrack has been transferred at a decent level without any false boosting of aspects of the sound for emphasis' sake, with the result that this is a very natural-sounding mono soundtrack that conveys the feeling of the film pretty well indeed. It is pleasing to note that there has been no major remastering here so that the feeling of the film remains very much as I suspect it did on initial release all those years ago.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    Not too bad an effort for a film of this age, although paling into comparison with the package that accompanies The Wizard Of Oz.

Menu

    Somewhat perversely for a black and white film, we are here blessed with a colour menu! Whilst it is a little incongruous, it is nonetheless nicely themed and comes with some relatively minor audio enhancement. Note that in common with many Warners releases, the menu capture on the rear cover is not of the Region 4 release but rather (presumably) of the Region 1 release.

Featurette - Becoming Attractions: The Trailers Of Humphrey Bogart (44:46)

    This is something just a little unusual, and as a result is a quite fascinating look at the development of the career of the great Humphrey Bogart as seen through the eyes of the people who worked at the trailer department of Warner Bros. This is broadly speaking a collection of twelve trailers for various Bogey films from 1936 through 1948. The entire featurette is presented Full Frame and with Dolby Digital 1.0 sound. The trailers themselves are obviously in black and white whilst the balance of the program is in a nicely muted colour. The trailers are of quite decent quality overall, although they do suffer somewhat from film artefacts. For the fans, the trailers on offer are:     A quite fascinating look at a selected filmography of Humphrey Bogart and how the advertising changed the bigger the star he became.

Theatrical Trailer (2:39)

    This is a repeat of the trailer included in the featurette, presented in the same Full Frame format with Dolby Digital 1.0 sound and replete with film artefacts.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    As far as can be determined, this is pretty much identical to the Region 1 version - the latter having an additional trailer for Satan Met A Lady (a Bette Davis film) - and so there is little to persuade me to favour the Region 1 release. I would say call it even.

Summary

    The Maltese Falcon is one of the all-time classic films, and I doubt that it has looked this good in years. However, the lack of any real restoration work on the master is a little concerning, as a number of noticeable flaws certainly detract a little from the overall package. The film certainly commands a full restoration job, and I sincerely hope that we will get to see a fully restored effort in the near future. However, until then enjoy the great Humphrey Bogart in one of his very best films. A classic that should be added to every collection, for all its relatively minor technical faults.

    A good video transfer.

    A good audio transfer.

    A good extras package.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Sunday, September 17, 2000
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-515, using RGB output
DisplaySony Trinitron Wega (80cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationYamaha RXV-795
SpeakersEnergy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL

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