Consider 1941 the Big Bang of modern cinema. While Orson Welles receives credit for redefining visual storytelling in Citizen Kane, John Huston’s Maltese Falcon was equally monumental. Boldly manipulating light and shadow, utilizing drastic camera angles, and introducing Bogart’s Sam Spade, the first-time director’s detective classic defines film noir.
Bogart’s iconic performance as an emotionally detached PI thrust into the murderous pursuit of an ancient relic was equally revolutionary, especially compared with Warner Bros.’ earlier adaptations of Dashiell Hammett’s pulp classic (both are included in this compendious three-disc set): Ricardo Cortez played Spade as a preening horndog in the ’31 original; Warren William’s detective is a flamboyant heel in 1936’s dowdy Satan Met a Lady with Bette Davis. Bogart looked nothing like the tall, wolfish, fair-haired devil Hammett envisioned, but his talents brilliantly mirrored the author’s, who ”[wrote] speech the way it was actually spoken,” says writer Eddie Muller in a bonus doc. The studio still had doubts after seeing dailies. ”My criticism is principally with Bogart, who has adopted a leisurely suave form of delivery,” Hal Wallis told Huston. ”I don’t think we can stand all this through the picture.” It was a brave experiment in acting, a bridge from the peppy patter of Cary Grant to the subtle sneers of Marlon Brando. Bogart made selfish and unredeemable likable, and the antihero was born.