I just got through watching the 1931 Maltese Falcon that I referred to yesteray. (Yes it is the middle of the day – I’m working from home and decided to take a break. I am so working!) It’s OK, but is clearly not the film the 1941 movie is. The acting is not as strong and they sacrificed some key story elements to make it easier to follow. I like Bebe Daniels as Brigid O’Shaunasee (anyone know how that’s really spelled?) even though they don’t call her that in the movie. But she has a more sultry and deceptive air than Marie Astor which I found a little more believable.
The pre-code version, while still not explicit by any means, certainly is less subtle about sex than in 1941. Brigid is found asleep in Sam’s bed at one point, in his bathtub in another, gets naked at yet another (though off screen), and they pretty much say outright that Joel Cairo is gay. And yet, I find the subtlty of the 1941 version more appealing. It hints at these facts, but is less obvious, and somehow I find that much more interesting.
And unfortunately Ricardo Cortez, as Sam Spade, just isn’t Humphrey Bogart. Bogie is so clearly the better actor and his Sam seems so much deeper. The final scene just can’t compare; Bogie seems really anguished yet resolute, while Cortez just seems confused.
The other very interesting thing about these two movies is how much dialogue they share. It’s quite clear that they rely heavily on Hammett’s own written dialogue in the novel. I must say it’s very strange to hear ‘You will kindly clasp your hands together at the back of your neck’ (I think I’ve got that right) from anyone other than Peter Lorre, and the Fat Man too has very similar expressions. Syndney Greenstreet does a much better job with them and is much more convincing. (He’s also fatter!)
So the 1941 version is still the better representation of Hammett’s novel, and is still clearly the one to watch. Next on the list is the 1936 Satan Met a Lady (same story, different title) but I don’t have a lot of hope for it, even if it does have Bette Davis in it.