The Maltese Falcon
(Warner Bros., 1941)
Premiering 73 years ago today, one of the greatest motion pictures ever made is our pick. Made with a third choice middle-aged tough guy little regarded for leading roles, directed by a novice, featuring a cast with notable cinematic greenhorns, it was knocked out on time on a budget of an entire $375,000 dollars, barely two months before America entered the Second World War. It took Humphrey Bogart from cinematic thug to leading man, showcasing one of the most talented actors of cinema of all time, made John Huston the most in-demand director ever after one film, and garnered Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay for Huston, and Best Supporting Actor for Sydney Greenstreet, a veteran stage character actor appearing for the first time on film in this one. In fact, his very first scene was one long, unblinking camera take without a cut where he meets Sam Spade and drugs him. Huston was very self-conscious about doing a good job on his first movie, so he meticulously planned every line, every scene, and every shot. The movie was shot mostly in correct time sequence (a notable rarity), and completed early, the production moving with a deliberate precision, precisely as the film does. Almost nothing shot was cut from the final version. This level of craftsmanship produced the touchstone of all film noir, and left us one of the most classic films of all those ever made. Truly the stuff dreams are made of.