RARA-AVIS: 1931 Falcon

From: Moorich2@aol.com
Date: 12 Dec 2002

Anyone catch the replay of the first version of "The Maltese Falcon" on Turner Classic Movies? I stupidly was watching the downer "Sid and Nancy" and missed the first half before remembering the Falcon was on.

There were certainly many lines that were replayed in the 1941 John Houston remake. I imagine most of those originated with the novel but it's been too many years for me to say for sure. It's time I reread that one as well as some of the Chandler novels to refresh myself.

Dudley Digges made a good Gutman although I still prefer Greenstreet. I liked Dwight Frye's Wilmer. What a year 1931 was for old "Once Bitten" as it included nifty roles in "Dracula" and "Frankenstein" as well as Wilmer. As his authorized biography DWIGHT FRYE'S LAST LAUGH notes, the pre-production code days of 1931 allowed the homosexual relationship between Gutman and Wilmer to be more explicit. Richard Cortez as Spade also conducted a strip search of Bebe Daniels as Wonderly that even though most of it was off-stage would never have passed the censors in 1941. Cortez's Spade was fascinating in that his reading of familiar lines was so different from Bogart's. The comparison increases my respect for Bogart's performance and Houston's direction.

I rather enjoyed seeing the first adaptation although it pales beside Houston's. The worst thing about the 1931 version is the awful anti-climatic last scene in the prison. I think that may be the most anti-climatic scene in the history of motion pictures.

Richard Moore

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