The Beloit International film Festival is primarily focused on the creative work of new and emerging independent filmmakers, but there is one brief moment at the end of BIFF where a great classic film is honored with a big screen presentation. This year’s First National Bank Classic Film is one of the greatest works in the film noir genre, The Maltese Falcon. The 1941 film, directed by John Houston, stars some of the greatest names ever to flash across the silver screen.
In this noir classic, detective Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) gets more than he bargained for when he takes a case brought to him by a beautiful but secretive woman (Mary Astor). As soon as Miss Wonderly shows up, trouble follows as Sam’s partner is murdered and Sam is accosted by a man (Peter Lorre) demanding he locate a valuable statuette. Sam, entangled in a dangerous web of crime and intrigue, soon realizes he must find the one thing they all seem to want: the bejeweled Maltese falcon.
(1) The movie defined Humphrey Bogart’s performances for the rest of his life; his hard-boiled Sam Spade rescued him from a decade of middling roles in B gangster movies and positioned him for “Casablanca,” “Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” “The African Queen” and his other classics.
(2) It was the first film directed by John Huston, who for more than 40 years would be a prolific maker of movies that were muscular, stylish and daring.
(3) It contained the first screen appearance of Sydney Greenstreet, who went on, in “Casablanca” and many other films, to become one of the most striking character actors in movie history.
(4) It was the first pairing of Greenstreet and Peter Lorre, and so well did they work together that they made nine other movies, including “Casablanca” in 1942 and “The Mask of Dimitrios” (1944), in which they were not supporting actors but actually the stars.
(5) And some film histories consider “The Maltese Falcon” the first film noir. It put down the foundations for that native American genre of mean streets, knife-edged heroes, dark shadows and tough dames.