#97 D.O.A.

Watched: April 17 2017

Director: Rudolph Maté

Starring: Edmond O’Brien, Pamela Britton, Luther Adler

Year: 1950

Runtime: 1h 23min

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Frank Bigelow (O’Brien) has a problem. He has been murdered. However, he is still alive, waiting for the poison in his system to do its job. As any sane man would, he takes it upon himself to investigate his own murder, which leads him into a world of conspiracies, ruthless men and, of course, Dames.

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Dames, shady businessmen and psycho henchmen are a must in Noir films. As are decorative lampshades, as pictured in the background.

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As he starts to uncover the events leading up to the murder, he becomes gradually more desperate as his expiration date is fast approaching. For an accountant he’s a pretty good investigator and he soon starts to find connections between his own untimely death and the apparent suicide of another man.

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As in all great films, sciency looking men with beakers of strange fluid also make an appearance.

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D.O.A. is another suspenseful Noir thriller told in flashbacks, complete with leggy blondes (our hero’s favourites), psychopathic henchmen and shootouts. And a nice girl, Paula (Britton), waiting at home not being told a thing about her boyfriend’s impending doom. Men…

Our favourite scene was a musical one – Bigelow goes to “The Fisherman”, a jive bar with amazing live music and “jive heads” being enlightened by the musical frenzy.

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We too felt the frenzy. Amazing guys!

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It’s interesting to watch a man when he has (almost) nothing left to lose. Bigelow, an accountant in “real life” seems to become more alive in his last 48 hour of life than he has been up until this point, and he also gets his priorities straight regarding his girl.

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No. The other one.

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Very tense, very thrilling, and very athmospheric, D.O.A. is definitely worth the watch. Excellent concept and an abundance of dames only add to the experience, and we recommend it to anyone interested in Film Noir. And/or decorative lampshades.

What we learned: Not everyone has the privilege of reporting or investigating their own murder. Also, ’50s dresses are the best dresses.

Next time: Gun Crazy (1950)

#95 White Heat

Watched: April 02 2017

Director: Raoul Walsh

Starring: James Cagney, Virginia Mayo, Edmond O’Brien, Margaret Wycherly

Year: 1949

Runtime: 1h 54min

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After ten years, and 48 entries, James Cagney is back, and we’re thrilled. Cody Jarrett (Cagney) leads a gang of hoodlums with the help of his Ma (Wycherly) with whom he has a relationship worthy of a Freudian study. After several deaths during a train robbery perpetrated by him and his gang, Cody decides to take the rap for another, less violent crime committed at the same time to avoid a life and/or death sentence.

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He seems sadder about leaving his Ma for two years than about leaving his hot wife. See “Freud” above.

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Meanwhile, the man in charge of investigating the train robbery decides to put one of his men, Hank (O’Brien), undercover in Cody’s prison cell to get to the bottom of the case since he knows it was Cody’s doing. Hank’s task is to gain Cody’s trust and get a confession. Or, as it turns out, join him in a prison break and become his right hand man after unfortunate events and treacherous gang members throw Cody’s world off balance.

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“It’s guy love between two guuuuys”

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White Heat is an action-packed noir-thriller-prison break-heist-crime-gangster-film with all the elements we still see in the genre(s). The Cagney Charisma makes you sort of root for him a bit no matter how amoral and unscrupulous his character may be, although in this case it could be partly because the people with which he surrounds himself are pretty much as bad as he is.

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Examples include, but are not limited to, his beautiful but duplicitous wife Verna (Mayo)

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Cagney’s undeniable charm aside, we found ourselves rooting more and more for Hank as the story progressed, and we were really impressed with the often sophisticated investigative and forensic tools employed by the police in this film – they felt very modern to us. We also kind of loved Ma Jarrett although, like her son, she’s a bit of a manipulative sociopath.

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Cody is deliciously insane though, so Ma may have been a stabilizing influence in his life

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It’s a dramatic film with a dramatic score. The storyline is one which would probably have been stretched into an entire season of a TV show nowadays, so with a run time of under two hours, it never gets dull. Very good indeed, and we loved being back in the company of James Cagney.

What we learned: We might all profit from a closer study of classic literature.

Next time: All About Eve (1950)

#86 Rope

Watched: January 30 2017

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Starring: James Stewart, John Dall, Farley Granger, Douglas Dick, Joan Chandler, Edith Evanson, Cedric Hardwicke,

Year: 1948

Runtime: 1h 20min

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We continue our journey through film history with this classic Hitchcock thriller, filmed in glorious technicolor. Brandon (Dall) and Philip (Granger), old school friends, decide to kill a third friend and throw a dinner party for his family with the body hidden in the room. This is what an Ivy League education will do to your sense of morality, apparently.

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Who needs morals when you have unlimited access to alcohol and this penthouse view?

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They also invite their old housemaster (whatever that is. Some sort of teacher?) Rupert (Stewart), who Brandon idolizes (and quite possibly is in love with on some level). The idea behind the party is to stroke their egos (particularly Brandon’s) by convincing themselves they have committed the perfect murder. For Brandon the party is exhilarating, while for Philip it’s excruciating.

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One of these men have less of a conscience than the others…

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As the (very tense) party progresses, we learn that the murderous philosophies so taken to heart by Brandon originate in Rupert’s fascination with Nietzsche and similar thinkers. They both think that there are differences between people and that some have more right to live than others. In fact, they go so far as to claim that it is the superior people’s right to take the lives of others. For Rupert these are simply thought experiments – not anything to be put into action. However, Brandon takes everything his hero says quite literally and drags his rather more weak-willed friend down with him.

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Guess which one is the dominant one! Hint: it’s not the one doing the actual killing…

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Rope is tense and exciting – a sitting room thriller with great long shots and a truly chilling character in Brandon (although, to be honest, there are many movie murderers who surpass him in creepiness). The long shots help build the tension quite well – especially when Mrs Wilson is tidying the chest containing the body after dinner. Philip gradually melts down until his Tell-Tale Heart-moment which reveals Rupert’s true feelings about the philosophies he spouts.

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Turns out, Rupert has some opinions about the difference between theory and practice.

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We love Rope – it’s a classic we’ve watched several times before, and we thoroughly recommend it to anyone who loves a good suspenseful melodrama. And a good murder. Which we do. There are also clear parallels to the real case of Leopold and Loeb, but we find fictional murders infinitely more satisfying than real life as we’re not total psychopaths…

Extra fun fact for you: “Farley” (as in actor Farley Granger) pretty much means “dangerous” in Norwegian. So, from a purely Norwegian linguistic point of view, he should have been the one to play Brandon. For some reason, Hitchcock did not take this into consideration when casting the film.

What we learned: Thinking oneself superior is a dangerous thing.

Next time: The Fallen Idol (1948)

#83 Out of the Past

Watched: February 9 2017

Director: Jacques Tourneur

Starring: Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer, Kirk Douglas, Virginia Huston, Paul Valentine

Year: 1947

Runtime: 1h 37min

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Jacques Tourneur goes down a different route than in Cat People and I Walked with a Zombie with this film noir, but it still works.

Jeff Bailey (Mitchum) runs a gas station in a small California town, is moderately successful at it (he has at least one employee) and is dating a sweet girl, Ann (Huston). However, he has a past and there are those who won’t let him forget it. One day, Joe (Valentine) saunters into town to drag Jeff back into the world he left behind – a world of criminals and Private Dicks. And, of course, Dames.

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As we have established before, there are good girls (pictured above) and then there are Dames

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Jeff spills the beans to his girlfriend and tells her all about a romance he had back in his private detective days with a certified Dame, Kathie Moffat (Greer). He was hired by her ex boyfriend/stalker/victim Whit Sterling (Douglas) to track her down after she had shot him and run away with $40 000 of his hard earned and totally legitimate money. Jeff follows Kathie’s trail to Acapulco and strikes up a conversation with her, which turns into a whirlwind romance. He lies to Whit and takes Kathie with him to San Francisco to start a new life. Which doesn’t exactly go as planned.

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Turns out you can take the Dame away from Danger but you cannot take Danger away from the Dame

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This could have been the end of the story, but Joe’s appearance means Jeff’s past is about to catch up with him. Kathie has gone back to Whit and Jeff has no choice but to do one last job for him. A job which includes murder, frame-ups, tax evasion and even more double-crossing dames.

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As well as Kirk Douglas

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As we mentioned, this is quite the departure from the previous Tourneurs on the list, but there’s still something distinctly Tourneur about it. We’re just not film scholarly enough to point out exactly what that is… Suffice to say, we enjoyed Out of the Past (almost) as much as his earlier ventures into horror (“almost” because horror is our lifeblood). It is exciting and fun with the most duplicitous of Dames, but there’s also love and romance, heartbreak and sorrow. Extremely enjoyable!

What we learned: Drinks in Acapulco are too cheap. They keep leaving half empty (half full?) glasses in bars!

Next time: Bicycle Thieves (1948)

#82 Odd Man Out

Watched: February 1 2017

Director: Carol Reed

Starring: James Mason, Kathleen Ryan, Robert Newton, Robert Beatty, F.J. McCormick, W.G. Fay, William Hartnell

Year: 1947

Runtime: 1h 56min

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In an unnamed Northern Irish city (our money’s on Belfast), Johnny McQueen (Mason), recently escaped from prison and hidden ever since, is planning a robbery/heist with his cohorts to raise funds for their (also unnamed) organisation. Despite not having been outside for years, Johnny is set on carrying out the plan himself, even when one of his mates offers to go in his place. However, during the heist, he suffers some sort of existential crisis (or perhaps agoraphobia) and things go wrong. Johnny shoots a man and is himself injured, and has to go on the lam.

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Is this some Omenesque foreshadowing? Stay tuned to find out!

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The now injured Johnny first hides in an air raid shelter and after Dennis (Beatty) helps him escape his hiding place he roams the city looking for safety and help with his injuries, meeting all sorts of interesting and colourful characters along the way.

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He also inexplicably poses for portraits

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With the authorities hot on his heels, the people he meets are sympathetic but afraid to help. Most of them give him a drink and send him on his way, scared to get involved but not willing to turn him in and collect the reward. Meanwhile, his girlfriend Kathleen (Ryan) is also looking for him and enlists the help of Father Tom (Fay) to save her love.

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She’s the light at the end of his tunnel. Bliss!

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As the backdrop of all this drama, we see the local kids hero worshipping and celebrating him, in many ways turning him into some sort of Messiah figure. Unfortunately, we all know what happened to Jesus, so this is not necessarily a good sign. Johnny spirals, deteriorating both physically and mentally, and he has to try to come to terms with what he has done and what will happen.

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The snow keeps falling heavier and heavier which, again, we find somewhat ominous

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Odd Man Out is a lot more slowly paced than the other Noirs we’ve watched lately, which was a nice departure. We loved the performances, the beautiful sets (the ravages of “conflict” are evident in the decrepit buildings), the lighting, the score, and particularly the visions in the beer foam and the moving portraits. It’s a long and slow watch, so you have to be in the right mood, but it is definitely worth it.

 

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Pro tip: once you start seeing this in your spilled beer, it’s time to go home

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What we learned: NO jitterbugging!

Next time: Dance, Girl, Dance (1940)

#80 Brighton Rock

Watched: January 29 2017

Director: John Boulting

Starring: Richard Attenborough, Hermione Baddeley, William Hartnell, Carol Marsh, Wylie Watson

Year: 1947

Runtime: 1h 32min

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Brighton. A cesspool of crime, run by gangsters and desperation. On top of the ladder following the death of old kingpin Kite: Pinkie Brown (Attenborough), a young but ruthless man. As newly appointed leader it is his duty to avenge the death of his former boss, and he blames reporter Fred Hale. So he disposes of him.

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Fred wasn’t the only victim. Those glasses had once offended his mother so were also promptly disposed of.

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While there are no witnesses to the actual disposing (which by the way was an excellent scene), Ida Arnold (Baddeley) who had spent most of the day with Fred, gets suspicious and starts her own investigation. At the same time, Pinkie’s associate Spicer (Watson) royally messes up while trying to establish an alibi for the gangsters, and accidentally leaves behind a potential witness – 17 year old waitress Rose (Marsh).

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Luckily, Rose is a mature, intelligent woman, not easily manipulated or an easy victim, and she brings the gangsters down. Just kidding!

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To stop Rose talking, Pinkie starts dating her, and while he may very well be the worst, broodiest date ever, she is an inexperienced, naïve Catholic girl and she falls for him. Silly child.

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She even tends to his battle wounds, that sweet summer child

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Their (insanely wrong) romance blossoms, but that is about the only thing going right in Pinkie’s life. Ida continues her investigation and stumbles across Rose who accidentally reveals a crucial piece of information. Meanwhile, Pinkie’s business is under threat from Colleoni, a rival “businessman,” which puts another cog in his wheels.

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Later, his rival also puts a scar on his face and fear in his eyes

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As his story progresses, Pinkie gets more desperate and more violent and it all builds towards an inevitably bleak ending, particularly as he introduces some Romeo and Juliet-type scenario to his new, doting wife. We’re not entirely sure she paid attention in English class, or perhaps she is still so young she thought it all romantic.

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Then again, who could resist these loving eyes?

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We’ve heard the end referred to as fairly “happy”, but we cannot help but think Rose would be better off knowing the truth about her marriage as it would at least leave her with a chance to move on. As it stands, she may be lost forever.

Brighton Rock is suspenseful to the point of being stressful, and it’s a very good watch. The performances in the film are great, and we really enjoyed it. Definitely worth watching. We will leave you with a picture featuring Ida and Dallow (Hartnell – aka The Doctor), as we have not managed to squeeze them in anywhere else.

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We threw in a couple of police officers for good measure. Enjoy!

What we learned: if a shady character indirectly sort of threatens your life, don’t marry him.

Next time: Nightmare Alley (1947)

#77 The Big Sleep

Watched: January 22 2017

Director: Howard Hawks

Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Martha Vickers

Year: 1946

Runtime: 1h 54min

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Philip Marlowe is back, this time portrayed by (the not very tall, but oh so charming) Humphrey Bogart. Entering the Sternwood residence for an appointment with General Sternwood, he is immediately met by a Dame in the making – young miss Carmen Sternwood (Vickers), who tries to sit on his lap while he is still standing.

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Despite Carmen’s best efforts, General Sternwood is the first member of the family to have our hero undress

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Carmen has gambling debts and her father, the General, is being blackmailed by a man named Geiger. He hires Marlowe to clear everything up, and on his way out, the detective is summoned to the chambers of the older Sternwood daughter, Mrs Vivian Rutledge (Bacall), who is very interested in what exactly Marlowe has been hired to do. The two start measuring each other up (both figuratively and literally) and exchange quips.

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“She has all the usual vices, besides those she’s invented for herself”

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Marlowe starts his investigation in the usual way which comes complete with diagrams on page 47 of how to be a detective in 10 easy lessons correspondent school textbook. That is, he starts snooping around Geiger’s bookshop which he quickly discovers is a front for something else, although he strikes out with the lady working there. He has better luck with the saucy bookseller from across the street, and spends his afternoon with her sharing a drink.

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Yet another great example of how removing glasses and letting one’s hair down transforms a “plain,” bookish girl into an absolute stunner.

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Marlowe follows Geiger and stakes out his house. After a shot and a scream, he enters to find Geiger dead, a hidden camera, and a very drugged out Carmen in a near catatonic state. He takes the girl home, exchanges more banter with her older sister, and returns to the crime scene only to find dead Mr Geiger gone. The plot is very much thickening.

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Also thickening is the sexual tension between the two stars

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To sort out this mess, Marlowe and Rutledge (who’s divorced, by the way, so their relationship is completely on the up-and-up) have to work together. There are more dead bodies, more blackmail, more Dames and other cool women (such as Marlowe’s taxi driver), shady characters, quips and banter, silly henchmen, a fairly complicated plot (but great scenes, so it doesn’t really matter), and Humphrey Bogart being supercool.

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This is a man completely unaffected by having a gun pointed at him. Though Bacall doesn’t seem too perturbed either, to give her her due.

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There are beautiful clothes, sassy dialogue, and amazing characters portrayed by iconic stars. There’s also murder, intrigue, loose sexual morals, and an infamous restaurant scene we have no idea how got past the censors. It’s a classic for a reason and if you haven’t already checked this one out, you should! We loved it.

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Serious question though: how extremely innocent do you have to be not to read the subtext of this scene?

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What we learned: men in the 1940s were physically unable to see past a pair of glasses on a pretty girl. Also, sometimes personal chemistry works equally well on screen as in real life.

Next time: The Killers (1946)

#76 Notorious

Watched: January 15 2017

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Starring: Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains

Year: 1946

Runtime: 1h 41min

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Alicia Huberman’s (Bergman) father is convicted of treason and his daughter naturally throws a party with ice and Cary Grant. As would we if Grant were available. However, she throws in a DUI for good measure, which we would not. After the drunken drive, it turns out that Devlin (Grant) is some sort of government agent and he has a job for the former party girl. After a gruesome hangover (wonderfully filmed, by the way) the two fly to Brazil to start her assignment.

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“So, what exactly is this assignment?” “Well, we shall fall in love and then I shall ask you to prostitute yourself. You know, for patriotism. USA! USA!”

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The two fall in love and then the orders come through. In Devlin’s defence, he was not aware of the exact nature of his new love interest’s upcoming job before recruiting her, but he does not exactly help her out once the government asks Alicia to put the moves on an old friend of her father’s who used to be in love with her. Instead, he encourages her to use all her “womanly viles” to get the information they need from former German Nazi leader Alex Sebastian (Rains – no longer invisible).

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“Yes, my good Nazi friend, of course I’d rather marry you than have a sultry affair with Cary Grant. Isn’t my enthusiasm evident?”

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The reason Alicia is recruited is partly because of her previous relationship with the subject of their investigation, but it is just as much due to her former reputation as a sexually active, hard drinking socialite. While Alicia herself feels she is over this period of her life, her past is enough to condemn her in the eyes of the government agents who pressure her into taking on the assignment. She is even persuaded to go so far as to marry Alex.

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Marrying another man puts yet another strain on their relationship for some reason

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Further complications ensue when, after an intense espionage scene during a party, Alex and his evil mother realise that their new family member is in fact a spy. They start poisoning her, but pride and pent up anger towards her handler Devlin stops her from being upfront with him about her condition, instead blaming her reduced state during their next meeting on a hangover. How will the lovers get out of this pickle?

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We strongly suspect that the filmmaker is trying to tell us that something may be wrong about the coffee.

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This Hitchcock classic is every bit as tense and chilling as you would expect, and the character of Alicia is someone it is easy to sympathise with. She just wants to be treated like a person and make a new life for herself, but all the men see her as a thing – less than proper because of her past (sexual) frivolity and her family. Even her new beau falls into that trap, although to give him his due he does defend her to his colleagues. He just cannot seem to do this to her face.

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He has no problem doing other things to her face though

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Although Alicia, played beautifully by Swedish icon Bergman by the way, is through with her rebellious and flirtatious past, that’s all men want from her and that is all they see. So she obliges. It is interesting that even though Hitchcock has a reputation for having been a dick to women, his female characters are usually very sympathetic and strong. However, they are always put through hell, and they are usually made weak by feelings of love, which may be symptoms of misogyny in itself. Or the stories of his hatred for women may be somewhat exaggerated. Who are we to tell?

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Instead, let’s focus on the story of two ridiculously gorgeous people falling in love and overcoming personal, international, and political obstacles to be together. Yay!

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What we learned: Once you’ve lived up to a certain persona, people won’t let you forget it and move on. Also, if you’re going to infiltrate an enemy organisation, you need nerves of steel (and don’t make stupid key mistakes).

Next time: The Big Sleep (1946)

#63 Shadow of a Doubt

Watched: December 12 2016

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Starring: Teresa Wright, Joseph Cotten, Macdonald Carey, Henry Travers, Hume Cronyn

Year: 1943

Runtime: 1h 48min

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Young Charlie Newton (Wright) is depressed and feels sorry for her mother whose life is in a rut. She needs some action in her life – a break from the routine. However, she gets more than she bargained for when the family receives a telegram from uncle Charlie (Cotten), her mother’s brother and young Charlie’s favourite uncle, informing them that he is coming to stay for a bit.

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“Now for some non-suspicious-looking sending of telegram. Nailed it!”

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The big city uncle arrives in the small town of Santa Rosa and lavishes his family with presents and the glamour automatically associated with New York businessmen. However, very soon a pair of “surveyors” show up wanting to photograph and interview the family, especially the newly arrived uncle. Young Charlie starts to get suspicious, not only because of the hostility her older namesake shows the surveyors but also because he hid a newspaper clipping about “the Merry Widow Killer,” a serial killer preying on rich widows, from the family.

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“And now some non-suspicious-looking standing on stairs. Nailed it again!”

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The surveyors turn out to be investigators who suspect Uncle Charlie of being the killer, although they have another suspect as well. One of the investigators, Jack (Carey), takes Charlie the Younger out and eventually talks her into helping them as long as they do not make an arrest in front of her mother, as she’s afraid the shock (and shame) would devastate her. The tension between uncle and niece builds as strange “accidents” start to befall her and she suspects dear uncle Charlie might be trying to get rid of the one family member who know of his (possible) double life.

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“Finally, some non-suspicious-looking grabbing of niece. Man, I’m really nailing it all today!”

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As always, the tension and suspense are really intense in this Hitchcock thriller. The relationship between the two Charlies is creepy – first because of the slightly incestuous undertones and later on the way he manipulates her and takes advantage of her love for her mother. Besides their relationship though, the family is really quite lovely. Even the younger children have clear and defined personalities, and we loved the father and his friend’s never ending murder plans for each other. Charlie the Younger is at once too smart and too naïve for her own good and could probably learn a thing or two from her bookish little sister once in a while.

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“Two people can play the suspiciously-coming-down-the-stairs-game!”

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Eventually, Charlie learns from her uncle and starts using his own manipulative tricks against him. In fact, throughout the film she goes from naïve and sweet school girl to a grown woman in charge of herself and her own fate. Some murderous cinematic bildungsroman there! And we loved it!

What we learned: families always spoil the youngest. Also, it’s important to include Veronica Lake in your evening prayers. Childhood head trauma always leads to criminal behaviour.

Next time: The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943)

#58 The Maltese Falcon

Watched: November 04 2016

Director: John Huston

Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, Gladys George, Jerome Cowan, Lee Patrick, Sydney Greenstreet

Year: 1941

Runtime: 1h 40min

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Samuel Spade (Bogart) is a San Francisco P.I. working with partner Miles Archer (Cowan). One day, a dame (Astor) walks into their office. And what a dame. Legs up to here and an air of desperation about her. Just the way Spade likes’em.

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Desperation and a stole. Spade smells an easy payday.

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Now, this dame is looking for her missing sister, and she knows the lowlife who has her. She pays up for a stakeout and Archer, whose wife Spade is incidentally screwing, ends up dead on the job. Spade has a fairly laissez-faire attitude about the whole thing and proceeds to remove Archer’s name from the company window and door. He is nothing if not efficient and practical.

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The whole brooding private detective thing works better as a solo act anyway

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Of course, the dame isn’t telling the truth. She’s lied about her name, her intentions, and the identity of the man she wanted located. In fact, she’s caught up in an international conspiracy involving a golden falcon artefact, more than a few shady characters and several murders. It’s not long before Spade has a new visitor – Joel Cairo (Lorre) who tries to get the jump on the P.I. But one does not simply walk into Spade’s office and threaten him. Or, if one does, one leaves with one’s tail between one’s legs. Or in a body bag. Luckily for Cairo, the former is the option Spade goes with. This time.

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He’ll take you out without even dropping his smoke

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Once Spade is properly roped in, the dame, whose real name is possibly Brigid O’Shaughnessy, although she goes by several pseudonyms, drops her act and comes clean. More or less. Meanwhile, Spade has his own fun, pitting the various bad guys against each other and playing on their greed to manipulate them.

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“You know you need to sacrifice your little pet here, right?”

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The Maltese Falcon is a classic for very good reasons. It’s a wild ride from start to finish and Bogart is amazing in it, as are the others, but he really steals the show (along with his secretary Effie (Patrick), who we also loved). Spade is cynical and tough, but he also has a lot of fun and seems to enjoy his work and the challenges his opponents throw at him. Despite his methods (and his relationship with his partner’s wife) he has his own moral compass, and not even a desperate dame can make him stray from his convictions.

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All this drama for a statuette. Foreigners!

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Love this one – can’t wait for more noir!

What we learned: don’t get caught up in a drama revolving around a figurine. Also, never try to make a detective into a criminal.

Next time: Cat People (1942)