It might not be an utter coincidence that The Maltese Falcon and Citizen Kane were released within a month of each other in 1941, as both films jockey for the title of American film noir’s founding father and have stood the test of time with critics for over seventy five years. The two films of course share their contemporary cultural moment: the depression was ending, a second world war was rising, and the nation was enduring a rumble of emotional unrest while struggling to forge a path out of desperation. Part of what makes both films so poignant is the braiding of that unrest, repression, and ambiguity into the characters of their leading men, atmosphere, as well as the flow of the camera movement and cinematography.
Tag: John Huston
Edward G. Robinson is one of my favorite actors, especially in the film noir genre. He starred in many classic thrillers, including SCARLET STREET, THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW, LITTLE CAESAR, DOUBLE INDEMNITY, and KEY LARGO. He was such a refined actor, bringing gravitas and history to his characters. His face is so expressive. With just a look, he can convey subtle emotions. Robinson had a strong line delivery, serving his words with poison or pitifulness. The actor made his name as a gangster in LITTLE CAESAR, and that archetype stayed with him. However, his range of characters is wide and appreciable.
“Everybody has something to conceal,” comments detective Samuel Spade in THE MALTESE FALCON (1941). This comment perfectly encapsulates the unremitting promise of film noir. Any expectations will inevitably be displaced by the double-dealing nature of anyone and everyone. In the depraved, chaotic world of film noir, deception is the only guarantee. John Huston’s THE MALTESE FALCON, the third adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s novel, maintains this promise. The film provides a narrative of twists and turns as the characters, all in conflict with one another over the titular gold statuette, demonstrate no moral limits to how far they will go to possess it.
BEAT THE DEVIL was a flop when it was released in 1953, despite an all-star cast, including Humphrey Bogart in the lead role with John Huston writing/directing and Truman Capote helping out with the script. Huston and Bogart’s collaborative track record had been phenomenally successful up to this point with tons of Oscar nods for THE MALTESE FALCON, THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE, and THE AFRICAN QUEEN. But BEAT THE DEVIL just didn’t resonate with audiences, and Bogart, who bankrolled the film, lost a pretty penny in the fallout.
Movie moments imprint themselves on us like tattoos. Whenever my best friend, Bob Stone, and I get together, it is not our health, our families, our jobs we talk about. Right off the bat, we break into our KEY LARGO routine, Bob doing his best impersonation of Johnny Rocco browbeating his ex-moll, Gaye Dawn, to “Sing it! Sing ‘Moanin’ Low’!! Sing it NOW!!” and me then warbling “Moanin’ Low” more off-key and ear-grating than Claire Trevor ever did. This is followed by Bob’s equally spot-on version of Edward G. Robinson’s classic, “Soldier! Soldier! I’m not armed! Soldier!” Then we both crack up laughing. For Bob and me, as for many who have seen or will see KEY LARGO, these scenes are indelibly superglued to our movie consciousness. ” KEY LARGO and classic movies like it train us to worship and cherish their words and images long after the first time we heard and saw them. They take up permanent residence in our collective movie heads and we are happy to have them there.
The African Queen – 1951 – dir. John Huston
Three giants of American movie-making grace the frames of The African Queen. Katharine Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart and John Huston were already legends (or well on their way to becoming such) when they teamed to make the now classic 1951 adventure comedy, one of the great stories in movie history.
By Paula Delaney
Chinatown – 1974 – dir. Roman Polanski
A young Jack Nicholson stars in this complicated weave of drama, suspense and intrigue. Nicholson plays the role of J.J. ”Jake” Gittes, a private investigator who has retired from the police department with some very bitter memories of corruption during his days working for the district attorney in Chinatown. Nicholson is as savvy and self-assured as he is in all of his movies, and he can be captivating as he risks his life to solve this intricate “whodunnit” about the murder of a Water Department official in a close knit town in southern California.
Written by David Kociemba
USA, 1941. 101 min. Warner Bros. Pictures. Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, Elisha Cook, Jr., Ward Bond. Music: Adolph Deutsch; Cinematography: Arthur Edeson; Production Design: Robert Haas; Produced by: Henry Blanke, Hal B. Wallis; Based on a Novel by: Dashiell Hammett; Written by: John Huston; Directed by: John Huston.
The pleasure of films noirs is in the active reading of them. We make our own way through these confusing, baroque worlds filled with existential crises. In navigating these rich swathes of word and shadow, we become like the private detective so often found in them: bewildered, besieged, and maybe even a bit enamored with the glorious crassness of it all. Those pleasures show up in the tradition of criticism around thisâ€¦ Well, thatâ€™s where the problems begin, really. What is this thing we call film noir?
Written by Christine Bamberger USA, 1950. 112 min. MGM/ Loew’s Inc. Cast: Sterling Hayden, Louis…