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The Maltese Falcon
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
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What's the story?
In this classic film noir, private detective Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) gets a visit from Ruth Wonderly (Mary Astor), who asks him to help find her sister. Sam sends his partner, Miles Archer (Jerome Cowan) to follow her when she meets Floyd Thursby, the man she thinks her sister is with, and both Archer and Thursby are killed. It turns out that the woman is really Brigid O'Shaughnessy, and it turns out it is not her sister she is seeking, but a small, jeweled statue of a falcon, and she's mixed up with some people who will do anything to get it. One of those people is Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre), who comes to see Sam to insist -- with a gun -- that he be allowed to search Sam's office to see if it is there. Sam is not at all intimidated by Joel, but allows him to search. Also after the statue is Mr. Gutman, "the fat man" (Sidney Greenstreet), with his "gunsel," Wilmer. They alternately threaten and attempt to bribe Sam, while Brigid appeals to his protective nature and his heart. But Sam turns them all over to the police, including Brigid, whom he loves.
Is it any good?
One of the most interesting aspects of this classic movie is the way that Sam Spade thinks though the moral dilemmas. When he is deciding whether to tell the police about Brigid, he is very explicit about weighing every aspect of his choices. It is not an easy decision for him; he has no moral absolutes. On one hand, he loves her, and he didn't think much of his partner. On the other, he doesn't trust her, he doesn't think she trusts him, and he knows that they could not go on together, each waiting to betray or be betrayed. If he turns her over to the police, he loses her. But if he doesn't, he loses a part of himself, his own kind of integrity.
When this movie was made, moviegoers were used to cool, debonair detectives (like Philo Vance and Nick Charles, both played by William Powell), a sort of cross between Sherlock Holmes and Fred Astaire. But Sam Spade, created by Dashiell Hammett based on his experiences as a detective, was a modern day version of the cowboy, a loner with his own sense of honor.
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