A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Maltese Falcon is a classic 1941 noir drama in which Humphrey Bogart plays a hard-boiled detective who becomes enmeshed in a web of lies over a stolen valuable. It's a noir movie from the '40s, so it's no shock to see a fair amount of drinking, as well as cigarette and cigar smoking. In one scene, Sam Spade loses consciousness after a "mickey" is slipped into his alcoholic beverage. A character is shot and killed; his dead body is later shown as found by Spade. An extramarital affair between Spade and his partner's wife is strongly implied, then confirmed. There's some fighting with fists, guns drawn. There's also subtle prejudice against less-than-macho Joel Cairo and Wilmer, who are (in the mildest 1940 terms) implied to be gay. It's considered to be one of the greatest films of all time, but the darkness and complexity of the story makes it best for older tweens and up.
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What's the story?
In THE MALTESE FALCON, 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's not her sister she's 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's 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 through the moral dilemmas. When he's deciding whether to tell the police about Brigid, he's very explicit about weighing every aspect of his choices. It's 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 couldn't 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.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what Sam means when he says the statue is "the stuff dreams are made of." Where is Sam faced with moral conflicts? How does he resolve them? What are his reasons?
How is The Maltese Falcon a classic example of a "noir" movie? What are the characteristics of noir movies, and how have these aspects permeated popular culture?
Are drinking and smoking glamorized in this movie, or is it more of a reflection of the characters, as well as the time and place? Why do you think so?
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