The Maltese Falcon

Movie review by
Nell Minow, Common Sense Media
The Maltese Falcon Movie Poster Image
Classic film noir has mature themes, drinking, smoking.
  • NR
  • 1941
  • 101 minutes

Parents say

age 11+
Based on 2 reviews

Kids say

age 11+
Based on 4 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Subtle prejudice against less-than-macho Joel Cairo and Wilmer, who are (in the mildest 1940 terms) implied to be gay.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The characters are archetypal "types" found in many other noir movies: "the hard-boiled detective," "the seductive dame," bad guys with foreign accents, etc.


Some suspense, scuffles, threats of violence. Character shot and killed, his dead body shown as found by Sam Spade.


Implication that Spade was having an affair with Archer's wife. Some passionate kissing.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Casual drinking, cigar smoking, cigarette smoking. In one scene, Bogart's character is slipped a "mickey" in his drink, and is shown slowly losing consciousness.

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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byBestPicture1996 December 25, 2014

Classic noir has shocks, twists and a gut punch ending!

When you're a film buff, and are exploring the genre of the film noir, one of the grandaddy's has to be "The Maltese Falcon," a John Huston... Continue reading
Parent of a 13-year-old Written byTsion May 23, 2009

A Suspenseful and Thoughtful Thriller...

THE MALTESE FALCON is a great, thrilling movie, and a prime example of how great stories never fade with age. It's a great one to show kids who like thril... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byLukeCon November 29, 2020

Not Bogart's best, but still a satisfying piece of film-noir

The Maltese Falcon satisfies as a noir--that is, if you can keep up with the intricate plot. For ones who enjoy plots that are easier to understand, I would rec... Continue reading
Teen, 17 years old Written by_____________ August 29, 2015

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?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love suspense

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