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Monday, April 13, 2015

Always Something New To Enjoy In This One


The Maltese Falcon (1941) As HD-Sharper Seen

What's left to say? Just two things gleaned from recent view (the Blu-Ray, plus true HD broadcasts on TCM): Sydney Greenstreet was 61 when he made this, playing a character presumably as old, here in obsessive pursuit of a collectable. Dialogue reflects that it's not as much the jewel-encrustedness and incalculable worth of the Falcon as the fact Casper Gutman simply must have it. In other words, he's one of us, and that Black Bird might as well be a rare one-sheet or 16mm print. Would a fanatic-enough film or poster collector commit murder to get what they want? I've met a few who might get round to it. Gutman, then, is an identification figure for some of extreme bent, less so me since dogged accumulation was relaxed some years back, but I knew SG/CG's pain when the third-act Falcon proved to be fake, and he has to start over again (like my promised 16mm original of The Maltese Falcon that turned out to be a dupe --- yes, that happened once). Gutman spent eighteen years in search of his, and in a final scene cheerfully declares he'll start afresh. At age 61? What purpose does collecting really serve when you've reached that point? A sage said that a first half of life was about accumulating, the second spent in disposal. How much can any object mean when you've got ever-lessening time to enjoy it?


The other this-time notice is Wilmer Cook's possible getaway (just realized --- he and enactor Elisha Cook, Jr. share the same last name). Here's the progression as I understood it: Wilmer is unconscious on the couch, the falcon arrives and confederates unwrap same amidst much dialogue. When they finish, Wilmer is gone. More dialogue, Gutman and Joel Cairo depart, but Wilmer has a head start, possibly a significant one. Would he have waited outside the building to join the others? Doubtful --- for fact they'd sold him out. Bogart finally alerts cops by phone to pick up the lot (warning them specifically about Wilmer), but I'm guessing Wilmer's halfway to the state line, and am not reassured by Ward Bond's "Got 'em" line when he and partner Barton MacLane enter. My guess is they nabbed Gutman and Cairo, but Wilmer got away clear. In fact, that may have been him a few years later in The Big Sleep, free as a breeze, and going about as "Harry Jones." He happens by as Bogie takes a beat-down, says he'll mind his own business rather than "kibitz." In such a confused narrative as The Big Sleep's, names and identities hardly matter, and I'd like to think this character is Wilmer Cook, a little older, certainly wiser, but still getting the grim pay-off he'd managed to duck in The Maltese Falcon.

4 Comments:

Blogger Jeanette Minor said...

If you ever read the novel by Hammett, You'll discover that Gutman and Cairo are shot dead by Wilmer as the y try to board a ship to leave the country. This occurs "offstage". The Spades cop Friend Polhaus, informs Spade of this occuring when they come to pick up Brigid.

9:44 AM  
Blogger Bill O said...

The Cooks, Wilmer and Elisha, survived to run a retro nightclub in The Black Bird '75.

10:24 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Donald Benson finds a constructive alternative to collector hoarding:


A so-so Disney movie, "Never a Dull Moment", offered Edward G. Robinson as a
retired gangster planning to steal a Van Gogh. His scheme was to possess and
privately enjoy the painting for his lifetime, then bequeath it back to the
museum -- with funds to place it in a new wing bearing his name. The script was
mostly TV silliness, but I was impressed that Robinson's character had thought
it out that far.

One side effect of the DVD revolution is I found myself
shifting from hoarding to evangelizing. One Christmas several relatives got "The
Essential Laurel and Hardy", in part because I was just so tickled to see a
vault's worth of recently unattainable treasure packed in neat little boxes at
Costco. I've gifted Sherlock Holmes, Buster Keaton and Warner Archive short
collections and other curios as well.

3:31 PM  
Blogger Dr. OTR said...

I just finished re-reading the book. The movie virtually clones it, with just a few bits removed due to the Production Code (Cairo's homosexuality, Spade sleeping with Brigid O'Shaughnessy, the scene with Gutman's daughter). Never quite sure why they let Gutman survive the end. Perhaps they halfway hoped for a sequel? It's been a while since I've watched the earlier two versions of the book filmed by Warner Bros -- does anyone remember whether Gutman is gunned down by Wilmer in either of those? Seems like something that might have happened in the Ricardo Cortez version. (I just checked the summary in Wikipedia, and indeed Gutman is gunned down in the Cortez version.)

4:18 PM  

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