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Friday, March 24, 2017

When 1931's Falcon Flew First

New York's Winter Garden Preems The Maltese Falcon (1931)

It was Warners 'round the town as May 1931 closed out and hotter weather attractions waited turn. Here then is footnote to previous Greenbriar visit with The Maltese Falcon of precode translation, and chance to see how the Winter Garden put it across in first-run ads. I like how the Falcon itself is a hovering threat, with web-encased Bebe Daniels the focus of sell. The novel was known and well-received, so copy puts emphasis there, Dashiell Hammett getting proper mention. Extras include a Bobby Jones golf short, these at a peak of reception by a public gripped with then-golf craze. If they couldn't afford clubs nor link membership, at least there was Jones and star guests to be viewed in single-reel play. The 1931 Falcon is gravy we take for granted now (TCM and DVD), but try seeing it from 60's through 80's as retitled Dangerous Female ... a relic near-as-hard to find as the gold-encrusted bird itself. For curiosity, I just checked a 1975 United Artists 16mm catalog where Falcon rented at $35 per day (the 1941 classic was $125). How many takers do you suppose UA had?


Blogger Mike Cline said...

As much as I like Bogey's bird, I may actually enjoy Ricardo's even more.

8:31 AM  
Blogger radiotelefonia said...

You mentioned Bebe Daniels... this ad from Brazil is by far better.

8:35 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

Talking of movie might-have-beens, as you did recently with Robert Williams, the 31 Falcon is one of the few films with someone who might have been an important sound character actor, Otto Matieson (as Joel Cairo). He is very much an analogue to Peter Lorre at that time, albeit built more like Misha Auer. He had several key silent roles including Old San Francisco and The Salvation Hunters, but was killed in a car accident ahortly after making this film. This film's version of the first encounter between Spade and Cairo is the only scene where it seems like John Huston followed the 1931 film, as opposed to basically doing the opposite of what earlier versions had done.

10:31 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Well, I dug out both this and the Bette Davis version. The 1931 version might have been okay had I not the memory of the John Huston film but everything seemed one note off. As for the Bette Davis film, well, half way through I realized I had better things to waste time on. Might work for others or for those with no idea of what the film is based on. Took three strikes to hit a home run.

4:27 AM  
Blogger Neely OHara said...

Even as a diehard Davis fan, I've never gotten through more than half of "Satan Met A Lady" either Haven't seen the '31, so I haven't seen the Spade/Cairo scene therein, but I recently read the novel and realized what made Huston's version work was that he trusted the book, and he pretty much shot it, scene for scene and with much of Hammett's dialogue. "If it ain't broke..."

10:22 AM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

The final scene of the original is radically different from Bogart's -- is it closer to the novel, or just hokum?

3:05 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Hokum. Huston cut the last couple of pages of both THE MALTESE FALCON and THE AFRICAN QUEEN. You will know why when you read them.

7:17 AM  
Blogger Jim Lane said...

I need to revisit both earlier versions, I guess. My recollection of the 1931 version is that it's dutiful but sparkless. As for Satan Met a Lady -- well, maybe I'm just coming at it from a weird angle, but it seems to me it's a deadpan spoof of the whole p.i. genre ("noir" not having been i.d.'d or coined yet), and a hilarious one. (Alison Skipworth as "Madame Barabbas"? Really??) Not Hammett, and not meant to be; the story's just a jumping-off place (like Frankenstein for Mel Brooks) because Warners owned it and figured, hell, why not? Warners was tailoring Sam Spade to Warren William's post-Code persona, the same way they retooled Perry Mason into a simulacrum of William Powell's Nick Charles.

3:19 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer compares two versions of "The Maltese Falcon":

The 1931 and 1941 versions of “The Maltese Falcon” are alike in plot and dialog and different in almost every other way. The 1931 film is bright and brittle, with characters very much in the moment and perhaps trying to think a move or two ahead, but little more than that. They’re less immoral than amoral, with neither revulsion nor fear for what they’re doing. The Brigid of Bebe Daniels seems saddened at the end, either because she was really into Ricardo Cortez’s Sam Spade or, more likely, disappointed that her feminine wiles had not produced a better result. His grinning Spade is more like the vulpine character in the novel, enjoying the game but emotionally distant. “Perhaps I care for you,” he says, but that seems to be just a way of acknowledging something just barely possible but utterly implausible, for all the reasons he then lists. That line about the falcon in the later picture—“The stuff that dreams are made of”—would never have occurred to him. That it did occur to Humphrey Bogart sums up his approach to the character. The dialog is the same, but for that line, but it is a mask, just as bright and brittle but far more fragile. Behind it is the despair of a would-be romantic who realizes that dreams are too beautiful to find expression in such a bleak world as this. There may be an interlude behind gauzy, blowing curtains, but in the dark streets below, a stranger waits with death on his mind. Mary Astor’s Brigid is a dream-lover, beautiful and needy, a lady fair in need of champion, at least in those moments when she is not taking matters into her own hands and firing a Webley-Fosbery Automatic Revolver at point blank range. A last glimpse of her resigned, tear-streaked face behind the bars of the elevator cage suggests that there is no place for love or any escape. Spade does not take the same route, but follows carrying the falcon, far heavier than dreams but worth no more than lead, save in the lives of those killed for it.

6:34 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I loved booking the early versions for college film societies in the late 1960s and early '70s and when we started Landmark Theatres in 1976 we also booked all three versions but by then it was all about Bogart who always drew at the box office. I could play the 1931 MALTESE and SATAN as part of a mystery series and do ok.
Gary Meyer

2:47 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

What I do when I want audiences to see films I know they will skip is post only one starting time. Then I show the film I want them to see first. That was how I built audiences. That backfired when I showed the original THE FRONT PAGE before HIS GIRL FRIDAY when the 1974 version was released. Every one left after THE FRONT PAGE (1931). They missed, as far as I am concerned, the best version.

4:01 AM  

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