The Maltese Falcon

Year: 1941
Studio: Warner Bros
Director: John Huston
Writer: John Huston/Dashiell Hammett
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre
If you've ever heard lines like 'she walked into my office like a cat that had licked up the cream' and 'the night was cloying, like dirty water dripping down the side of the courthouse tower' (okay, I made the last one up), you'll have at least a passing familiarity with the LA noir scene of private investigators with the double crosses, nefarious plots and the beautiful dames who invariably spell trouble.

If so you might have heard the name 'Sam Spade', but if Humphrey Bogart is before your time, you might be surprised to learn Bogey was the iconic PI's most famous incantation. And if you've ever read one of those Best Horror Novellas from England in the 1980s you'll know the name Dashiell Hammet's.

The Maltese Falcon is what ties them all together. Not nearly casting as big a shadow over popular culture as Casablanca, it packages Spade, Hammet's work and the whole noir experience perfectly if you're a novice.

Itself a remake from 10 years earlier (which was a remake itself - so much for complaining about Hollywood's current obsession for remakes), it centres on the titular trinket providing the Macguffin, Spade's partner who gets bumped off early and whose death gives rise to shady dealings and of course, there's the beautiful dame Brigid (Astor), who comes to Spade with a hard luck story about a brutal husband that immediately arouses him but whom he can't allow himself to trust.

Aside from the anti-hero, it set down the tone for so many institutions in film we love to this day, which you can see right up to de Palma's The Black Dahlia.

Watch it to see where it all began, but noir has been so cross-referenced, copied and homaged you've seen it a thousand times already.

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