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    Saturday, January 03, 2009

    DVD: The Maltese Falcon (1941)

    Falcon was my first movie of 2009. I always watch a classic on January 1 to set the tone for the rest of the year. And it’s preparation for a jaunt to San Francisco later this month to take in some of Noir City.

    One of my favorite scenes is the initial encounter between Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart, but you knew that) and “the fat man” Kasper Gutman (Sydney Greenstreet). They take each other’s measure with that sparkling Dashiell Hammett dialogue left largely untouched by John Huston. (“Here’s to plain speaking and clear understanding ... I’ll tell you right out I’m a man who likes talking to a man who likes to talk.”) Spade tries to leverage what he’s learned into more information, but Gutman refuses to play along. So Spade erupts, hurling his glass down, threatening Gutman’s gunsel Wilmer, and storming out of the room. It’s a startling moment.

    Cut to the corridor. As Adolph Deutsch’s music takes a turn, a smile spreads across Spade’s face. Losing his temper was an act, a way of stirring the pot. What makes the scene is that as Spade presses the button for the elevator, he notices that his hand is shaking. And he smiles at that, too.

    As I watched it for the umpteenth time, I thought: no way this scene would play out like this today.

    Spade would still pitch a fit, of course. Only we’d be told about it in advance. The hero of the movie appearing not to be in control? That note would be fast in coming. We’d get a simple dialogue fix, Spade telling loyal secretary Effie Perine that he’ll raise a ruckus if the fat man won’t play ball. And something ineffable would be lost.

    I’ve had this deluxe edition of Falcon for ages, but I’ve yet to watch either the 1931 adaptation or the ’36 version Satan Met A Lady. That situation will shortly be rectified. I did, however, watch the 1941 Warner Brothers blooper reel included on the DVD. Profanity in black and white? Jimmy Stewart cursing? Unbelievable.

    On The Web: Movie News on the Move

    Brush up your web links. Aaron Hillis takes over GreenCine Daily, while outgoing editor David Hudson begins working his magic at IFC.com’s The Daily. David does a superhuman job collecting all the net’s film news at a single location. It’s worth bookmarking his site and reading it every day.

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    Nearly every time I watch an older movie, I'm struck by how much more subtle the dialogue is than what we get in most new movies. Maybe that's because there were a lot of things they couldn't say in those days, so the scripters had to convey some of the information in different ways. And to be a curmudgeon, I think audiences just paid more attention in those days, so you didn't have to hit them over the head with everything.


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