Playing at 6:30 p.m., Monday, October 18, at the Orpheum Theatre in Phoenix:
The Maltese Falcon (1941)--This movie is, arguably, the original film noir; it was the earliest of the five movies to which the French critic Nino Frank applied the term back in 1946 (the others were Laura, Murder, My Sweet, Double Indemnity and The Woman in the Window). It's also one of the best of its kind, whatever name you choose to call the genre. If you've never seen it, the Friends of the Orpheum Theatre are doing you a solid by presenting it at that august venue this Monday. You're advised not to miss it.
Adapted from Dashiell Hammett's 1930 novel and directed by John Huston, it's the tale of how San Francisco private eye Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) gets caught up with a ring of shady characters obsessed with obtaining the title McGuffin, a figurine of a bird of incalculable value. Spade is (or poses as) a tough, cynical, amoral sort, and holds his own against the gang: oh-so-vulnerable femme fatale Brigid O'Shaughnessy (Mary Astor), fussy Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre), nervous young "gunsel" Wilmer Cook (Elisha Cook, Jr.) and jolly, lethal gentleman-thief Caspar Gutman (Sydney Greenstreet).
Every one of these performances and several others in the film--like Lee Patrick as Sam's loyal secretary Effie Perrine--is an instant classic; if they seem like stereotypical stock figures to modern audiences, it's because they were largely responsible for establishing the stereotypes. This is the quintessential screen incarnation of Bogart's pure tough guy persona; he works here without the gallant, romantic side he shows in Casablanca.
Under Huston's amazingly confident direction--it was his directorial debut--these actors make the near-opaque exposition that they spew at each other a pleasure, whether you can follow it or not. There's little real action; much of the movie consists of the characters describing (often dishonestly) stuff that's already happened. Yet the film maintains its tension and wit throughout; on its own terms it's close to perfect.
Online, by the way, we're told to "expect some theatrical surprises throughout the show, making this a once in a lifetime cinematic experience." Dash Hammett himself couldn't have been much more cryptic.