The Maltese Falcon

The Maltese Falcon (1941)
Warner Home Video
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet
Extras: Commentary Track, Featurettes, Bloopers, Newsreel, Short, Cartoons, Radio Plays

Humphrey Bogart was the epitome of the classic tough-as-nails gumshoe. In many of his films, his characters became iconic portrayals of heroes and unlikely-heroes alike, as he conquered the world with his films and created memorably movie history.
Many of these movies still have a very unique quality about them, a quality that is no doubt a result of Bogart's very own personality and charismatic – yet often enigmatic – portrayal.

Coming to Blu-Ray Disc for the first time from Warner Home Video is "The Maltese Falcon," one of the best detective dramas ever made with seemingly more plot twists than film frames, and a movie that made the Top 100 list of the American Film Institute.

Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) and his partner run a small detective agency in San Francisco, but somehow they never hit the jackpot. They get by, but in reality they are waiting for a sensational case that would become their ticket to riches. One day, a woman (Mary Astor) appears in their offices. Frightened and shaken, she tells them about her sister, who ran away with a man who is supposedly involved with criminal elements. She asks the detectives to find her sister, but as soon as Spade's partner starts observing the man, he is killed.

Assuming the trailed man is the killer, Spade is surprised to find that that suspect too has been killed, and quickly the case takes a new turn. Spade tries to find out what has happened and eventually figures that it was a complete set-up. He tracks down the ominous woman, who really goes by a different name, and faces her for the truth. Slowly, she gives in and tells a mysterious story of murder and an age-old relic. And just as Spade thought he knew what it was all about, new faces and dangers surface, proving that still nothing is really the way it seems. He is pulled into a net of intrigue, lies, murder and money, and can only barely stay on top. He has to solve the case surrounding "The Maltese Falcon" to put an end to this deadly game in which he has been unwillingly pulled into, and more importantly he needs to find out who killed his partner to clear himself and get rid of the District Attorney's bloodhounds on his trail.

"The Maltese Falcon" was director John Huston's directorial debut and it is easily recognizable, why Huston became one of the most acclaimed directors in Hollywood so quickly. His impeccable pacing, his structure and the way he builds drama with a series of visual devices used in this movie is only a small portion of the repertoire he would put to use in his later films. The lighting and the movie's entire visual style soon became so significant that it was given its own name, creating the genre of the Film Noir. This genre would produce some fantastic actors and movies, using light and shadow, as well as smoke, rain, hats and trench coats to create a very unique flair for its stories. A style, that is romanticized on the one hand but harsh, edgy and cold on the other. It is a stylized vision of the 30s and 40s, a time where the war and the depression had left its emotional mark on everyone.

"The Maltese Falcon" was also Bogart's defining movie, which firmly established him as the private eye of the genre. His portrayal of the rough guy with a heart has become synonymous with the genre even to this day, even though the actor played a variety of other parts just as well.

Warner Home Video is showing off "The Maltese Falcon" on this Blu-Ray Disc in a superb transfer that is presenting the movie in its original 1.33:1 fullframe aspect ratio. Although some minor defects are evident in the source print, the transfer is generally clean and breathtakingly detailed. The occasional jump or registration problem, as well as some scratches and signs of wear are, while noticeable, never distracting from the movie and clearly reinforce the fact that what you are watching is a movie that wrote movie history. The image is clear and well defined without any signs of edge-enhancement. Only the slightest signs of film grain are evident in selected scenes. Throughout the film's duration, contrast is well balanced creating deep solid backs and bright highlights, without ever creating a harsh-looking picture. The gradients and shades found in the image are always perfectly delineated and create a beautiful black and white image. Overall, the transfer has been handled in such a way as to make sure every bit of detail that could be found in the original film print remained intact.

The disc contains a monaural English audio track in DTS-HD format. It has been well preserved and exhibits a rather low noise floor. No signs of damage, such as pops or hiss, are audible in the track, although slight sibilance is evident in a few selected scenes – a result of the natural limitation of the original material and its age. The track lacks the bass extension of modern day tracks, giving the audio a very compressed feel with an emphasis on the high ends. This is especially notable during scenes where music is prominently featured. Since this sound has become synonymous with movies of the time, I wouldn't want it any different however, and I am glad that "The Maltese Falcon" contains an authentic sounding audio track, that has nonetheless been cleaned up and remastered for the perfect experience at home.

Including a commentary track featuring Bogart Biographer Eric Lax among other things, the release features a good number of extras, helping to better understand the movie's historical relevance.

To recreate "Warner's Night at the Movies," the disc also contains a Newsreel, a short film and two classic cartoon as well as a selection of trailers. Makeup Tests, the featurette "The Maltese Falco: One Magnificent Bird" and the blooper reel "Breakdown of 1941" are also included for your enjoyment.

You will also find a unique featurette called "Becoming Attractions." Using the trailers and outtakes from many films of Humphrey Bogart, the featurette explains nicely how films were made back then, how he was sold to audiences, and how his career was forged to become what it ultimately was. Hosted by Turner Movie Classics' Robert Orborne and running for 45 minutes, this featurette is a great addition that has a very different note than the usual "Making Of" featurettes found on many releases and is definitely worth a closer look.

The release is rounded out by three radio show adaptations.

"The Maltese Falcon" is a great movie, there can be no doubt. The story, the twists in the plot, the characters, the romanticism of the Noir genre, and of course Humphrey Bogart's off-handedness all add up to this masterful movie. Warner Home Video's presentation of the film on this Blu-Ray Disc is every bit as good as you could ever have hoped for. Finely restored to its glory and brought to life in a crisp transfer on this disc, this is the perfect opportunity to rediscover the magic of Hollywood in the 40s, and Humphrey Bogart in particular. It is a great cat-and-mouse game that will keep you thrilled all the way to the end.