In 1530 the Grand Master Villiers de I'lsle Adam returned from his tour of Europe, during which he had persuaded Holy Roman Emperor Charles V to make a gift to him of the Maltese Islands, with one stipulation; that each year a falcon would be sent from the Island of Malta to the Viceroy of Spain, and that a mass be held in Charles honor by the Pope on All Saints Day.
From this simple historical fact Dashiell Hammett was able to create one of the most enduring mysteries of the 20th Century. Directed, with his trademark perfection, by John Huston, the movie version of Mr. Hammett's novel sails along without a hitch. And supported by Peter Lorre and Barton MacLane, Bogart shines as Sam Spade, the detective who blunders and bluffs his way to the truth behind the disappearance of the mysterious "black bird."
Being set in San Francisco of the late 1930's lends an air of nostalgia to the plot. The telephones, the cars, even the waterfront all serve as a wonderful backdrop to the story. Simply put, private detective Sam Spade, played by Bogart, has been having an affair with his partner's wife. When his partner; Miles Archer; is killed on a stakeout for a new and somewhat mysterious client, Brigid O'Shaughnessy, played by Mary Astor, all the clues point to Sam as the killer.
But as Sam digs further into the mystery he finds a group of characters who are all pursuing the rare statue of a falcon. That statue is thought to be the jewel encrusted falcon which was supposedly sent to the Viceroy of Spain, but never arrived.
Sidney Greenstreet, as Kasper Gutman, heads a rogue’s gallery of villains, each determined to recover the "black bird" for their own. Peter Lorre plays the part of Joel Cairo, a slightly effeminate fellow who has been involved with Mr. Gutman from the beginning, as they roam the world in search of their prize. Elisha Cook, Jr., plays the part of small time detective Wilmer Cook, who is a man with something to prove to himself. Unfortunately, he is way out of his league.
Ward Bond, as Detective Tom Polhaus; along with Barton MacLane as Lt. Detective Dundy; give it their all as they try to unlock the puzzle of just who the bad guys are. Staying one step ahead of them is Sam Spade as he spins the web that may make them all fabulously wealthy, or land them all in jail. Of particular note in this film is that it is Sydney Greenstreet's first film appearance. He was 62 years old at the time. Of course he went on to play the iconic owner of the Blue Parrot, opposite Bogart in the all-time classic "Casablanca." But when you watch him in this film, you just have to wonder, what took him so long to make it to the screen? Watch him in the clip below, in which he meets with Sam Spade for the first time to discuss the "black bird."
Keep an eye out for the uncredited appearance of Walter Huston as Captain Jacoby. He is director John Huston's father, and appeared in several of his films. He plays one of the prospectors in "Treasure of the Sierra Madre", also opposite Bogart. He was one of the finest actors of his time.
To view the original article about the Siege Of Malta, see my post from last year, concerning the Knights of Templar;
And here is the scene in which Sam Spade meets Mr. Gutman for the first time;