With its conventional VC-1 encode, Warner bring The Maltese Falcon to stunning life on Blu-ray. The 1.33:1 image (actually 1.37:1) is splendid. When compared to Casablanca, this actually seems more natural and film-like. Casablanca, as good as it looked, had something of a digitally processed appearance. The Maltese Falcon boasts sterling contrast and good, satisfyingly deep blacks. The film’s wonderful noir shadows and skewed low angles were deliberately composed and the disc shows them off at their atmospheric best. Blacks are rarely infiltrated by grey, and blending and shading between the various hues of the monochromatic palette occurs smoothly and without any hitch. Whites refuse to bloom, leading to finely rendered faces, lamplights and neon glare that don't stray or fuzz-up within the image. Angular blacks cut through the picture with well-delineated peripheries, the murk of some of the exterior night-time shots – the murder of Miles, for example, and the subsequent police investigation of the site - equally nicely transferred.
The detail from 1941's source image looks excellent too. There is texture in the clothing – those ever-cool hats and overcoats – and the nicknacks and assorted paraphernalia in the offices, the lobbies and the apartments comes out with more finite attention than ever before. There is a nice moment when Sam Spade searches through the oddments in Gutman's room after he has awoken and found himself alone, which allows for lots of little gleams of light, reflections and sharp detail to be revealed where none had appeared in any home video version before. Facial crags and worry-lines – and there is lot of those – as well as hair and the odd smear of blood also scrub-up very well in this transfer. There is a curious appearance to Wilmer's eyes during one of his final confrontations with Spade – well towards the end of the film as they all converge in the detective's apartment- when it seems as though Elisha Cook Jnr actually double glinting pupils. I checked closely into this and it is purely the way they look with the lighting and nothing at all to do with the transfer.
The film-grain has been retained and it remains consistent and never obtrusive. Edge enhancement is not a problem, and even if the image doesn't leap from the screen with vivid sharpness, it is remarkably clean and crisp. I didn't encounter any aliasing or any major artefacts to muddy-up what is an extremely pleasing hi-def picture.
In a way it is a shame that such an old film cannot garner anywhere near as much of a detailed description for its audio transfer as a newer, more modern-mixed production. But c’est la vie. It is what it is … and The Maltese Falcon actually sounds terrific on Warner’s new Blu-ray release, vintage and all. There might not be much depth to speak of with this DTS-HD MA mono interpretation, but voices, effects and score all possess a fine level of clarity and that direct and well-polished presence of a properly restored and engineered track.
There is only the occasional gunshot, but we get some doors slamming, a raging fire aboard a ship, a solid enough thwackk! as Wilmer puts the boot in on the prostrate Sam Spade, a certain level of good, sharp clarity when glass smashes, such as when Sam topples over or when he hurls the glass tumbler. The film sounds marginally contained, but not as tightly restricted as some offerings from even newer films. Ambience, such as when the elevator doors open either side of a fleeing Sam Spade and reveal groups of chattering people inside, is also well presented, and never drops into a indistinct mush. The score has its moments, too, rising and falling in-cahoots with the angst of the characters, especially during the big reveal at the end. Age-related elements are minimal, although there is understandably some background hiss, but certainly nothing that should cause any issue.
All things considered, this is a fine audio transfer that is happily basic and gets the job done without any problems. You really couldn't ask for more.
This seems to be a straight port of the features contained on the SD edition of The Maltese Falcon, except for the earlier filmed versions of the story – which, even though they are not a patch on the Huston/Bogart production, would have been nice for completists.
We get a fine, scene-by-scene, anecdote-rife and trivia-ridden commentary from Bogart biographer Eric Lax, in which he imbues the on-screen action with plenty of personal insight and interpretation. Well worth a listen, although some elements – such as the violence (that kick to the head, for example) sort of slide on by.
The retro-making-of, called The Maltese Falcon: One Magnificent Bird, lasts for half an hour and is terrific. We may have to endure that overly Hollywoodised voiceover for the narration in-between the numerous interviews, but the structure, entertainment value and information on offer is extremely rewarding. Participants include Hammett’s daughter, Peter Bogdanovich, Larry (It's Alive) Cohen, Henry Rollins, Frank Miller, Michael Madsen and James Cromwell (from the not-too-dissimilar noir classic LA Confidential), as well as the more regular historians and critics like Rudy Behlmer. Each of the actors, except for Elisha Cook Jnr get coverage, from their potted history pre-Falcon to how they came to be cast and how they acquiited themselves. There are copious clips from the film, of course, but they are used to illustrate the point being made rather than to simply pad the feature out.
Breakdowns of 1941 (12.53 mins), is one of those great compilations of on-set gaffes and outtakes that even with the vintage of the material carry much of the same off-the-wall appeal of the more modern variations that proliferate on TV.
Makeup Tests (1.16 mins), shows Astor getting the character slapped on her face.
Becoming Attractions: The Trailers of Humphrey Bogart (44:45), is actually quite a comprehensive piece that takes an in-depth look at Warner’s marketing campaigns for a host of Bogart movies.
Warner Night at the Movies (38.14 min), is one of those great programmable multi-featurettes that provides the opportunity for us to relive a night at the theatre circa 1941 . We get a trailer for the great Sergeant York, a trailer for The Maltese Falcon, as well as one for Satan Met A Lady, a Newsreel, the musical short The Gay Parisian – which looks pretty awful, to be honest, and two cartoons, Hiawatha's Rabbit Hunt and Meet John Doughboy.
And we also get the chance to appreciate three Radio Show Adaptations of The Maltese Falcon. Two of these actually have the film’s stars, whilst the third features Edward G. Robinson.
All great stuff and you’ve got to hand it to Warner for that atmospheric recreation of a period night out, haven't you?
Contained with a fabulous package that recreates that now pleasantly expected Warner night out at the flicks, The Maltese Falcon provides top drawer detective thrills, a rollickingly witty mystery with enough twists and turns to keep even the most ADD-afflicted shakey-cam addict on the edge of their seat. Bogart is tremendously assured in the role, combining the street-wise anti-heroic traits that would make him a hangdog star with the savvy of a industry renegade. The supporting cast is to die for, with Lorre sliming it up with relish and Greenstreet managing to be both gregariously erudite and thickly malevolent at the same time. Mary Astor has tremendous fun weaving in and out of lies and deceptions and Elisha Cook Jnr. actually appears to get a real “kick” of his rat-like wannabe hoodlum, whilst still imbuing his low-rent hit-man with an amusing vulnerability that unbelievably contorts our emotions come the finale. All of which makes for a grand ensemble-piece, the like of which they just don't make any more.
Whilst this is perhaps not as enjoyably dark as The Big Sleep, or as incredibly vivid as The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre, John Huston’s clever interpretation of Hammett’s gumshoe trials and tribulations hits the mark as one of the classic and, indeed, pivotal moments in the coming of Hollywood noir and one of the greatest showboating, own-every-scene Bogart performances that isn’t Casablanca. A fabulous transfer seals the deal on this old bird, and The Maltese Falcon comes extremely highly recommended.
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