Well, two, actually (see below). So, I was in CostCo the other day, going over the DVD titles and there on the rack was The Maltese Falcon. I don’t have it yet so I picked it up, thinking $19 was a bit much for something so old, even a classic.
Then I noticed it wasn’t just the one movie, but all three, The Maltese Falcon (1931), Satan Met a Lady 1936, and finally, The Maltese Falcon 1941, the one we all know and love. I’d heard of but never seen the first two so that made the price a bargain. Into the basket it went. I’ve watched them in chronological order and the good one is running now, as I write.
The first was not bad for its day, but it’s easy to see why Bebe Daniels and Ricardo Cortez aren’t exactly household words today. It’s shorter than the remake so clips more of Hammett’s work than the remake does. The camerawork is leaden, possibly because, that close to the dawn to talkies, they were still using ‘blimped’ camera which would be harder to move around.
The second is like watching the Falcon though a fog. You can get occasional glimpses of something familiar once in a while but on the whole, I’m glad they made it incognito (Shane? Purvis? Barabbas??) And William Warren is entirely comic to be the ‘real’ distant, bitter Sam Spade. Horn of Roland? I guess the prop department was too lazy to make them a statuette. I don’t agree with IMDb’s 6.0 rating at all.
Finally, the third try, which is playing as I write. Absolutely gorgeous transfer with nice, crisp sound. And a pleasant surprise: Despite the staccato dialog, the subtitles don’t paraphrase. Oooh-- Effie just delivered the bundle to Sam’s apartment. A slight pause here. Okay, I’m back. So, in comparison it’s easy to see why this version gets the 8.4 rating and a spot on the IMDb’s top 250 list, but I’m glad to have seen the others for the comparison.