Monday, 10 March 2014

“The Maltese Falcon” on BLU RAY. A Review Of The 2013 Reissue – Part of Warner Brothers BLU RAY STEELBOOK SERIES.

Here is a link to Amazon UK where this BLU RAY is available at the best price:

“…The Cheaper The Crook…The Gaudier The Patter…” - The Maltese Falcon on BLU RAY.

If I'm truthful - I've always admired John Huston's "The Maltese Falcon" more than I actually like it – and have owned the Warners Brothers/Turner Classics DVD of the 1941 Black and White classic for years now ("The Big Sleep" is so much better).

This January 2013 Warner Brothers BLU RAY reissue in a 'Steelbook' (Barcode 5000152858) uses the same restored film elements the Turner Classics DVD did and carries the same crazy extras (see below). It’s quite rightly defaulted to its original 1.37:1 aspect ratio which makes it look like a box in the centre of the screen with black bars to the left and right. No amount of screen changing with your remote will change this.

The 'Steelbook' cleverly uses the "A Story As Explosive As His Blazing Guns" artwork of the original poster on the front with a page of info loosely glued to the rear (I’d suggest putting it in a 7" single plastic to protect the whole easily damageable lot). This reissue also includes a code page inside for a downloadable Ultraviolet Copy to mobile devices (redemption deadline 27/01/2015 – exclusions for the UV code are iTunes, Ireland, The Channel Islands and The Isle of Man). There’s no booklet - nor art card (mores the pity) and you’d have to say that the period look is very evocative. But it’s nice rather than great – when with a bit of effort – it could have been very special indeed.  (As of March 2014 it's reduced in price to eight quid).

The print is very clean throughout with only small amounts of grain and blocking showing.  At times it looks ‘noir’ and quite beautiful in a way that only black and white can. There’s a scene where Bogart as gumshoe Sam Spade answers the phone in his San Francisco apartment at one am – a voce tells him that his partner Miles Archer has been shot. The camera doesn’t show Bogey’s face – it just stays on the phone as he talks  - the curtain blowing in the window in the background. It’s expertly framed and is a clever way of filling a potentially dead scene with intrigue and menace.

This is a world where women are 'dames' and 'broads', where men wear a tilted Trilby as they stand in doorways carrying something in their long coat pockets that isn’t a ‘Have A Nice Day’ bumper sticker. Bullets are 'slugs', two-faced squelchers 'squawk' – and when our Sam smacks some schmuck in the kisser he says - "When you’re slapped, you’ll take it and like it…" In fact the pump-action dialogue and convoluted plot line with everyone double-crossing everyone else is part of the fun. There’s the pleading ladies (Mary Astor and Gladys George) who may not be so Mom’s Apple Pie, the 'square' assistant with a heart of gold who believes in her boss (Lee Patrick) and the sensational Peter Lorrie as Joel Cairo slinking about like a well-dressed rat with a cigarette case – intent on getting back an ancient and uber-valuable gold and jewel-encrusted falcon statue hidden inside black metal casing. All this and Elisha Carthy, Jr and Sydney Greenstreet as greedy criminals – both shining as the puppet and the puppeteer.

But the movie belongs to the everyman of cinema – Humphrey Bogart. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery – watching “The Maltese Falcon” tells you why. The street punk voice, the shuffling mannerisms, the wiseass remarks (“people loose teeth talking like that”), the knowing chuckles, the cigarette permanently in hand, the crumpled suits, the private eye’s office one step away from repossession – everything about the Sam Spade character became a virtual Private Eye template for decades to come. And no matter how deep our honest gumshoe gets into the dirt – he always seems to be one foxy dame ahead of the pack.

The extras supposedly represent what cinemagoers would have seen on the night – but they’ve nothing to do with the movie and are more bizarre than they’re entertaining:

1. A Trailer to Gary Cooper’s “Sergeant York”
2. World War II Newsreel footage of Churchill and Roosevelt meeting on board a transatlantic liner
3. An early colour short of a dancing musical called “The Gay Parisian”
4. An early Bugs Bunny colour cartoon called “Hiawatha’s Rabbit Hunt”
5. A Looney Tunes Black And White cartoon with Porky Pig called “Meet John Doughboy”

Better than all of the odd above is the ERIC LAX feature-length Commentary -which is dry but full of details.

“The Maltese Falcon” was nominated for 3 Academy Awards – and its not surprising that the fast-talking script and tight Direction launched John Huston into the pantheon of the greats while cementing Bogey as a genuine star.  Just a few years later Humphrey would meet a 19-year old leggy starlet with a mouth and attitude to match his on-screen own (Lauren Bacall) and the rest as they say is the stuff that dreams are made of. Next time he would say “hey dreamboat” to a woman – he would mean it.


PS: As of March 2014 - titles in this REGION FREE UK-released Warner Brothers BLU RAY ‘Steelbook’ series so far include:

1. Ben Hur (1959)
2. Casablanca (1942)
3. Doctor Zhivago (1965)
4. Gone With The Wind (1939)
5. Grand Hotel (1932)
6. The Jazz Singer (1927)
7. The Maltese Falcon (1941)
8. North By Northwest (1959)
9. A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)

10. The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre (1948)

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