Sunday, 25 May 2008

The Maltese Falcon (John Huston, 1941)

Spade: We didn't exactly believe your story, Miss O'Shaughnessy, we believed your 200 dollars. I mean you paid us more than if you had been telling us the truth, and enough more to make it alright.

Sam Spade’s words to Brigid O’Shaughnessy (Mary Astor) are an example of the tone of this hard-boiled detective story. There is an atmosphere of moral emptiness surrounding the main characters. Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) is investigating the murder of his partner Miles Archer (Jerome Cowan) and will find himself involved in a dangerous quest for a precious ancient statue of a falcon. Several double-faced, weird characters are after the “bird”:

Detective Tom Polhaus: [grabs the falcon] Heavy. What is it?
Sam Spade: The, uh, stuff that dreams are made of.

The artists playing the roles of the intriguing characers are big names too: Peter Lorre as Joel Cairo, Elisha Cook Jr as Wilmer Cook or Sydney Greenstreet as Kasper Gutman. It’s a film with great performances, witty dialogues, an iconic gem of early film noir.

The movie – based on Dashiell Hammett’s novel - would also be a turning point in Bogart’s career: he had mainly been given roles of gangster until this film. In The Maltese Falcon he became a hard-boiled, cynical, individualistic character.

Sam Spade: I hope they don't hang you, precious, by that sweet neck. Yes, angel, I'm gonna send you over. The chances are you'll get off with life. That means if you're a good girl, you'll be out in 20 years. I'll be waiting for you. If they hang you, I'll always remember you.

Saturday, 10 May 2008

Force of evil (Abraham Polonsky, 1948)

Joe Morse: “I found my brother's body at the bottom there, where they had thrown it away on the rocks... by the river... like an old dirty rag nobody wants. He was dead - and I felt I had killed him.”

Joe Morse (John Garfield) descent to reality – to find his brother dead on the rocks under Manhattan Bridge – makes him aware of a bleak world.

Force of Evil – narrated in a documentary style - is a noir film with a social background and a dark view of capitalism and democracy.

Joe Morse is a successful lawyer for a big lottery racket – Tucker enterprises – which manipulates the lottery results for their own benefit.

Joe Morse: “…the enterprise was slightly illegal. You see I was the lawyer for the numbers racket”.

His brother Leo (Thomas Gomez) owns a small lottery company which will be destroyed (along with many other small companies) by the racketeers. It’s part of a plan to make Tucker’s gambling businesses legal. Symbolically enough the date chosen to perform this deed is 4th of July – Independence day – using lottery number 776 (from 1776, when the US declared their own independence). Joe tries to convince his brother to close the business at least for one day – and thus avoid bankruptcy but Leo doesn’t want to let his costumers down.

The two brothers are at different ends of a corrupt system, though they have different views:

Leo Morse: The money I made in this rotten business is no good for me, Joe. I don't want it back. And Tucker's money is no good either.
Joe Morse: The money has no moral opinions.
Leo Morse: I find I have, Joe. I find I have

Force of Evil was the only film directed by Polonsky before being blacklisted (both Polonsky and Garfield were later accused for their political views)