Filmsite Movie Review 100 Greatest Films
The Maltese Falcon (1941)
Pages: (1) (2) (3) (4)
Plot Synopsis (continued)

Soon after when he returns to his office, the front door is being freshly painted to read "Samuel Spade, Confidential Investigator." Effie alerts Spade to a homosexual client who has just arrived in the outer office and presented her with a gardenia-perfumed business card. Spade sniffs the card - reacting with a bemused expression. A strange, bug-eyed, shifty man - an effeminate, bow-tied Mr. Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre) confronts Spade in his office. Cairo's entry line refers to Archer's murder: "May a stranger offer condolences for your partner's unfortunate death?" While fondling his cane, Cairo also asks if there is any relationship between Archer's and Thursby's death. He is searching for a statuette of a black bird:

I'm trying to recover, an ornament that, ah, shall we say has been mislaid...I thought and hoped you could assist me. The ornament, ah, is a statuette, the black figure of a bird...I am prepared to promise that - what is the phrase? (He gestures knowingly) 'No questions will be asked!'

Cairo offers Spade the sum of $5,000 for the missing bird's recovery on behalf of the figure's "rightful owner." (Spade suspects that Brigid and Cairo are both connected pieces of the mystery.) After Spade's secretary leaves the outer office for the night and Spade has turned away, Cairo surprises and threatens Spade in his office with a drawn gun:

You will please clasp your hands together at the back of your neck. I intend to search your offices, Mr. Spade. I warn you, if you attempt to prevent me, I shall certainly shoot you.

While checking if Spade is armed, the slick Spade catches Cairo off guard, easily disarms him and knocks him out cold with one quick punch to the jaw. While Cairo is unconscious on the sofa, Spade empties his pockets' contents:

  • a Greek passport with Cairo's name and picture
  • other passports - French and British
  • an orchestra seat ticket to the Geary Theater in San Francisco for the evening performance on Wednesday the 18th (that evening)
  • a wallet containing a wad of money
  • a scented silk handkerchief (Spade smells it and reacts quizzically)
  • $5,000, the price that Cairo offers to pay, isn't there ("It's just hooey!")

When Cairo regains consciousness, he looks at his face in a mirror - but Spade's image is all that the mirror reflects. Upset, Cairo whines that his shirt is ruffled ("Look what you did to my shirt!"). Without missing a beat, Cairo re-states his "genuine" offer to pay $5,000 for the figure's return, but is bewildered by Spade's defense of his office space:

But if it isn't here, why did you risk serious injury to prevent my searching for it?

Cairo apologizes for not divulging the identity of the bird's owner or the statuette itself. Spade demands a retainer (of $200.00, double Cairo's first offer) for assisting Cairo in locating the bird:

Cairo: You will take, say, one hundred dollars?
Spade: No - I will take, say, two hundred dollars.

Spade denies having the black bird, or knowing where it is (or where he can get it), but would agree to be hired, for a profit, to "get it back, if possible, in an honest, lawful way." Cairo informs Spade that he is staying at the Hotel Belvedere, Room 635 and can be contacted there. As he prepares to leave, Cairo tells Spade: "I sincerely expect the greatest mutual benefit from our association."

And then Cairo immediately pulls the gun on Spade again after his gun is returned. He persists in his demands to search Spade's office for the much-desired black bird despite being roughed up: "Will you please clasp your hands together at the back of your neck? I intend to search your offices." Spade looks on in amusement, laughing at him: "Why, sure. G - go ahead, I won't stop ya."

Later, after his encounter with Cairo, Spade leaves his office in the Commercial Building [in the background behind him is the Bailey Theatre marquee, playing The Great Lie (1941), a film starring Oscar-winning Mary Astor]. On the street, he realizes that he is being followed, but evades the young-faced thug (a trench-coated gunman named Wilmer) by ducking away into another theatre lobby [advertising the musical The Girl From Albany], taking off in a Yellow Cab taxi, and eluding him in front of an apartment complex.

Spade revisits Brigid in her hotel room (letting himself in with her key). Brigid still appears fearful but cautious. After observing the shady lady's behavior, she offers an understated confession of her base nature - while still looking for sympathy from the shamus:

Spade: You, uh - you aren't exactly the sort of a person you pretend to be, are ya?
Brigid: I'm not sure I know exactly what you mean.
Spade: The schoolgirl manner, you know, blushing, stammering, and all that.
Brigid: I haven't lived a good life - I've been bad, worse than you could know.
Spade: That's good, because if you actually were as innocent as you pretend to be, we'd never get anywhere.
Brigid: I won't be innocent.
Spade: Good.

Spade isn't interested in her tantalizing, innocent act and tries to pry more information out of her. Spade nonchalantly tells her that he has met with Cairo whom he knows "only slightly." Brigid nervously moves around the room as Spade watches her in amusement. He laughingly tells the untrustworthy woman that he admires and appreciates her ability to lie and deceive:

You're good. You're very good!

Brigid asks about Cairo and learns that he "offered $5,000 for the black bird." She rises, in response. He knows that she is concealing knowledge of the statuette: "You're not gonna go around the room straightening things and poking the fire again, are ya?" Spade considers the sum Cairo was willing to pay "a lot of money." "Tis," replies Brigid with a cynical, bitter tone - she doesn't have that much money.

It's more than I can ever offer you if I have to bid for your loyalty.

Spade has heard enough from the duplicitous, vulnerable-acting woman - he rises from his chair, completely frustrated by her lack of forthcoming, trust and honesty:

Spade: That's good coming from you. What have you ever given me beside money? Have you ever given me any of your confidence, any of the truth? Haven't you tried to buy my loyalty with money and nothing else?
Brigid (quivering): What else is there I can buy you with?

After seductively asking him what she can offer besides money, Spade brutally takes her face in his hands and kisses her roughly - he digs his thumbs into her cheeks. She accepts his lingering kiss. Spade walks away, demanding more information if he is to be the 'helpless' woman's protector:

I don't care what your secrets are. But I can't go ahead without more confidence in you than I've got now. You've got to convince me that you know what this is all about, that you aren't just fiddling around, hoping that it will all come out right in the end.

Brigid still pleads for his patience and for more time ("Can't you trust me a little longer?") - but reluctantly agrees to speak to Joel Cairo. Spade phones and leaves a message at Cairo's hotel to meet them in his apartment later that evening. After a wipe left dissolve, they take a cab there. Brigid (wearing the fur that she said she would pawn) and Spade walk by an expectant Iva furtively waiting for him (the spectre of Miles' death trails him everywhere) in a black convertible parked out front.

Still uneasy about the trust issue between them, Spade clarifies things with Brigid. When the visit with Cairo has been concluded, Spade is expecting to deal with her:

Brigid: You know I never would have placed myself in this position if I didn't trust you completely.
Spade: That again?
Brigid: You know that's true, you know.
Spade: You don't have to trust me so long as you persuade me to trust you. Don't worry about that now. He'll [Cairo] be along any minute. You get your business with Cairo over with, then we'll see how we stand.

When he peers out his apartment window through a blowing, gauzy window curtain, he sees the diminutive hit-man who had followed him earlier in the evening eye-ing his apartment from across the street under a streetlamp. Brigid comes up to him and gushes:

Brigid: You are a god-send.
Spade: Oh, now don't overdo it.

Treasure-hunting Cairo joins them there, and notifies Spade of a "boy" who is watching the apartment. Cairo greets Brigid with false courtesy: "I'm delighted to see you again, Madame." They talk about Cairo's $5,000 cash offer for the Maltese Falcon and the bird's whereabouts. After admitting that she hasn't "got the Falcon," Brigid promises that she will have it back in about a week from where Floyd Thursby hid it. She claims that she is selling the bird and disposing of it because she is fearful of the bird's deadly trail and how it led to Thursby's murder:

Cairo: And why, if I may ask another question, are you willing to sell it to me?
Brigid: Because I'm afraid. After what happened to Floyd, I'm afraid to touch it except to turn it over to somebody else.
Cairo: What exactly did happen to Floyd?
Brigid (while knowingly shaking her head and looking down): 'The Fat Man.'

As they guardedly discuss their past dealings with references to the 'Fat Man,' Cairo gets tense when Brigid mentions that the 'Fat Man' is in San Francisco and she gets excited when he repeats a warning about "the boy outside" - two additional pieces to the mysterious puzzle. Cairo and Brigid openly detest and mutually insult each other [with hints of sexual bargaining and deviance]:

Brigid: But you might be able to get around him [the boy], Joel, as you did the one in Istanbul, what was his name?
Cairo: You mean the one you couldn't get to --!!

Brigid slaps Cairo hard - when he raises his hand to slap her back and then draws his gun, Spade disarms him and the gun drops to the floor. Cairo weakly protests: "This is the second time that you've laid hands on me." Spade forcibly grabs Cairo and slaps him three times:

When you're slapped, you'll take it and like it!

Brigid reaches for the gun as they are interrupted by loud knocking at the door and the sound of the buzzer. In the hallway, Spade talks to police detectives Polhaus and Dundy in a second after-hours call. The cops are there because an anonymous phone-caller [later discovered to be Iva Archer] has informed them that Spade was romantically involved with Iva - and killed Miles to marry her:

There's talk going around about you and Archer's wife...The talk is that she tried to get a divorce from him so she could put in with you, and he wouldn't give it to her...There's even talk that that's why he was put on the spot.

Dundy wants to ask hard-nosed questions - interrogation that Spade deflects by blocking his door and pointing out that Thursby's death destroys their theory:

Your first idea that I killed Thursby because he killed Miles falls to pieces if you blame me for killing Miles too.

As the police are about to leave after accusing Spade of more "lying answers," they hear a scuffle inside and Cairo loudly screaming: "Help!" Spade is forced to let the cops in when Cairo starts fighting with Brigid - they barge into the apartment where a fracas between his two clients is in progress. They witness a bloodied, whining Joel Cairo complaining that Spade brutally entrapped him in the apartment where Brigid ("you dirty filthy liar") attacked him and was threatening to kill him. Dundy stands between the two antagonists as he listens to their conflicting versions and explanations of what happened. When Brigid counter-accuses Cairo of lying and then kicks him, Dundy threatens to run everyone into the police station. To extricate them from a possible jailing, Spade explains their rough interrogation of Cairo - a story consistent with their somewhat limited knowledge:

Miss O'Shaughnessy is an operative in my employ since yesterday...Cairo is an acquaintance of Thursby's. He came into my office late this afternoon and hired me to find something that Thursby was supposed to have on him when he was bumped off. It, uh, looked funny to me, the way he put it, so I wouldn't touch it. Then he pulled a gun on me. Well, that's neither here nor there unless we start proffering charges against each other. Anyway, Miss O'Shaughnessy and I discussed the matter and we decided to find out exactly how much he knew about Miles' and Thursby's killings so we asked him to come up here. Now maybe we did put the questions to him a little roughly. You know how that is, Lieutenant. But we didn't hurt him enough to make him cry for help.

When the police detectives still threaten to haul them away to jail, Spade further jokes that the theatrics were part of a pre-conceived plan. He presses his explanation, exaggerating their conflict and making an intimidated Cairo confess that his questioning was all a joke:

Aw, don't you know that you're being kidded?...When I heard the buzzer, I said to Miss O'Shaughnessy and Cairo here, I said, 'There's the police again. They're getting to be a nuisance. When you hear them going, one of you scream and then we'll see how far along we can string 'em until they tumble.'...Don't be a sap. That gun was a plant. It was one of mine. Too bad it was only a .25 or maybe you could prove that was the gun that Miles and Thursby were shot with.

Exasperated with Spade's impertinence and for being set up with a fake fracas, Dundy is provoked to punch him. Both Brigid and Cairo back Spade up, preferring not to press charges against each other, since that would involve them further with the police - and compromise their ability to swiftly search for the falcon. Then, the bewildered police have no choice but to leave, even though they want to get contact information for both Brigid and Cairo.

After Cairo slithers out and the cops depart, Brigid butters Spade up with another seductive compliment - she is amazed by his "high-handed" manner:

You're absolutely the wildest, most unpredictable person I've ever known. Do you always carry on so high-handed?

Threatening that "the boy outside hasn't gone home yet," Spade insistently presses the evasive Brigid for more information about the bird statuette:

Hey, what's this bird, this falcon that everybody's all steamed up about?

Uninterested in how the statue looks ("It's a black figure as you know, smooth and shiny. A bird, a hawk, a falcon about that high"), Spade is more interested in what makes it "so important" to so many people. Brigid spins another tall tale - she was offered the sum of 500 pounds to steal the bird in Turkey, and Cairo and Thursby were in on the heist. However, she and Thursby learned that Cairo had planned to desert them. To retaliate, Floyd and Brigid double-crossed Cairo and took off with it. However, Floyd had no intentions of keeping his promise to share the falcon equally with her either.

Boldfacedly, Spade calls her a liar. Brigid wearily admits that there isn't much truth in her yarn and lies back:

Spade: (smiling) You are a liar.
Brigid: I am. I've always been a liar.
Spade: Don't brag about it. Was there any truth at all in that yarn?
Brigid: Some...not very much...Oh, I'm - I'm so tired, so tired of lying and making up lies, not knowing what is a lie and what's the truth. I wish... (Striking a sensual, languishing pose, she reclines back on the couch)

As Spade bends over to kiss the femme fatale, the curtains blow apart, revealing the perilous real-world outside - the 'boy' gunman is still in a dark doorway across the street. [Undoubtedly, they spend the night together, although the scene is eliminated from the film.]

A direct cut displays the brass plaque of the Hotel Belvedere - the next day. Spade enters the hotel, uses the desk phone and asks to speak to Cairo. He spots the gunsel-tail again sitting in a lobby chair facing away from him and reading a newspaper. He hangs up the phone and sits down next to the 'boy' - Wilmer (Elisha Cook, Jr.). [Wilmer is the quintessential caricature of the gangster in 30s B films.] Deducing from the vague conversation between Brigid and Cairo that the "boy" was hired by either the 'Fat Man' or Cairo to follow him, he delivers a message to the gunsel's boss:

Where is he?...Cairo...You're gonna have to talk to me before you're through, sonny. Some of you will. And you can tell the 'Fat Man' I said so.

Incited to anger, Wilmer responds with "shove off," and ineffectually threatens: "Keep askin' for it and you're gonna get it, plenty. I told you to shove off. Shove off." Spade reprimands him, telling the young, insulting thug that he should be polite. He then signals the house detective Luke (James Burke) to run Wilmer, wearing an oversized overcoat, out of the hotel lobby: "What do you let these cheap gunmen hang around the lobby for, with their heaters bulging in their clothes?" As Wilmer is rousted out, Spade blows smoke in his face.

Just then, a beaten-up, disheveled and tired Cairo returns to the hotel lobby [Cairo was booked and interrogated by police at the police station after leaving Spade's apartment]. Spade confronts him and explains his motives:

Spade: Let's go someplace where we can talk.
Cairo: No, no, no. Our private conversations have not been such that I'm anxious to continue them. Forgive my speaking so bluntly, but it is the truth.
Spade: (Do) you mean last night? What else could I do? I had to throw in with her. I don't know where the bird is and neither do you. She does. How are we gonna get it if I don't play along with her?
Cairo: You always have a very smooth explanation ready, huh?
Spade: What do you want me to do - learn to stutter?

Cairo was roughed up during questioning in the all-night police grilling, but he didn't talk - except to repeat Spade's unreasonable and 'goofy' story ("I adhered to the course you indicated earlier in your rooms...I distinctly felt like an idiot repeating it"). [He also searched and ransacked Brigid's apartment during the night - while she was spending the night with Spade.] He pleads to be left alone so that he won't be further mussed up.

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