Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

The Maltese Falcon (1941)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

The Maltese Falcon (1941)

In director John Huston's classic noir/detective debut film based on Dashiell Hammett's novel, about the elusive search for a one foot-tall, jewel-encrusted 'black bird' statuette in the shape of a falcon:

  • the film's memorable sinister and moody imagery, great casting and characterizations including hard-boiled San Francisco private eye Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart), deceitful femme-fatale Brigid O'Shaughnessy (Mary Astor), effeminate and creepy Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre), erudite "Fat Man" Kasper Gutman (Sydney Greenstreet), and gunsel Wilmer (Elisha Cook Jr.)
  • the opening scene of a pleading Miss Wonderly (Mary Astor) in the offices of the Spade and Archer detective agency in San Francisco, asking for protection against a mysterious man named Floyd Thursby
  • the surprise night-time killing (point-blank) of Spade's infatuated and enthusiastic partner Miles Archer (Jerome Cowan) at the corner of Bush and Stockton Streets in the city; soon after, Spade was considered a likely suspect
  • the first meeting of Spade with the deceiving Brigid O'Shaughnessey (alias Miss Wonderly), wearing stripes, in an apartment on California Avenue, under the name of Miss Leblanc; she was trying to charm him when she begged helplessly: ("You've got to trust me, Mr. Spade. Oh, I'm so alone and afraid. I've got nobody to help me if you won't help me. Be generous, Mr. Spade. You're brave. You're strong. You can spare me some of that courage and strength surely. Help me, Mr. Spade. I need help so badly. I've no right to ask you, I know I haven't, but I do ask you. Help me!"); he could see through her fake sincerity and knew she was 'dangerous': ("You won't need much of anybody's help. You're good. It's chiefly your eyes, I think, and that throb you get in your voice when you say things like 'Be generous, Mr. Spade'") but he was obviously attracted and allured to her anyway; he demanded another $500 for further investigative expenses
  • the scene of Joel Cairo (with a gardenia-perfumed business card that Spade smelled) meeting with Spade in his office, and telling about his search for the statuette and an offer of $5,000 for its recovery: ("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"); when Cairo drew a gun, Spade quickly disarmed him and knocked him out - and when Cairo regained consciousness, he whined: "Look what you did to my shirt!", and soon drew his gun a second time on Spade: ("Will you please clasp your hands together at the back of your neck? I intend to search your offices")
Smelling Cairo's Perfumed Card
Homosexual Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre)
Drawing a Gun
  • during a second visit with Brigid in her hotel room, Spade confronted her directly: "You, uh - you aren't exactly the sort of a person you pretend to be, are ya?... The schoolgirl manner, you know, blushing, stammering, and all that... if you actually were as innocent as you pretend to be, we'd never get anywhere"); he also complimented her on her 'act' - "You're good. You're very good!"; after seductively asking Spade what she could offer besides money, he brutally took her face in his hands and kissed her roughly - digging his thumbs into her cheeks, as she accepted his lingering kiss; then he angrily and distrustfully told her: ("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 it'll all come out right in the end")
Second Visit with Brigid O'Shaughnessey
  • the subsequent scene of Spade's rough treatment of Cairo when later meeting with him and Brigid, and his harsh words toward the petty criminal: ("When you're slapped, you'll take it and like it!")
  • the menacing scene in the hotel room of a seated Gutman speaking to Spade over drinks, emphasizing the importance of straight-talking: ("I distrust a close-mouthed man. He generally picks the wrong time to talk and says the wrong things. Talking's something you can't do judiciously unless you keep in practice. Now, sir, we'll talk if you like. I'll tell you right out - I'm a man who likes talking to a man who likes to talk"), explaining the history of the bird (shot from floor angle, showing off his huge girth), and later speaking about his obsessive quest over 17 years for the bird: ("I'm a man not easily discouraged when I want something")
  • the discovery of a clue about the location of the Black Bird - the newspaper notice of the arrival of a boat (La Paloma) at the docks from Hong Kong (it was aflame), and shortly later, the mortally-wounded Captain Jacobi (Walter Huston) stumbled into Spade's office with the bundled falcon, and then died from his gunshot wounds
  • the subsequent meeting in Spade's apartment with the entire gang, and Spade's initial suggestion to the Fat Man that Cairo be the fall guy for the murders of Thursby and Jacobi: ("Give them Cairo!") - and then Spade informed the Fat Man's intimidated "gunsel" Wilmer that he was being double-crossed in plain sight: ("They're selling you out, sonny") - after knocking out Wilmer, Spade told the Fat Man: "There's our fall guy!" and the Fat Man agreed: "You can have him"
  • the suspenseful scene of the unwrapping of the bundled package in which the falcon bird ("the dingus") was discovered to be fake - not gold but only made of lead: (Gutman: "Fake! It's a phony! It-it's lead! It's lead! It's a fake!")
  • Cairo telling off Gutman, blaming him for their failures, and calling him names: ("You, it's you who bungled it, you and your stupid attempt to buy it. Kemidov found out how valuable it was. No wonder we had such an easy time stealing it. You, you imbecile! You bloated idiot! You stupid fathead!") - Cairo, Gutman, and Wilmer would soon be arrested after they fled the scene to continue their search for the bird in Istanbul
  • Brigid's final confrontation with Spade in which he forced her to confess to the double-crossing murder of his partner Miles Archer in order to implicate Thursby, her unwanted accomplice: ("This isn't the time for that school girl act. We're both of us sitting under the gallows. Now, why did you shoot Miles?"); she confessed and then tried to throw herself at him, but he coldly rejected her: ("Well, if you get a good break, you'll be out of Tehachapi in 20 years and you can come back to me then. 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"); he then reasserted his resolve: (Spade: "You're taking the fall." Brigid: "You've been playing with me. Just pretending you care to trap me like this. You didn't care at all. You don't love me!" Spade: "I won't play the sap for you!...You killed Miles and you're going over for it"); and then Spade reiterated his code of ethics: ("When a man's partner's killed, he's supposed to do something about it. It doesn't make any difference what you thought of him, he was your partner, and you're supposed to do something about it. And it happens we're in the detective business. Well, when one of your organization gets killed, it's - it's bad business to let the killer get away with it. Bad all around. Bad for every detective everywhere")
Spade to Brigid: "You're taking the fall!"
  • Brigid was handed over to officers for the murder of Miles Archer - she was arrested and ultimately took "the fall"
  • the famous ending quote in response to Sgt. Polhaus' (Ward Bond) question ("It's heavy. What is it?") about the false black bird: ("The, uh, stuff that dreams are made of")
  • Brigid was tearfully taken away and waiting in the elevator for the gates to close - the steel cage was pulled in front of her like the bars on a captive's cell, framing her frightened, motionless, lonely face staring fixedly between the bars of the gate. the last image of Brigid's exit to her fate was down the elevator with the gate casting a shadow of cell bars on her

San Francisco Private Eye Sam Spade's Office

Miss Wonderly
(Mary Astor)

The Murder of Miles Archer by an Unknown Figure in the Dark

Spade's First Meeting with Duplicitous Brigid O'Shaughnessey: "Help me, Mr. Spade!"

2nd meeting: Spade Demanding a Kiss From Brigid

Spade's Rough Treatment of Cairo: "When you're slapped, you'll take it and like it!"

Gutman's Discussion with Spade

Arrival of La Paloma - The Dying Freighter Captain Jacobi with the Black Bird in Spade's Office

Gunsel Wilmer - Proposed to Be The "Fall Guy!"

The Unwrapping of the Bird

Recriminations About the Fake Bird: "You stupid fathead!"

"The, uh, stuff that dreams are made of"

Brigid Arrested and Behind Elevator Gate


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