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, low-budget, noir/detective debut film based on Dashiell Hammett's 1929 novel, it told about the elusive search for a one foot-tall, jewel-encrusted 'black bird' statuette in the shape of a falcon. The Warner Bros' film - considered the firstnoir in that dark category of films, included memorable sinister and moody imagery, great dialogue, deceitful characters, double-crosses and deceptions, and interwoven and menacing scenes.

[Note: The black bird served as the film's McGuffin, a plot device that propelled the story forward but was proven ultimately worthless.] Humphrey Bogart portrayed a definitive anti-hero named Sam Spade in this mystery thriller classic - a cynical, cool San Francisco sleuthing private-eye who lived by his own code of ethics.

Hammett's murder mystery novel had previously been filmed twice, Roy Del Ruth's The Maltese Falcon (1931), and William Deterle's remake Satan Met a Lady (1936).

  • during the title sequence, the credits washed down the screen over a view of the legendary Maltese Falcon - a black figurine; a scrolling title screen explained the legend of the black bird: "In 1539, the Knights Templar of Malta, paid tribute to Charles V of Spain, by sending him a Golden Falcon encrusted from beak to claw with rarest jewels- - - - - but pirates seized the galley carrying this priceless token and the fate of the Maltese Falcon remains a mystery to this day."
  • in the film's opening scene, set in the private-eye offices of hard-boiled San Francisco detective Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) with Spade's loyal, wholesome blonde secretary/'Girl Friday' Effie Perine (Lee Patrick), deceitful "knockout" femme-fatale Brigid O'Shaughnessy (Mary Astor), calling herself Miss Ruth Wonderly, arrived

Spade's Secretary/'Girl Friday' Effie Perine (Lee Patrick)

Spade's Partner Miles Archer (Jerome Cowan)
  • claiming that she was from New York, Miss Wonderly begged for protection against a mysterious man named Floyd Thursby, who had allegedly run off with her younger sister (Corinne)
  • Spade's infatuated and enthusiastic, less-brainy partner Miles Archer (Jerome Cowan) volunteered to shadow Thursby and Miss Wonderly that night and then free the sister; Spade was paid $200 for the job
  • at the corner of Bush and Stockton Streets in the city that dark evening, Miles Archer was surprisingly gunned down (point-blank); at the murder scene, a cool-headed Spade talked with plainclothes Police Sergeant Tom Polhaus (Ward Bond), where it was determined that Archer was caught off guard - he was shot at close range with one bullet
  • by early morning, Spade was visited by Polhaus and his superior Lieutenant Dundy (Barton McLane), who considered Spade a likely suspect (Spade was having an affair with his partner's wife Iva (Gladys George), and it was thought to possibly be a crime of passion); then, Floyd Thursby was also found murdered in front of his hotel only a half hour after Sam left the Archer murder scene; Thursby was shot four times in the back with a .44 or .45 from across the street, with no witnesses; did Spade possibly kill Thursby to avenge his partner Archer's death?
  • Spade met up with 'Miss Wonderly' who had left the St. Mark Hotel and was now at the Coronet Apartments (#1001) on California Avenue, under the name of Miss Leblanc; wearing a striped robe, the deceiving female Brigid O'Shaughnessey 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
After the Murders, Spade's Confrontation with the Duplicitous Brigid O'Shaughnessey, Spinning More Lies

"Help me, Mr. Spade!"
  • although Spade was the one who was the prime suspect in two murders, she held the real key to the two deaths. He was confused by her motives and her story, and was about to give up on her case; when she began pleading again, he softened, and demanded another $500 for further investigative expenses
  • back in Spade's office, he met up with effeminate, strange, bug-eyed and creepy Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre) with a gardenia-perfumed business card that Spade smelled, who told him about his search for a 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 searched through his possessions (and many passports) - and when Cairo regained consciousness, he whined: "Look what you did to my shirt!"
Spade's First Encounter with Joel Cairo - in His Office

Homosexual Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre)

Cairo Drawing A Gun on Spade

Turning the Tables on Cairo - Disarming Him and Knocking Him Out
  • Spade denied having the black bird, or knowing where it was (or where he could get it), but would agree to be hired, for a profit, to get it back soon; Cairo drew his gun a second time on Spade and repeated his same threat: ("Will you please clasp your hands together at the back of your neck? I intend to search your offices"); Spade laughed at him: "Go ahead, I won't stop ya!"
  • after his meeting with Cairo, Spade left his office, and noticed he was being followed on the street, but he cleverly evaded the young-faced thug (a trench-coated gunman or gunsel named Wilmer (Elisha Cook, Jr.))
  • Spade revisited Brigid in her hotel room, and 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
Second Visit in Hotel Room with Brigid O'Shaughnessey
Spade Demanding a Kiss From Her, When She Asked: "What else is there I could buy you with?"
  • then Spade 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"); Brigid pleaded for his patience and for more time: ("Can't you trust me a little longer?") - and he reluctantly agreed to speak to Joel Cairo with her
  • that evening in Spade's own apartment, he (with Brigid) met with treasure-hunter Cairo; she claimed that she hadn't "got the Falcon," but promised that she would have it back in about a week from where Floyd Thursby had hidden it. She said that she was selling the bird and disposing of it because she was fearful of the bird's deadly trail and how it led to Thursby's murder; it was obvious that Brigid and Cairo were rivals; Cairo became tense when Brigid mentioned that the 'Fat Man' was in San Francisco and she also became excited when he repeated a warning about "the boy outside" (Wilmer) - two additional pieces to the mysterious puzzle
  • Brigid slapped Cairo hard - and when he raised his hand to slap her back and then drew his gun, Spade disarmed him and the gun dropped to the floor; the petty criminal Cairo weakly protested: "This is the second time that you've laid hands on me." Spade forcibly grabbed Cairo and slapped him three times: ("When you're slapped, you'll take it and like it!")
  • police detectives Polhaus and Dundy arrived at Spade's place for a second after-hours call, informing Spade that an anonymous phone-caller [later discovered to be Iva Archer] had informed them that Spade was romantically involved with Iva - and killed Miles to marry her; Spade was forced to let the cops in when Cairo started fighting with Brigid; everything was defused by Spade, and by the two who preferred 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; after the cops and Cairo left, Spade asked Brigid: "Hey, what's this bird, this falcon that everybody's all steamed up about?"; after she spun another 'tall tale' about the bird, Spade bent over to kiss the femme fatale, as the curtains blew apart at his open window, revealing the perilous real-world outside - the 'boy' gunman was still in a dark doorway across the street
  • in the lobby of the Hotel Belvedere the next day, where Spade was to meet Cairo, he noticed the 'boy' Wilmer (Elisha Cook, Jr.) sitting there wearing an oversized overcoat and reading a newspaper; he suspected that the "boy" was hired by either the 'Fat Man' or Cairo to follow him; he signaled the house detective Luke (James Burke) to run Wilmer out of the hotel lobby; at that point, Cairo appeared - and told how he had been booked and roughly interrogated by police at the police station after leaving Spade's apartment
  • back in his office, Spade was told he had received a call from a Mr. Kasper Gutman (aka the 'Fat Man')(Sydney Greenstreet); he also spoke to Iva Archer, who begged for forgiveness after admitting that she was "mad, crazy with jealousy" and had sent the police to Spade's apartment the previous night
  • Spade proceeded to meet with Cairo's partner Gutman in his hotel room, who was being guarded by his ferretty gunsel, Wilmer; in the classic, menacing scene over drinks, the seated Gutman (with his wide girth shot from floor angle) was supremely interested in retrieving the bird and outfoxing Spade, as he spoke in oratorical fashion and peppered his words with aphorisms; likewise, Spade was intent on trapping Archer's killer and discovering how Gutman was involved in the conspiracy to acquire the falcon; Gutman emphasized 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"); he explained the history of the bird, and later spoke about his obsessive quest over 17 years for the bird: ("I'm a man not easily discouraged when I want something"); their conversation reached a standoff because neither party was willing to divulge what he knew first; feigning impatient greed, Spade was infuriated that Gutman would not reveal more about the bird and gave Gutman until later that evening to talk
  • that afternoon, Spade was questioned at the District Attorney's office, where he refused to bend to any questions, and demanded that the law leave him alone and not intimidate him any further
  • outside his office building, Spade was summoned by Wilmer to meet with Gutman again; he cleverly pinned the gunsel's arms with his own coat and then took his guns away; In front of Gutman, he embarrassed and humiliated the bungling Wilmer, as Gutman laughed: "By gad, Sir. You are a chap worth knowing, an amazing character..."; as they convened together, Spade finally learned from the eloquent criminal all about the exotic history, origin, and value of the valuable black bird statuette; he had been in a passionate, obsessive quest for the last 17 years for the statuette, and was betrayed by his hired agents Brigid and Thursby; the Fat Man promised to offer Spade $50,000 for acquiring the bird; this time, Spade was drugged by his drink and he passed out; the conspirators (Cairo, Gutman, and Wilmer) hastily departed in search of the black bird
  • upon awakening, Spade discovered a clue about the location of the Black Bird - a newspaper notice of the arrival of a boat (La Paloma) at the docks from Hong Kong; at the dock, Spade saw the boat in flames, and shortly later back in his office, the mortally-wounded Captain Jacobi (Walter Huston) stumbled into Spade's office with the bundled falcon, and then died from his gunshot wounds; he exulted to Effie that he possessed the valuable, coveted statuette: "We've got it, angel. We've got it"; Spade took the falcon to a baggage parcel area of the Union Bus Terminal and checked it in, and then mailed the claim tag to himself

The Dying La Paloma Freighter Captain Jacobi (Walter Huston) in Spade's Office with the Black Bird

The Falcon Wrapped in Newspaper Dropped to the Floor

Spade to Effie About the Bird: "We've got it, angel. We've got it!"
  • subsequently, Spade met up again with Brigid at his apartment, where he was confronted in his living room by the entire gang of self-interested, greedy falcon-seekers; Spade wished to find a believable "fall guy" - someone that the police could pin the murders of Thursby and Jacobi on; Spade shrewdly proposed two-bit gunsel Wilmer as the appropriate, logical choice for a 'fall guy'; after Gutman at first refused to give Wilmer up, Spade suggested other fall-guy alternatives - he nominated Cairo ("Give them Cairo!"); however, Spade knew that the Fat Man's intimidated "gunsel" Wilmer would be later 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 Entire Gang of Greedy Falcon-Seekers in Spade's Apartment

Plotting: Who should the fall-guy be? ("Give them Cairo")

Gunsel Wilmer - Also Proposed by Spade to Be The "Fall Guy!"
  • Spade promised to deliver the "dingus" the next morning, as Gutman summarized: "In exchange for the $10,000 and Wilmer, you'll give us the falcon"; the next morning, Effie delivered the Falcon (from the bus station) and it was placed on a table in front of the conspirators; in a suspenseful scene, the bundled package was unwrapped - and the falcon bird ("the dingus") was discovered by Gutman to be a fake or forgery - 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 raged at 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 by Sgt. Polhaus after they fled the scene to continue their search for the bird in Istanbul; Spade informed the Sgt. that Wilmer, ordered by Gutman, killed both Thursby and Captain Jacobi; Spade retained $1,000 dollars of the promised $10,000, for expenses
  • Sam was left with one final loose end - the deceitful, ruthless, and amoral Brigid; Spade confronted Brigid and forced her to confess to the double-crossing murder of his partner Miles Archer (with Thursby's gun) 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")

"This isn't the time for that school girl act"

"Why did you shoot Miles?"

"You'll be out of Tehachapi in 20 years..."

"I hope they don't hang you, precious, by that sweet neck..."

"Yes, angel, I'm gonna send you over"

"Don't be silly, you're taking the fall"

"I won't play the sap for you!"

"You killed Miles and you're going over for it"

"When a man's partner's killed, he's supposed to do something about it"
  • Spade 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 denied his feelings and refused to let himself love Brigid, because he admitted that her manipulative nature dangerously outweighed the possibilities of mutual love
  • the doorbell rang as police officers arrived; Brigid was handed over for the murder of Miles Archer ("She killed Miles") - she was arrested and ultimately took "the fall"; Spade relinquished Wilmer's gun, the $1,000 bill given to him as a bribe by Gutman, and the fatal black bird ("that all the fuss was about")
  • the famous ending quote was delivered by Spade in response to Sgt. Polhaus' question ("It's heavy. What is it?") about the false black bird: ("The, uh, stuff that dreams are made of"); Spade carried the bird out of the apartment, and watched as Brigid was tearfully taken away by Dundy 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

Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart)

Femme Fatale Brigid - Alias Miss Wonderly (Mary Astor)

The Murder of Spade's Partner Miles Archer (Jerome Cowan) by an Unknown Figure in the Dark That Evening

(l to r): Lieut. Dundy (Barton McLane) and Sgt. Polhaus (Ward Bond) Questioning Spade

Thursby and Archer Murders Linked

Spade's Widowed Mistress Iva Archer (Gladys George), His Dead Partner's Wife

Smelling Cairo's Perfumed Card Before Meeting Him

One of Cairo's Many Passports

Spade's First View of Gunsel Wilmer (Elisha Cook, Jr.) Following Him

Brigid and Cairo with Spade in His Apartment

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

Further Questioning of Spade by Dundy and Polhaus At His Apartment Door

Spade Bending Over to Kiss Brigid at His Open Apartment Window

Wilmer in the Lobby of the Hotel Belvedere

Gutman's First Discussion with Spade in His Hotel Room

Spade Grilled in the DA's Office

Spade Pinning the Gunsel's Arms With His Coat and Disarming Him

Spade Drugged and Passing Out on Floor During 2nd Conversation with Gutman

News of the Arrival of La Paloma from Hong Kong

La Paloma On Fire At the Dock

Spade's Baggage Claim at Bus Terminal - Mailed to Himself

The Black Bird After Being Feverishly Unwrapped

Recriminations About the Fake Bird by Cairo Toward Gutman: "You stupid fathead!"

Spade's and Brigid's Final Farewell Kiss Before She Was Turned Over to Authorities

Polhaus: "What is it?" Spade: "The, uh, stuff that dreams are made of"

Brigid Arrested and Behind the Down Elevator Gate


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