March 30, 2017

Remakes: The Maltese Falcon

When you think of movies staring Humphrey Bogart, The Maltese Falcon better come to mind. But how would you feel if I told you the movie that launched Bogart to leading-man fame was a remake? And, what would you say if I told you that wasn't even the first re-make of that film?



The first version: The original Maltese Falcon film (1931) was based on the Dashiell Hammett novel of the same name, and was made in a time before there were regulations on what could be depicted in film, otherwise known as the pre-code era. It featured many of the overt homosexual characters and sexually suggestive situations from the book, pushing the boundaries of what was "socially acceptable" at the time. So despite it's popularity, this film was banned (like so many others) when the Hays code was instituted.



The first remake: The banning of the 1931 Maltese Falcon created an opportunity for the film to be made in accordance with the Hays code in 1936. This time it would be called Satan Met a Lady, star Bettie Davis, and be a comedy that had almost nothing to do with the source material. Needless to say, people didn't care for it much. But since Satan Met a Lady didn't make many overt references to the source materials, they wouldn't have to wait long to try again!



The classic: The overt homosexual characters, sexually suggestive situations, and other pre-code grittiness of the original film still couldn't be carried over to a movie in the 40s, but many other elements did make it into the 1941 version. That plus Humphrey Bogart's Sam Spade becoming an icon for the time period, stellar performances across the board, and a masterful noir presentation from cinematographer Arthur Edeson, and you get the version that's cemented our cultural lexicon as the only Maltese Falcon.


What this film says about remakes: Even if most of the sexual overtones and general seediness is stripped out of your remake, you can still make a gold standard film. One that might beat out all other versions in the memories of film lovers for generations to come. (Especially if your best competition is buried in a film vault somewhere because of the "morality" police...)

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