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The Maltese Falcon  /  Key Largo

Key Largo
June 9, 2017 - 7:30 pm

The Maltese Falcon  (1941)

James Agee, an early champion of Huston’s work and later a collaborator (The African Queen) declared his directorial debut “the best private-eye melodrama ever made.”  While the term of choice now is film noir, the assessment holds up.  Huston closely follows Dashiell Hammett's stripped-down source novel about a San Francisco gumshoe caught up with a baroque band of treasure hunters scouring the globe for the eponymous bird, but somehow makes it feel even leaner, sharper in the retelling.  There isn’t a single wasted second on screen and not an ounce of atmosphere lost.  Huston’s cinematic physics forged the iconic screen image that Humphrey Bogart, as Spade, came to be known for in a movie all about the dangerous seduction of image.

35mm, b/w, 100 min.  Production: Warner Bros Pictures Inc.  Distribution: Warner Bros Pictures Inc.  Director: John Huston.  Screenwriter: John Huston.  Based on the novel by Dashiell Hammett.  Cinematographer: Arthur Edeson.  Editor: Thomas Richards.  Music: Adolph Deutsch.  Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Gladys George, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet.

Key Largo  (1948)

If The Maltese Falcon displayed Huston’s shrewd ability to stay out of the way of inherently cinematic source material, Key Largo reveals his facility with finding the cinematic in material that needed it.  Huston didn’t care for Maxwell Anderson’s stage play, an assignment handed to him by Warner Bros. producer Jerry Wald, until his co-screenwriter, an up-and-coming Richard Brooks, convinced him that Anderson’s story about an American returning from the Spanish Civil War could be updated to the postwar moment and reworked “as Little Caesar from Cuba.”  In their version, Humphrey Bogart plays the vet, tired of conflict and disillusioned by his return, who visits the family of a fallen comrade (Lionel Barrymore and Lauren Bacall) to find them held hostage by a gangster (Edward G. Robinson) who has also commandeered their hotel.  Still fuming over his recent encounters with the House Un-American Activities Committee, Huston transformed the theatrically compressed action into a superheated cauldron of anti-Fascism.

35mm, b/w, 100 min.  Production: Warner Bros Pictures Inc.  Distribution: Warner Bros Pictures Inc.  Director: John Huston.  Producer: Jerry Wald.  Based on the play by Maxwell Anderson.  Screenwriter: Richard Brooks, John Huston.  Cinematographer: Karl Freund.  Editor: Rudi Fehr.  Music: Max Steiner.  Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson, Lauren Bacall, Lionel Barrymore, Claire Trevor.