THE MALTESE FALCON(1931)
This was the first version of the Dashiell Hammett novel. It starred an actor named Ricardo Cortez as Sam Spade and Bebe Daniels as Brigid O’shaughnessy. It pretty much followed the novel except for a slightly different ending. Spade ended up working for the district attorney’s office, something the novel version Spade would never have done.
Cortez’s face seemed to have only two expressions all through the film, either deadly serious or the goofiest looking fake grin, mouth open full of white teeth. He didn’t seem to do flirting well either, which he did quite often in the movie. In the first few minutes, he ushered a woman client out with hand kissing, flirted with Effie, his secretary, and with O’Shaughnessy.
It all seemed pretty tame by today’s standards(there was one scene of O’shaughnessy taking a bath, but all we saw were her bare shoulders). But when Warner Brothers wanted to re-release it in the mid-thirties, the Production Code Office wouldn’t allow it because of “lewd” content.
Which led to the second version.
SATAN MET A LADY(1936)
It pretty much followed the novel with a few changes and all the characters’ names different. Warren William played a private eye named Ted Shane and a very young Bette Davis played Valerie Purvis(reportedly Davis hated this movie).
Shane returns to his home town after being thrown out of his current city of residence and resumes his partnership with Ames. From there, things follow basically like the novel. Except this time the prize everyone’s after is the mythical Horn of Roland, supposedly filled with jewels. Alas, it was only sand.
This version was played as a light comedy and William was a much better actor than Cortez
THE MALTESE FALCON(1941)
This is that rare instance, probably the only one, where the remake, the second one at that, becomes the quintessential version. But how do you go wrong with Humphrey Bogart, Peter Lorre, and Sidney Greenstreet in the key roles. And one mustn’t forget Mary Astor, Ward Bond, Elisha Cook Jr., and John Hamilton either.
John Huston wrote the script and directed this wonderfully done movie. The story is the same as both previous efforts, but Bogart was so much superior as an actor than Cortez or William. Peter Lorre’s Joel Cairo was suitably creepy, that voice unmistakably slimy.
I wonder if Hollywood will ever try a fourth time. They are notorious for never leaving anything alone if they think they can rake another dollar out of it. I hear rumors about another Casablanca and, after all, they tried it twice as a TV series, once with David Soul(?) as Rick Blaine in 1983, the other back in the fifties. Haven’t seen either one, but can’t imagine them being very good.