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The Maltese Falcon (4K UHD Blu-ray Review)

Warner Bros is celebrating its 100th birthday in 2023. And lucky for us physical media collectors, they are doing so with some boffo new 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray releases of many of their classics. Films coming to the format for the very first time. We’ve already seen Training Day to kick things off but more are on the way from seminal astute staples like East of Eden to beloved genre fare like the Christopher Reeve-led Superman films. On April 4th, these get a big kick to the engine as The Maltese Falcon, Rebel Without A Cause and Cool Hand Luke all debut on the format. Gorgeous restorations and classic bonus features abound, these are all available to order at the click of a button at the end of the review. This review will cover what might be the most well known and beloved classic film noir of all time. Or at least the one that feels like the basis from which everyone’s idea of a black and white noir comes from – 1941’s The Maltese Falcon.

Film 

Academy Award® winner Humphrey Bogart stars in this classic film noir as tough San Francisco private detective Sam Spade in the classic, convoluted story of Spade’s involvement with a deadly band of international thieves who will lie, double cross and murder to obtain a small, jewel-encrusted statue known as The Maltese Falcon. Sam Spade’s (Bogart) partner, Miles Archer (Jerome Cowan), accepts a job protecting a young woman (Mary Astor). Neither Spade nor Archer believe the woman or the story she tells them, but they do believe her money. Then, when Archer is murdered, Spade’s search for the killer drags him in the web of lies and death spun by the desperate people seeking The Maltese Falcon.

In terms of an example of what would be the most classic sense of film noir, it doesn’t get any better than John Huston’s adaptation of The Maltese Falcon. All the tropes, the style, dialogue, mystery, character types and even actors appearing in it are damn near everything you’d think of when trying to think of what makes up the genre. What also helps is that its a damn fine gumshoe detective story with some excellent drama, thrilling exchanges and cold hearted stunning resolve. Its hard for me to read through social media and non-film people who think they are film people bemoaning “old films” mainly for their lack of technological color, when I pop this in and feels every bit as punchy and effective today as it was then.

The Maltese Falcon is a film of deception, betrayal, history and romance all whirled into one. From opening scene to closing, relationships are changed, information changed or expanded and nothing is what once was believed when the truth comes out. Humphrey Bogart and Mary Astor give outstanding performances to add such weight to this mystery that has such a twisted and darkly humorous resolve. Bogart’s Sam Spade is a man dedicated to his code and knows how to play his game to the very end. There’s a cool, collected patience to Bogart and the character that only Humphrey could pull off. Astor is one who sells conviction even on the lies that makes her character’s fate so dynamite in her last moments before the credits role. We are also delivered a scene stealing performance by the wonderful Peter Lorre who manages to tightrope a line of menace and comedy with such ease.

Huston’s debut film is stylish with plenty of light and shadow. He also has a nice way of presenting the “package” with great importance when it is on screen. There’s also a way about how the actors block and place themselves that really add to that classic sense and has a nice sense of exchanging who has the upper hand or believes they do by the mere position of them in the frame. In terms of career directorial debuts in the film industry, there are few as effect, impressive and influential as what John Huston has pulled off here in The Maltese Falcon.

While Casablanca is probably the seminal Bogart performance, a lot of what people imagine with him lie in this Sam Spade role in The Maltese Falcon. In a career full of iconic performances, looks, lines and poses, The Maltese Falcon sits at the top. The film is on such a pedestal that it hangs out as an answer to that “if you only ever see 1 film noir in your lifetime” statement. The film only adds and rewards with repeat viewings and I agree still can impress to the uninitiated eye today, potentially acting as the gateway drug to a larger world of one of Hollywood history’s most influential, stylish and enjoyable genres.

Video

Disclaimer: Screen captures used in the review are from the standard Blu-ray disc, not the 4K UHD Blu-ray disc.

Encoding: HEVC/H.265

Resolution: 4K (2160p)

Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1

Layers: BD-66

Clarity/Detail: Black and white films of Hollywood yesteryear always lend themselves favorably to the 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray format in a way they never could with Blu-ray and DVD. The Maltese Falcon is no exception. It features a wonderful silver screen presentation with good clarity and fine detail in this image that lovingly showcases the best attributes of a noir features in this restored image.

Depth:  Depth of field is pretty strong in this more claustrophobic feature. Interiors carry a really terrific pushback and distance in the frame giving more space of the actors wandering around. Movement is cinematic and smooth with no issues arising from motion blur or jitter during more rapid moments.

Black Levels: Blacks are deep and natural and really produce wonderful nighttime sequences and shadowy alleys and rooms. There’s plenty of good saturation as textures, patterns and details all come through in a fine fashion even in some of the more engulfing depths of darkness. No crushing witnessed.

Color Reproduction: N/A

Flesh Tones: Skin tones carry a nice white/gray look to them. Most camera angles and distances pick up good amounts of facial texture and finer details.

Noise/Artifacts:  Clean

Audio

Audio Format(s): English 2.0 Mono DTS-HD MA, German 2.0 Mono Dolby Digital, Italian 2.0 Mono Dolby Digital, Spanish (Castilian) 2.0 Mono Dolby Digital, Spanish (Latin American) 2.0 Mono Dolby Digital

Subtitles: English SDH, French, German SDH, Italian SDH, Spanish (Castilian), Dutch, Spanish (Latin American)

Dynamics: The Maltese Falcon features a nice presentation of the mono track that has good clarity but also that little analog hiss that gives you a sense of time and space of when the feature came out. Vocals, music and effects are all well balanced here with good layering. This presentation gives you about the most right at home sounding quality you could ask for in having an old noir sound true to form.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension: N/A

Surround Sound Presentation: N/A

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are clear and crisp.

Extras

The Maltese Falcon comes with the standard Blu-ray edition and a redeemable digital code. With exception to the commentary, all bonus material is found on the standard Blu-ray disc.

Audio Commentary

  • by Eric Lax

Warner Night at the Movies

  • Sergeant York Trailer (SD, 2:00)
  • Newsreel (SD, 1:25)
  • The Gay Parisian (SD, 20:02)
  • Hiawatha’s Rabbit Hunt (SD, 7:47)
  • Meet John Doughboy (SD, 7:00)

Becoming Attractions: The Trailers of Humphrey Bogart (SD, 44:45)

Breakdowns of 1941 (SD, 12:53)

Makeup Tests (SD, 1:16)

2/8/1943 Lux Radio Broadcast (HD, 57:39)

9/20/43 Screen Guild Theater Broadcast (HD, 28:46)

7/3/46 Academy Award Theater Broadcast (HD, 27:34)

Trailers

  • Satan Met a Lady (1936) (SD, 2:30)
  • The Maltese Falcon (1941) (SD, 2:44)

Summary

Since first seeing it in film class over 20 years ago, I’ve been enamored with The Maltese Falcon. As my years pile on, the film continues to be one I frequent with constant rewards it delivers to me as a film lover. Its incredibly exciting that Warner Bros has finally updated it to the 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray format and its well worth the purchase. It features a top notch presentation in audio/video and delivers the same extras as it had on Blu-ray. Unfortunately they still haven’t been able to must up the ability to match the big DVD edition they did with the other 2 earlier film adaptations of the book included as extras. However, there could be a rights issue with that we don’t know about. Nonetheless, this is an instant pick up for your film collection.

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Brandon is the host, producer, writer and editor of The Brandon Peters Show (thebrandonpetersshow.com) on the Creative Zombie Studios Network. At Why So Blu he is a Writer/Reviewer. Brandon is a lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash. You can also find older essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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