Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Narrative: Film Review on "The Maltese Falcon" (1941)

FIG.1: Film Poster

Director: John Huston
Producer: Hal B.Wallis
Year: 1941
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Gladys George, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet

Jon Huston's The Maltese Falcon, starring Humphrey Bogart is one of the most famous detective mysteries ever made and is considered as the first in the dark film noir genre in Hollywood. Apart from its popularity in the film noir genre, it is distinctive in inaugurating or changing crucial aspects of film history.  Apart from paving the way to the FilM Noir Genre, The Maltese Falcon became a major influence for all the modern subgenres of Noir like Post Noir (or Neo Noir), Tech Noir and Cyberpunk.
FIG.2: The Cast
Before moving to the subgenres it is vital to understand the origins and the characteristics of Noir itself. The term film Noir describes a film that has a dark content and outlook. It's aesthetics are deeply influenced by the Art Movement of German Expressionism, an art movement that first appeared before the First World War and involved theatre, painting, sculpture and even film. It isn't based on realism, but it is more like representations of realism. Pioch's explanation is more understandable:  "Characterized by heightened, symbolic colors and exaggerated imagery, it was German Expressionism in particular that tended to dwell on the darker, sinister aspects of the human psyche.`Expressionism'' can be used to describe various art forms but, in its broadest sense, it is used to describe any art that raises subjective feelings above objective observations."(Pioch.2002) In a cinematic aspect, Expressionsm was displayed in a way that made the viewer look deeper into the psyche of the characters and in combination with the dark, claustrophobic environment it made it even more enticing. 
FIG.3: The Falcon
The Maltese Falcon has all the traits of a typical Film Noir. It involves doomed heroes, manipulative people and hidden political agendas that are revealed throughout the film. It is a mixture of mystery, romance and thriller- a mashup of emotions. The characters often seem lost in the dark smoke filled rooms they are set in and often end up not even recognising themselves. Another interesting fact of the film that is seen in onward Noir influenced films is the famme fatal which is the portrayal of the woman as the illicit desire of the male protagonist. In film Noir, the gender roles changed: the woman is often the strongest character or even the villain. They were the ones who could control male protagonists and sometimes made them commit murder for their own sake.
Film Noir continues to inspire modern film making and created whole new genres based on its distinctive imagery. Neo Noir was named as a separate genre around 1970, with visual elements that included low lighting, big use of lighting and shadow and weird camera placements. Neo Noir films, are aware of modern circumstances unlike classic Noir Films. And then there is Tech Noir and Cyberpunk which is a combination of film Noir and science fiction. Tech-Noir  is any story that relies on technology for an integral part of the premise, while simultaneously using noir techniques to tell that story.
In conclusion, The Maltese Falcon is a film that pays tribute to the Film Noir Genre. It was the one which started everything that involves Film Noir today and it will still inspire generations to come, whether it is combined with futuristic traits or not.


Pioch, Nicolas (2002) Expressionism. Wed Museum: Paris At: http://www.ibiblio.org/wm/paint/tl/20th/expressionism.html (accessed on 14/11/2011)

List of Illustrations

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