The Maltese Falcon (1941)

The anti-hero, the McGuffin, the duplicitous femme fatale, film noir, German expressionism seeping its way into western film—these things have influenced our movies for longer than this reviewer’s father was alive, and they’re things that we take for granted because they’ve become old hat. But everything has a beginning, and for many of these elements we so easily recognise and denounce as cliché today, The Maltese Falcon was where it started.

"The cinematography is so brilliant an entire league of films imitated its execution"

It’s easy enough in this era to picture what disinterest talk of a remake elicits from our weary hearts, with nearly everything in our multiplexes being a rehash in some form, so picture this: you are in charge of production at Warner Bros. There have been two adaptations of Dashiell Hammett’s immortal novel within a six-year period, with neither really setting the box office on fire. An unproven director gets his secretary to essentially retype Hammett’s novel in screenplay format as an experiment. No A-list actor wants to touch it. But by some miracle, you, Jack Warner, okay the film to go into production on a miniscule budget. It never happens! Except it did! There was fate or luck or something unexplainable at work there.

Humphrey Bogart ensured his leading man status, enthusiastically stepping up from the token heavy and bad guy he’d been relegated to playing for so long; Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre immortalised themselves, and Mary Astor (the 30s version of Lindsay Lohan, due to her rather saucy extracurricular activity) owned the part of the duplicitous femme fatale.

Sam Spade is a private detective, ensnared in a web of murder and deceit, when a woman hires him to tail a man. When his partner is killed, and the police start sniffing around him as a suspect, Spade must use all his wiles to get to the bottom of what really happened and discover who the bad guy is before it’s too late.The Maltese Falcon (1941)

A story that’s since been told a thousand times, right? But back then, no one had executed it with the subtext and skill that John Huston did. In a post Code era, where everything edging on morality was questioned, you have a leading man as morally ambiguous as the people he’s chasing. The rapid-fire dialogue, the juxtaposition of their words against their true meanings, told through the subtlety of a glance or a movement—few have approached the economy and effectiveness of this film for doing it like that. Many have tried.

This was also the film that created a genre all its own. Low angles (though Citizen Kane employed this technique for different purposes earlier), harsh highlights and inky blacks, the atmospheric use and embracing of shadow, sinister silhouettes and ominous artefacts subtly foretelling doom. The cinematography is so brilliant an entire league of films imitated its execution.

This is the blueprint gumshoe movie, by which all others that have followed are measured, and none of them have yet matched its originality and class. It’s really no wonder that it made Humphrey Bogart a star and gave long and acclaimed careers to nearly everyone involved.

This is one classic I strongly recommend you don’t miss.

5/5 stars


The Maltese Falcon (1941)

4k details divider

4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray + Digital HD

Home Video Distributor: Warner Bros.
Available on Blu-ray
- April 4, 2023
Screen Formats: 1.37:1
: English SDH; French; German SDH; Italian SDH; Spanish; Dutch
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono; German: Dolby Digital Mono; Italian: Dolby Digital Mono; Spanish: Dolby Digital Mono; Spanish: Dolby Digital Mono
Discs: 4K Ultra HD; Blu-ray Disc; Two-disc set
Region Encoding: 4K region-free; blu-ray locked to Region A

Cannot emphasise enough how excited I was to hear that a UHD of this film was coming. It’s a seemingly generous package that Kino Lorber has licenced to release, but as we dig a little deeper I’ll explain how much reuse there is within.


Well, this is a noticeable uptick from the blu-ray a decade and change ago. Gone are the inconsistent inevitabilities of a nitrate transfer the VC-1 encode failed to handle. This new HDR10 transfer present a faithful, consistent picture (for the most part) that wows from beginning to end. The contrast in highlights to deep blacks render detail masterfully. Grain is present but unobtrusive and detail is preserved beautifully. There are (I am assuming) source material artefacts and camera shot faux-pas that Warner’s have chosen not to digitally rectify, which will please the purists I’m sure. Personally, I would have like to see them fixed. All in all this is a beautiful UHD presentation of a cinema classic and a must have for fans of the era.


Here’s where the reuse begins. This is not to say the DTS-HD 5.1 isn’t a beautiful surround experience. It truly is. But I would have liked to see a new 7.1 ATMOS mix. I think this is a great mix, but if they were going to the trouble of a definitive remaster, the soundtrack deserved the video’s attention to detail as well.



  • From Bogart biographer Eric Lax

Special Features:

The two-disc set includes the same VC1 blu-ray from before, not a 1080p scan of the new restoration. Also included are the special features, which were generous, but there is nothing new added to the features list from before.

  • The Maltese Falcon: One Magnificent Bird (32:05)
  • Breakdowns of 1941 (12:53)
  • Makeup Tests (1:16)
  • Becoming Attractions: The Trailers of Humphrey Bogart (44:45)
  • Warner Night at the Movies (38:14)
  • Radio Show Adaptations

4k rating divider

  Movie 5/5 stars
  Video  4/5 stars
  Audio 4/5 stars
  Extras 3/5 stars

Composite 4K UHD Grade

4/5 stars

Film Details

The Maltese Falcon (1941)

MPAA Rating: R.
110 mins
: John Huston
John Huston; Dashiell Hammett
Humphrey Bogart; Mary Astor; Gladys George
: Crime | Mystery | Noir
It's thrilling... it's chilling... it's the most baffling mystery story in years!
Memorable Movie Quote: "When you're slapped, you'll take it and like it."
Theatrical Distributor:
Warner Bros.
Official Site:
Release Date:
October 18, 1941
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
April 4, 2023.
Synopsis: A gallery of high-living lowlifes will stop at nothing to get their sweaty hands on a jewel-encrusted falcon. Detective Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) wants to find out why - and who'll take the fall for his pertner's murder.


The Maltese Falcon (1941)