Tag Archives: peter lorre

The Maltese Falcon (1941)

So: The Maltese Falcon. Terrific novel, even better movie. John Huston’s first film, not to mention Sydney Greenstreet’s, and a picture that made stars of all its major players. Humphrey Bogart is amazing, Peter Lorre is oily and creepy, and Mary Astor’s inability to make eye contact with anybody to whom she is lying is one of the great cinema “tells.” With all love and respect to Dashiel Hammett, there are many detective novels that I enjoy more than this, but none of them – nothing by Sayers, Chandler, Doyle, anybody – has ever had a screen adaptation this perfect.

The point might surely be raised that seven’s a bit young to understand, let alone appreciate, The Maltese Falcon. And I knew that going in, and wasn’t either surprised or disappointed to see our son genuinely struggle with this story. It’s a complex one, not helped by every character in the picture other than the cops and a couple of cab drivers telling one lie after another. So I’ll give the kid a few years before I force The Big Sleep on him. Anyway, he struggled, and became restless, and got so sick of Sydney Greenstreet that he started pointing his finger guns at the screen and “shooting” him.

Kind of rough for a kid to recognize that a character is a villain awful enough to want to shoot without being able to explain why. But I’m sure part of it was that Greenstreet’s character, Kasper Gutman, just does not stop talking. Seven year-olds prefer men of action. Well, The Maltese Falcon wasn’t made for seven year-olds. Marie and I have loved it for years and years and seen it dozens of times. It’s one of a handful of “drop everything” movies if I hear it’s playing on a big screen somewhere nearby. But then again, she and I were each a little older when we first discovered it.

So it isn’t really geared toward seven year-olds and we showed it to him this morning knowing that he wouldn’t enjoy it all that much, and I’m illustrating it with a photo of the back of Elisha Cook’s head. Some of you good readers know perfectly well why we exposed our son to this confusing movie for adults, and are probably asking “you’re showing him High Noon next, right?” (The answer’s no; that would make him completely miserable!) The rest of you, check back later. All will be revealed.

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20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)

We sat down to watch Disney’s fabulous 1954 adaptation of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea this morning and I enjoyed it like I always have. It’s a real classic. In the last sixty years, there have been a whole lot of adventure movies that follow in this one’s footsteps. It was directed by Richard Fleischer, who later helmed a couple of other movies I may show my son one day.

In some of the other stories about Disney films at this blog, I’ve praised the studio’s excellent casting. Man alive, did they ever nail it here. James Mason is the iconic Captain Nemo, and Paul Lukas, Peter Lorre, and Kirk Douglas play his guests – slash – prisoners, and you couldn’t cast better than those four in 1954. Mason’s just perfect. In these more sensitive times, there’s a backlash to casting an actor of European ancestry in the role of Nemo, but Mason’s performance is so defining that it may be a very, very long time indeed before audiences will even understand an Indian actor (like Naseeruddin Shah, who played Nemo in the ridiculous League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) in the part.

It’s not flawless. While it’s mostly undated, the ooga-booga cannibals of a south Pacific island are very cringeworthy, and I really had to question whomever gave the order to start firing when the landing parties start coming over the ridge at Volcania. You’d kind of think that whatever military or privateer force that was would want some answers before they started trying to murder everybody in that lagoon, you know?

Other than these issues, it’s a massively entertaining movie. The themes are a bit over our son’s head, and we did have to pause to explain that in the 1860s, submarines on the scale of the Nautilus simply didn’t exist, and that Verne’s novel was a work of science fiction speculating about technology that was impossible in its day. He was okay. He’s done better with movies, but he’s also had a lot on his mind lately, getting used to our new home and getting ready to begin a new school, so he’s not been on his very best behavior.

While the climax of the film is the incident at Volcania, the real centerpiece is the battle with the giant squid. Holy anna, it’s amazing. Of course, any remake could certainly do as good a job today with computer effects, but you won’t convince me anybody will ever actually surpass it. And of course, it scared the pants off Daniel. He didn’t flee like he had done from some of the threats and villains we’ve seen in earlier shows, but he was crawled into his mommy’s lap, babbling to himself to keep himself brave.

Captain Nemo is killed and goes down with his boat in this movie, but this is certainly not the last time that we’ll meet the character as we watch classic adventures together in this blog. I am, however, reasonably confident that none of the actors who followed Mason in the role ever got to deliver a line like “Mr. Baxter, if you think you’re seeing mermaids and sea monsters, you’ve been submerged too long!” We’ll find out for sure before too long.

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