The sun was melting the early morning frost on the grass verge as I walked towards The Grand Hotel, the setting for the Focus Photography group photo shot.
The briefing session had begun by the time I arrived. Squashed into the entranceway unable to see passed heads I found myself staring at the stairs, ironwork crisscross railing topped with a polished dark wood balustrade. In that moment the hotel faded and I entered a 1940s Hollywood film-set.
When I reached the landing at the top of the staircase my eyes settled on the glass-door framed in reddish-brown mahogany timber with gold lettering PRIVATE – NO ENTRY. The ambience and doorway though said DETECTIVE AGENCY. My imagination had transported me onto the set of John Huston’s ffilm noir movie The Maltese Falcon. From behind those doors marked private echoed the lispy tones of Humphrey Bogart (he played the hard-boiled private investigator Sam Spade) talking to his client.
We didn’t exactly believe your story, Miss O’Shaughnessy. We believed your 200 dollars. I mean, you paid us more than if you had been telling us the truth, and enough more to make it all right.
~ Sam Spade, The Maltese Falcon (1941).
The hallmark of film noir is the seductive femme fatal a Miss O’Shaughnessy, played by Mary Astor. In a 1940s seductive style she lured the protagonist (Sam Spade) into a dangerous scheme the purpose of finding a statue of a black bird, the titular Maltese Falcon.
Once through the non-private doorway, down the long hallway, I spied the habitat of the femme fatal. Her bedroom door ajar, keys dangling from the lock, furs hanging from the mantel of the fireplace, set the scene for seduction and treachery.
I continue walking through my now black and white world, turned the corner and there in the hallway mirror was a silhouette and I enter a world of shady characters, intricate plots and grainy starkly lit black and white photography.
The Maltese Falcon became the blueprint for film noir and made this movie one of the most influential examples of the genre.
I distrust a man who says “when.” If he’s got to be careful not to drink too much, it’s because he’s not to be trusted when he does.
~ Kasper Gutman, The Maltese Falcon (1941).
The Maltese Falcon is a “must watch” for any film buff. It was nominated for three Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Sydney Greenstreet, he played Kasper Gutman) and Best Screenplay for John Huston.