On The Wings Of A Priceless Prop
Peeling Back Layers of Maltese Falcon Worth
I recently made an odd-number list of 81 all-time favorite films and put The Maltese Falcon at Number Four, the 1941 Falcon as opposed to a decade earlier version that was for years very tough to see. What occurs to me about Dashiell Hammett's story and the three movies adapted from it is their focus on collecting and extremes to which some go about it. Noteworthy too is how collectable items associated with the Falcon have become. I've read auction results as to the last statuette sold, from the estate of William Conrad, who received it as a gift from Jack Warner in the mid-sixties. Conrad had done lots for WB on both feature and televised fronts, but how was Jack to realize he was giving the man an object greater in eventual worth than all of salary Conrad drew from the company? And did Conrad imagine the bird's "immense value" as it sat upon a den shelf for remainder of his life? ($398,500 as hammered at Christie auction in 12/94, ten months after the actor/director's death)
Further Falcon lore I didn't know: There were two lead statues made, each weighing forty-five pounds. Imagine a thing only eleven and a half inches high being heavy as that. Bogart's grimace when he lifts the prop toward Falcon fadeout makes greater sense now. Publicity was issued to effect that actress Lee Patrick dropped the "dingus" and HB pushed her out of the way with result a couple of smashed toes for himself. I checked the pressbook for mention of the incident but found nothing. The whole thing may have been hooey, as several Falconists maintain that only plaster replicas were used on the set, none weighing over five pounds. As to collectability, here's my question: If a 1941 Falcon approaches half-million in 21st century coin of realm, what would a 1931 prop bring --- the one cradled by Ricardo Cortez and Dudley Digges' Gutman? Based on screen appearance, it was a scrawny bird, beaten down perhaps, by the Depression, but more faithful withal to the Falcon's appearance on the original novel cover. I wonder how long that item stayed in storage, or if/when it was unceremoniously tossed out. Would there be remotest chance that this first of falcons still exists?
The 1931 Maltese Falcon went years being called Dangerous Female, a device to separate it from the better known (and regarded) Bogart remake. TV stations buying both didn't want confusion in event of one playing within weeks or even days of the other, with viewership misled to effect they were getting a rerun. Warners has since restored the original title to DVD and TCM broadcast. Precode's Falcon needs adjusting to, being sleazy beyond bar set by the PCA per 1941. Ricardo Cortez is a "playboy" detective who takes little of narrative seriously. Neither should we, for that matter. The picture was sold on Bebe Daniels as femme fatale, as in "You Will Never Believe There Could Be Such A Woman Until You See Her." Ads like this may have been consulted when time came (1956) to rechristen the show as Dangerous Female. The first Maltese Falcon is a little choppy as to construction and pace, but is by no means a bad watch (additional scenes that would have been helpful were shot, but dropped prior to release). This 1931 version does make for pleasing combo with the underrated Satan Met A Lady, done five years later and the loosest WB adapt of Hammett's story. All are available on Warners DVD.