The 4K restoration of this iconic film noir is “the stuff that dreams are made of”
Except where noted, all screen images in this review are direct captures from the disc(s) in question with no editing applied, but may have compression or resizing inherent to file formats and Medium’s image system.
Picked up by Warner Brothers shortly after its serialization in Black Mask in 1930, Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon proved to have as much of an irresistible draw to the production company as the titular MacGuffin itself. The studio attempted two adaptations over the following six years, each of which ranged in debatable quality as they tackled the gritty, hardboiled detective novel with out-of-place amounts of lewd humor and slapstick (despite featuring stars like Ricardo Cortez and Bette Davis). It wasn’t until 1941’s attempt, helmed by debut filmmaker John Huston, that Hammett’s cynical yet charismatic worldview was finally brought to life by actors Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, and Sydney Greenstreet, all turning in roles that would come to define the rest of their careers.
An attempt to track down the sister of Ruth Wonderly (Mary Astor) leads to the death of private detective Miles Archer (Jerome Cowan); his partner, Detective Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart), is determined to discover who truly killed Miles and why. Sam links Miles’ death to that of Floyd Thursby, who Miles was ostensibly tracking down on Ruth’s behalf. After Sam is fingered for both Miles and Thursby’s deaths, and stalked by creepy henchmen Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre) and Wilmer (Elisha Cook Jr.), Sam tracks down Ruth to get the straight story. Only Ruth isn’t Ruth at all: she’s actually Brigid O’Shaughnessy, who’s at the end of a worldwide search for the elusive Maltese Falcon. A black-enameled bird rumored to contain the riches of the Knights Templar, Brigid, Cairo, and the mysterious Fat Man (Sydney Greenstreet) will all stop at nothing to track down the bird…including murdering anyone who crosses their path. To clear his name, Sam must join their double-crossing quest to find the bird–and will discover the true culprit for the grisly murders along the way.
A rapid-fire mystery that birthed a vast amount of film noir tropes and countless imitators, The Maltese Falcon remains as thrilling and engaging as it must have been eight decades ago. The film’s drenched in inky-black shadows echoing with one iconic line of dialogue after another (“You always have a very smooth explanation ready.” / “What do you want me to do, learn to stutter?”). The quartet ensemble is addictively vile, swapping verbal jabs and stinging slaps, plumbing the depths of corrupt humanity with popcorn-crunching glee. Unlike other detective films, there are no qualms about establishing any character on opposing sides of “good” or “evil”–everyone in The Maltese Falcon has an agenda, one that’s easily prized over the cost of others’ lives and livelihoods. Emotions are an easily-swapped currency, with alliances lasting as long as a single beat of a scene before being sacrificed in another shrewd move. Riddled with a dizzying amount of betrayals and plot twists, The Maltese Falcon is a classic noir par excellence–one that would put an end to future adaptations of Hammett’s novel.
In celebration of Warner Brothers’ centennial anniversary this year, Warner Brothers has lovingly restored many of its beloved catalog titles in 4K for individual release as well as a gigantic box set. Joining fellow restorations of Rebel Without a Cause and Cool Hand Luke, The Maltese Falcon makes a long-awaited debut on UHD, in a stellar transfer that makes previous incarnations comparable to the real Maltese Falcon and its dazzling yet leaden imitators.
Warner Brothers presents The Maltese Falcon in its original 1.37:1 aspect ratio across both the 4K UHD and Blu-ray Discs. The UHD is encoded with HEVC in 2160p, while the Blu-ray Disc is presented in 1080p HD. Of note, the included Blu-ray Disc is identical to Warner Brothers’ previously released Blu-ray from 2010–as such, it unfortunately doesn’t include a downgraded version of the new 4K transfer like recent WB UHD releases. However, the accompanying MoviesAnywhere code does deliver a 4K digital copy in addition to the Blu-ray’s special features.
While the transfer on the Blu-ray still holds up 13 years later, the new 4K restoration on the new UHD is strikingly rich and full of more nuanced contrast. Textures like leather, neon signs, hairstyles, and suit jackets feature further definition than previous masters. Picture quality is strikingly clear of scratches and other imperfections while still retaining a healthy amount of grain, making the 82-year-old film appear fresh from the print lab.
Both transfers utilize DTS-HD Master Audio tracks for their main audio presentations–however, the UHD track is in 2-channel Mono. Like its visual restoration, the audio on the UHD is cleaned up to further pristine quality, further removing clicks and hisses more noticeable on the 2010 Blu-ray. Expanding the mono channel across two front channel speakers helps lend the track an audible sense of drive and timbre, greatly benefiting the crackling dialogue of Huston’s screenplay.
Like other Warner Brothers releases, there are a wide variety of subtitles available on the Feature film and Special Features, minus Eric Lax’s commentary. A breakdown of included languages is below.
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono, German Dolby Digital 1.0, Italian Dolby Digital 1.0, Spanish (Castilian) Dolby Digital 1.0, Spanish (Latin) Dolby Digital 1.0
Subtitles: English HoH, French, German HoH, Italian HoH, Spanish (Castilian), Spanish (Latin), Dutch
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0, German Dolby Digital 1.0, Portuguese (Brazilian) Dolby Digital 1.0, Spanish (Latin) Dolby Digital 1.0
Subtitles: Danish, English HoH, Finnish, French, German HoH, Greek, Norwegian, Portuguese (Brazilian), Portuguese (European), Spanish (Latin), Swedish
While Eric Lax’s informative commentary track is ported over to the new 4K UHD, the rest of the film’s special features are contained on the legacy 2010 disc. Notably not included in the film’s 2010 release as well as this one are The Maltese Falcon’s two previous adaptations, 1931’s The Maltese Falcon and 1936’s Satan Met a Lady, which were included on the 3-disc DVD release back in 2006.
- Commentary by Eric Lax: Bogart biographer Lax provides an entertaining glimpse at behind-the-scenes anecdotes from the making of the film and beyond, including the life of author Dashiell Hammett, the founding of Warner Brothers, the challenges director Huston faced in what could/couldn’t be depicted in the latest adaptation of Hammett’s novel, versus its various other pre-code versions, the careers of stars Bogart, Astor, Lorre, and Greenstreet, the subtext of Cairo and Gutman’s relationship, and more.
- Warner Night at the Movies: Designed to replicate the feel of a classic night at the movies back in 1941, this feature allows viewers to pull from assorted bits of Warner Brothers archival–shorts, newsreels, and cartoons–before settling into the feature film. Included is a trailer for Sergeant York, a newsreel of the Roosevelt/Churchill Parley, Oscar-nominated ballet short The Gay Parisian, the propaganda cartoon Meet John Doughboy, and Merrie Melodies cartoon Hiawatha’s Rabbit Hunt.
- The Maltese Falcon–One Magnificent Bird: A 2006 archival documentary examining the legacy of John Huston’s film spanning The Maltese Falcon’s 2 predecessors in adapting Hammett’s novel, the production, and impact of the film. A surprisingly diverse breadth of interviewees is featured, from Bogart and Warner Bros biographers, Hammett descendants, writer-director Peter Bogdanovich, comic artist Frank Miller, and actors Michael Madsen, James Cromwell, and more.
- Becoming Attractions–The Trailers of Humphrey Bogart: TCM host Robert Osborne guides viewers through classic reels teasing Humphrey Bogart films in order to analyze how Warner Bros molded him into a top-billing star in this 1997 archival episode.
- Breakdowns of 1941: A humorous compilation of bloopers from Warner Brothers’ 1941 releases. Especially worth it to hear major stars like Jimmy Stewart flub or Andy Devine swear up a storm.
- Make-up Tests: Just over a minute of silent makeup tests on actor Mary Astor in various costumes from the film.
- Radio Adaptations: Three audio-only radio adaptations of Hammett’s novel are included, from the Lux Radio Theater (February 1943), the Screen Guild Theater (September 1943), and the Academy Award Theater (July 1946).
- Trailers for The Maltese Falcon and its 1936 predecessor, Satan Met a Lady.
The Maltese Falcon is now available on 4KUHD courtesy of Warner Brothers.