#157 The Maltese Falcon (1941)

The Maltese Falcon, based on the novel by Dashiell Hammett, is one of the first true Hollywood Noir films. Appearing on the scene at the same time as Citizen Kane, there is no mistaking the true amazing “arrival not of an enfant terrible, but of a consummate professional” writer and director in John Huston (Schneider). Transcribing the novel’s dialogue word for word and scene for scene (which may suggest that Hammett is actually the mastermind behind this amazing film), there is no question that it is Lorre, Bogart, and Astor that carry this film. What is most amazing about this film is that the crime and inevitable love  story end up resolving in a manner quite different than what is expected, bringing shock, humor, murder, adventure, and some genius double-crossing to a head at the end of its beautifully shot 101 minutes. A truly enjoyable classic, this remake (yes, it is in fact already the second version of the same picture, even in 1941) is a “cornerstone of film noir” that can’t be missed.



“A story as explosive as his blazing automatics!”

This  1941 film is a classic who-done-it  that starts as all movies of this thread must, with a gorgeous and helpless damsel in distress.   The rest of the story unfolds at a fast pace.  This movie is brilliantly acted by Bogart, Lorre,  and Astor who effortlessly volley back and forth classic one-liners and great playful dialogue.  I have never read the book, but the movie (this is the third remake!)  appears to have done it justice.  This movie doesn’t require much deep thought or critical analysis by the viewer but offers up some classic Hollywood fun with a genre of characters we’re familiar with and a great mystery.  Even I couldn’t have guessed the ending of this one.


The Maltese Falcon is one of the most memorable Hollywood crime films. Written and Directed by John Huston, based on Dashiell Hammett’s novel of the same name, we get Bogey, Lorrie, Astor, Wilmer, and George together in a beautifully cut mystery of murder, theft, double-crossing, masterminding conspiracies,chases, and the dark, dirty streets. There are many films that we think of when we think Hollywood Noir, but The Maltese Falcon is one of the forefathers of the genre.

I read this book in my youth but actually never saw the film. It was exactly what I feel like I signed up for. While I prefer Double Indemnity and The Big Sleep in terms of the genre and style, there is no doubt that this film delivers a solid, gritty crime drama that seems to have all aspects of the archetypal trope. The dialogue is snappy, there is violence, humor, and murder, and the actors work beautifully as an ensemble.

The Maltese Falcon is pure Hollywood Popcorn fun. This isn’t the best movie in the world, but it shows some of the greats performing at their peak in Hammett’s tight storytelling, and it is guaranteed classic fun for a night in on the couch.

#158 Dumbo (1941)

One of Disney’s shortest animated films that clocks in at 64 minutes, Dumbo had one specific role: to quickly recoup the financial losses suffered by their commercial flop, Fantasia. Based on a little-known book by Helen A Mayer, it tells the story of an elephant who is socially outcast and ends up finding that he is a great deal more special than anyone ever expected. Perhaps Shneider’s book best describes it as “simultaneously loving biblical virtue and skilled gunplay…the movie revels in camaraderie, chaste romance, and dueling fisticuffs…a Hawksian world…perfectly transposed into a biopic long on small-town values and short on the violent conflict that made the real life Alvin York famous.”



I really enjoyed this as a child, and it was surprising to revisit it in my adulthood as I have gained perspective and an education. I love the fact that this film is not as sing-songy as a great deal of the Disney oeuvre, but it being so short, the major points are meant to be a carefully constructed sentimental piece, and that made the pacing weird at times for me.

What is perhaps what I like about the film is also something I hate about it. The anthropomorphist realism in the film – a story about the cruelty of the real world and how people treat each other like garbage until you can prove yourself – is a great tale… But the fact that the resolution of the piece lies in the innate talent that Dumbo was born with and that everyone is special and can be rich and famous in their own way if only one were to tap into that core thing that everyone should love and worship and throw money at was something totally disgusting. As a teacher, what lies in the virtues of this film is also what I absolutely hate about our American-idol, talentless reality TV and professional sports youth. There is a belief that if one were to only find the one thing within them that is spectacular and amazing that everything will be okay and they will be successful and their life will mean something in a validating, extrinsic way – and it will come easy because it is your gift you were born with. That said, this set a lot of people and many generations up to struggle with their self-worth because of the fact that this isn’t entirely how things work most of the time.

To me, there were three notable scenes… The postmodern, psychedelic booze sequence was absolutely captivating (and weird to discuss with my seven-year-old). The scene with the mother in elephant jail was terrifying and heartbreaking. The scene with the crows was strange, and I wasn’t sure if I was watching a lampoon on black dialect or straight up cartoon blackface – this is the one thing about children’s films of the era and earlier that one might consider doesn’t stand up to our contemporary cultural standards.

I enjoyed watching Dumbo again, but I am honestly unsure if the themes totally hold up today. Can one who is bullied and treated awful by the world overcome it? Sure! Can they overcome it by finally becoming the thing that people love and value above all else, especially when the love and respect are tied to something conditional like fame and success? Well, not only is the answer ‘no,’ but all I have to do is look to Facebook to recognize how many people I know that still believe it.


Unlike Garrett, I never liked this movie as a kid and was not looking forward to watching it again.  I still don’t feel fondness toward this film watching again as an adult.   It was  interesting to watch it with the seven-year-old.  He pondered the opening “stork” sequence, then accepted it ( “animals in the zoo get their babies from the storks, or some kind of bird…”).

One surprising part of this film that I did find interesting was  listening to the actors’ voices.  The other character’s voices resonated with a lilt and pitch, an accent and the more formal pronunciations of words that we rarely hear anymore.    Listening to those characters’ voices made me more nostalgic for the sound of my grandparents and great aunties than the visual images of the movie.