Monday, May 24, 2010

Film # 2: The Maltese Falcon (May 23rd)

The Maltese Falcon

1941, B&W, 100 min.
Directed by John Huston

It was a hot, lazy Sunday afternoon. We were entertaining company that weekend so we could go out and take in the best of Austin for my birthday weekend. Saturday night had seen a celebration at The Highball. Drinks! Bowling! Revelry! Late night! More drinks! This of course led to a morning of headaches! Dry mouth! Sleeping in! Luckily, Sunday's agenda was a virtual tabula rasa. It provided for an afternoon of recuperation.

We had The Maltese Falcon scheduled that evening, and our guest was also to accompany us. Now, our houseguest is a movie fan, but has more contemporary tastes. I must confess I was concerned whether it would hold their interest. Bear in mind, that my girlfriend and I were still spellbound by The Paramount from Thursday's events and screening of Casablanca, but I wasn't sure if I could recruit another with slightly different tastes than we.

Early dinner at The Spaghetti Warehouse and then we hoofed it the couple of blocks down to the theatre. This time I was prepared for the world I was about to enter, but I didn't warn our friend. Immediately, the feedback was positive. Duh. Who wouldn't fall in love with The Paramount?

Entering the venue, I noticed selections from John Williams scores playing as we found our seats. I noticed a great number were from The Empire Strikes Back, which was apropos of its 30th anniversary that same weekend. A nice touch, indeed.

We explored the building, found seats and then went to snag some beverages. Soft drinks, I might add. No hair of the dog, thank you very much. After securing Dr. Peppers and water, we sat comfortably and awaited the show.

First up, the trailer.
Another by Michael Curtiz. This one is the most famous adventure film of the early 20th century, The Adventures of Robin Hood.

After our tiny dose of Earol Flynn came two Looney Tunes shorts. Yay! Candy for the id!

"Punch Trunk"

An odd little ditty featuring a tiny elephant who wrecks mental havoc on a city. Funny, but repetitive. Yes, yes, we get it. People see a tiny elephant and think they're crazy. Lather, rinse, repeat.

"Odor of the Day"

An early Pepe Le Pew cartoon that doesn't really showcase him as a character. In fact, he doesn't have a single line of dialogue. A story about a homeless dog who breaks into Pepe's house to find a bed in the dead of winter. Pepe uses his natural (Ahem!) defenses to try and vanquish the intruder, and a series of punch and counterpunch antics continue until the dog gets a cold. Uh oh, now what does Pepe do? Since it was just a "passing entertainment" type of cartoon, I must admit that I didn't really care what the skunk did.

While the cartoons in front of Casablanca on Thursday had thematic elements prepping the audience for the feature. This prepped me for The Maltese Falcon in a very different way. It made me wish the movie would start already. So when the title card appeared, I was pleased as punch.

The Maltese Falcon is in many ways the definitive film noir. Humprey Bogart is splendid, per usual. Like Casablanca, Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre are present. Greenstreet is great as the fat man pulling the strings; a man who portrays himself as grand and measured. Peter Lorre has a much more substantial role in Falcon, and is delightfully eerie and sinister while serving pretty much as a punching bag. And of course, Mary Astor holds her own as one of the most pathological liars to ever grace the screen. Even politicians would be in awe of the labyrinths of lies she constructs.

It starts as these movies always do. Private investigators are hired to follow someone, things turn south, someone is murdered, and (as they say) the plot thickens. Only, this one is the prototype. The standard by which all gritty detective movies are judged. And when they're compared to the excellence of The Maltese Falcon they're... well, who are we kidding? They don't compare, do they? The Falcon is the gold standard. I don't mean the statue, I mean the film. It really is the stuff dreams are made of.

For a film chock full of suspense and mystery about a bird statue, the most intriguing element is Sam Spade himself. This role launched Bogart into a whole new orbit, and there's no mystery in how he accomplishes that achievement. Falling more on the side of sinner than saint, he is still magnetic in personality and identifiable to audiences even though he juggles the fates of men and hearts of women with his dirty hands. With a smirk and a cigarette, he charms us all. A leading man of a time gone by, it really is a shame to see that no one man today can approach the level of charisma that Bogart radiates. Even when slapping Peter Lorre or stringing along a few different ladies.

When one thinks about the complexities of the plot, it's astonishing that John Huston was able to keep the double and triple crosses of the plot from turning The Maltese Falcon into an indecipherable mess. The film has style and substance, and is smart enough to know how to mix them. Despite being his first film, Huston's directorial prowess is evident. The film is tightly woven, and still captivating to behold.

After the movie, we stopped by the merchandise cart in the lobby. We were browsing and I struck up a conversation with Cynthia, who was working the cart. It was a fun, friendly and enlightening conversation. I was happy to find someone else to share my experiences with regarding this magical weekend. We visited for a while, sharing anecdotes about the theatre and Las Vegas trips. I couldn't help but smile as we parted. At first merely looking for swag, I found something else... a realization. Those who volunteer at The Paramount are more than film fans. They are crusaders for a cause they feel passionate about. Sharing their time and efforts in hopes os creating something special. Something worthwhile. Something that is the environmental magic at every film screening.

Oh, and about our guest, you ask? As we left and ventured back to the car, they kept on and on about the theatre and the movie itself. I knew I had converted another moviegoer. Why would anyone choose a multiplex over this? What can they offer? Cup holders? An Imax screen? 3D? Barf. You know what else is there? Endless commercials. Uncouth talking audiences. The glow of cell phone screens from people texting with no regard for the experiences of fellow moviegoers. Compared to that... well, who are we kidding? They don't compare, do they?

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