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THE ORIGINAL BLACK BIRD
A Video Review of “Dangerous Female” also known as “The Maltese Falcon” (1931)
Copyright 2003 Glenn Walker
Really no one but film buffs know that Dashiell Hammett’s “The Maltese Falcon” was made into a motion picture twice before the famous 1941 classic starring Humphrey Bogart. Bette Davis starred in Satan Met a Lady in 1936 but Dangerous Female was the original.
The story sticks pretty close to the Hammett novel. Private investigator Sam Spade seeks both a rare jeweled statuette and the murderer of his partner unaware the cases are related. Dangerous Female is classic film noir from Hammett, the original master of the literary genre.
The cast for the time is phenomenal. As Sam Spade is Ricardo Cortez who was originally considered to be Rudolph Valentino’s successor. While this is an interesting turn from his usual smirking Latin lover routine he makes for an entertaining if most un-Bogart-like Spade. It is harder to get past his bizarre cigarette gestures than the idea of a Hispanic Sam Spade. This is however ironic because Cortez is actually Austrian. That’s right, he’s more Arnold Schwartzenegger than Jennifer Lopez.
Bebe Daniels who plays Ruth Wonderly worked with Harold Lloyd as a teenager but is probably better known for her parts in classic musicals like Rio Rita and 42nd Street. Otto Matieson as Cairo proves he is no Peter Lorre here in a bad bit of casting. Dwight Frye, most infamous as Renfield in the 1931 horror classic Dracula, shines as the baby-faced but menacing Wilmer Cook. Longtime character actress Una Merkel plays a nice counter to Cortez’ Spade as secretary Effie. She’s a treat in any role.
As Iva Archer, the widow of Spade’s dead partner, is the beautiful Thelma Todd. This blonde bombshell also known as ‘Hot Toddy’ is a Hollywood legend. At the peak of her success she was also a businesswoman and one of Tinseltown’s brightest stars. She did however have a tendency toward bad boys. It is believed her relationship with mobster Lucky Luciano led to her being found dead at the wheel of her car in her own garage. As you can see from this role it was quite a loss.
Despite the cast Dangerous Female is stagy in places and seriously lacks a proper soundtrack although soundtracks were rare at the time. Other than the 1941 Bogart classic this is the best version of “The Maltese Falcon.” If you can find it definitely check it out.