The Maltese Falcon appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Across the board, this was a terrific transfer.
From start to finish, sharpness seemed excellent. Nary a hint of softness ever interfered with the proceedings. The movie always looked nicely crisp and well-defined. Jagged edges and shimmering failed to appear, and edge enhancement seemed to be absent. If any digital noise reduction was featured, it was used sparingly; the movie retained a natural sense of grain.
Blacks came across as quite deep and rich. Shadow detail was top-notch throughout the movie. The low-light shots displayed good clarity and visibility. As for print flaws, they were absent; at no time did I discern any blemishes. Put simply, this was an absolutely splendid transfer.
As for the monaural soundtrack of The Maltese Falcon, it appeared pretty good given the age of the material. Speech generally came across as reasonably concise and distinct. I noticed a little edginess at times, but I experienced no issues related to intelligibility.
Music appeared decently bright and clear, and effects also came across as clean and accurate. I discerned no significant problems related to distortion in those domains, and the mix also lacked noticeable background noise. Ultimately, you won’t use The Maltese Falcon to show off your sound system, but the audio seemed somewhat above average for a flick of this vintage.
How did the quality of this new special edition compare to those of the 2006 DVD? Audio seemed about the same for both releases, but the Blu-ray provided visual improvements. I already thought the 2006 DVD looked very good, but this version worked even better. It offered greater detail and eliminated the handful of source flaws present on the DVD. This was a truly gorgeous presentation.
Most of the 2006 DVD’s extras reappear here. We open with an audio commentary from Bogart biographer Eric Lax. He offers a running, screen-specific chat. Lax chats about the lives and careers of many participants, the history and development of Warner Bros., the story’s origins and move to the screen, other adaptations of Falcon, and various production notes.
Though the track starts slowly, it eventually becomes quite good. At his best, Lax gives us an interesting look at the anticipated issues. Most commentaries from film historians examine the lives of those involved and aspects of the film’s creation, so Lax’s piece takes the usual path. The results seem rather dry at first, as Lax initially does little more than throw out general biographies. However, as he gets more into aspects of the production, the piece grows more interesting. In the end, we get a nice look at the flick.
A creative and fun addition to the set, Warner Night at the Movies attempts to replicate the cinematic experience circa 1941. This feature starts with a preview for Sargeant York. We also get a period newsreel, two animated shorts (Hiawatha’s Rabbit Hunt and Meet John Doughboy) and a live-action musical short entitled The Gay Parisian. These are the kinds of pieces that might have preceded a theatrical showing of Falcon, so if you activate this feature, you get an attempt to duplicate a night at the cinema. I like this concept and think it’s quite clever.
Next we go to documentary called The Maltese Falcon: One Magnificent Bird. This 32-minute, five-second program mixes movie shots, archival materials, and interviews. We hear from Lax, filmmakers Christopher McQuarrie, Larry Cohen, Frank Miller and Peter Bogdanovich, actors Michael Madsen and James Cromwell, Dashiell Hammett’s granddaughter Julie Rivett, biographers Stephen Youngkin and Joe Gores, authors Michael B. Druxman, Eddie Muller and Richard Layman, film historians Rudy Behlmer and Lincoln D. Hurst, musician/performer Henry Rollins, cinematographer Roger Deakins, and editor Carol Littleton.
“Bird” covers the story’s author and origins, the book’s success and first two moves to the big screen, and how it got a third chance as a movie. We hear about how John Huston got a shot as a director, casting of Falcon and performances, and shooting details. Finally, the program deals with the production schedule and pressures, critical reactions and its influential elements, cinematography and characters, and the movie’s legacy.
My main complaint about “Bird” comes from the oodles of praise that shows up in it. The program comes across more as a general appreciation of the film than as a view of the production. Nonetheless, we get a reasonable amount of good information here. Some of this repeats from Lax’s commentary, but the addition of various archival pieces helps, and the show adds up to a decent little history of the movie.
Becoming Attractions: The Trailers of Humphrey Bogart offers one of the oddest documentaries I’ve seen. Hosted by Robert Osborne, this 44-minute and 40-second program indeed showcases the ads used to promote Bogart’s flicks. Created for the Turner Classic Movies channel in 1997, the show features promos for 12 Bogart efforts. Of course, Falcon appears in there, and we also find trailers for famous efforts like Casablanca and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Osborne offers some useful historical notes for this unusual but entertaining program.
Breakdowns of 1941 presents a 12-minute and 52-second blooper reel. It features goof-ups and wackiness behind the scenes on the year’s Warner flicks. We find names like James Cagney, Edward G. Robinson, Humphrey Bogart, Bette Davis, Ronald Reagan and James Stewart on display. The clips are just the same as modern bloopers, but the presence of so many legends makes this reel a little more interesting.
75 seconds of silent Makeup Tests come next. We see Mary Astor as she gesticulates for the camera. These aren’t terribly interesting, to be honest.
Under the banner of “Audio Vault”, we find three components. First comes a 2/8/1943 Lux Radio Broadcast. This 57-minute and 36-second adaptation of Falcon features Edward G. Robinson as Sam Spade and Gail Patrick as Brigid. This one hews pretty closely to the movie, though it takes a few liberties. For instance, it opens with Archer’s death and relates Spade’s first encounter with Brigid as a flashback.
The adaptation works pretty well. Robinson’s not as good as Bogart, but he holds his own, and most of the others and fine too. Laird Cregar lacks Greenstreet’s wonderful jocularity, though, and some of the scenes lose a little punch without visuals. Still, this is a fairly entertaining radio show.
Next we find a 9/20/1943 Screen Guild Theater Broadcast. It lasts 28 minutes, 45 seconds as it does another take on Falcon. Unlike the prior edition, this one uses the main cast from the movie. We get Bogart, Astor, Greenstreet and Lorre in their original roles. That’s a nice factor, though the extremely abbreviated take on the story hurts. The limited running time means that we zoom through the tale and lose an awful lot of material – this becomes a really bare-bones version. It’s fun to hear since it includes so much of the movie’s cast, and at least it minimizes ads so much of the 28 minutes gets devoted to the show.
For the final audio element, we get a 7/3/1946 Academy Award Theater Broadcast. In this 27-minute and 33-second piece, Bogart, Astor and Greenstreet all return for yet another iteration of Falcon, but Lorre fails to reappear. This one adds narration from Bogart to take care of all the missing material.
This works okay, though it feels like the clumsy device that it is. At least that method helps keep in more information than we find in the 9/20/43 edition. Otherwise this is an interesting curiosity but not a particularly memorable version of the story.
Two trailers finish the set. We get promos for 1936’s Satan Met a Lady - a precursor to Falcon - and the 1941 Falcon.
Speaking of Satan Met a Lady, it represents one of the two major omissions from the 2006 DVD. That three-disc release includes Lady along with a 1931 version of Falcon. Both of those films kind of stunk, but they were fascinating historical documents. I suspect they failed to make the cut here for purse string reasons: I’d guess WB just didn’t want to include a second disc. That’s too bad, as they were welcome additions to the earlier set.
Despite my teenage dislike of the film, as an adult I found The Maltese Falcon to provide a tight and intriguing story. The movie told its tale in a vibrant and concise manner and seemed to deserve its reputation as a classic. The Blu-ray delivers excellent picture and good extras as well as audio that was more than satisfactory. I’m disappointed the Blu-ray omits some of the 2006 DVD’s supplements, but it provides the strongest presentation of the film itself.