Alphabetical Movie – The Maltese Falcon
Alfred Hitchcock always referred to the Maguffin as the thing in a story that everybody wants. What that thing is may not be particularly important. What is important is the lengths your characters will go to in order to get that thing.
The Maltese Falcon revolves around something everyone but the central character wants. He has no interest in the falcon at all. He just feels the need to figure out why someone killed his partner to get it. Sam Spade’s motivation is honor rather than love or money and that, to some men at least, is considered romantic.
I think a lot of guys enjoy the idea that they are they martyrs of society. Could Sam Spade just forget about his partner and try to get himself a few bucks out of the Falcon? Sure he could.
But he’s working towards a higher cause. When someone kills your partner you are supposed to do something about it. You’re a man, dammit, and that’s what men do!
He’s got money troubles but that, too, seems manly. He doesn’t seem all that interested in solving his money troubles because guys are only supposed to be interested in money if there isn’t a higher calling. I’d take your money, pal, but I need to figure out who killed my partner!
I’m not sure how I got fixated on gender roles in The Maltese Falcon. I think I’m more fixated on the idea of the noir hero as a manly man.
Manly men fire guns and smoke and punch out people for kicks and drink hard alcohol straight up and don’t give a damn about women until they need one. They won’t accept bribes and they will laugh at someone who points a gun at them. Women throw themselves at manly men but a manly man can’t let on that he’s interested because if it got out that they were soft for some dame, the dames might start to expect things like a return phone call or someone caring about their orgasm.
Gem encrusted falcons? Meh. If they had a gem encrusted falcon, they might not have to try to scrape together a couple of dimes for a cup of coffee or keep borrowing money from that secretary they can’t afford to pay but who somehow has money anyway. Rich boyfriend, maybe?
The manly man of The Maltese Falcon is a myth. But then all archetypes in film are a myth. The Femme Fatale is every bit the as much of a myth as the manly man.
I enjoy this film a great deal in spite of the gender stereotyping because of the way all the characters in the film are trying to get something that, ultimately, isn’t worth anything. The only character who recognizes how worthless the whole affair will turn out to be is the one guy that they all think will solve their problem.
In a way, he will. But he doesn’t solve his own because his problem is needing to be a manly man in a world that never asked for them.
That, however, is a story for a different movie. Probably one that stars Marlon Brando.