Three years ago Mom bought a basket full of classic movies at an auction . . . why is wasn’t the confetti-cannoned grand finale of the evening, I’ll never understand. Along with A Streetcar Named Desire, Rebel Without a Cause, and Citizen Kane (which truthfully I never enjoyed), one of the many Mom passed on to me was The Maltese Falcon. Already an easily made fan of Bogie’s, I had just seen Mary Astor opposite Bette Davis in The Great Lie (1941). Never had I suspected someone could steal scenes from the dynamite Davis, but not only did Mary Astor pull it off, she also won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Surely there were later reports of Bette Davis purposely holding back to help Miss Astor’s career . . . what a good sport, that one! But even with an old love for Bogie and new love for Mary Astor, I fell asleep every time I sat down to watch The Maltese Falcon. Recently I made it all the way to the end, and it only took me three years.
Based on the 1930 detective novel by Dashiell Hammett (who worked seven years for a detective agency), The Maltese Falcon follows Sam Spade (Bogie) and his film noir pals on their hunt for a valuable jewel-encrusted statue. With its twists and turns and tobacco, the first film directed by the legendary John Huston follows the comforting and familiar formula of its time. Along with a mink or two, Mary Astor wraps the femme fatale role effortlessly around her shoulders, jamming Bogie and me somewhere between “I love her” and “I suspect her.” The deep, confident voice of Mr. Lauren Bacall makes my ears smile. Humphrey Bogart’s characters rarely have road blocks between mind and mouth, and Sam Spade is no exception. Since The Maltese Falcon is often used as the definition of “mystery” or “detective fiction,” I’ll hold myself back from revealing much of its plot . . . instead I’ll tip my fedora once again to Bogie.
In the Upper Haight of San Francisco there’s a small pizza/burger joint that, although it’s nothing to write home about, I find myself in whenever I’m in the neighborhood. Incredibly contrary to my genetic material, I happen to be a very easy-going diner — I never send food back, my patience outlasts many of my companions, and the staff can seat me almost anywhere that’s available. When it comes to this pizza place in Haight, however, I find myself overwhelmingly particular about where I sit. On the wall behind the register they’ve placed a framed picture of Bogie that I refuse to let out of my sight. Sitting elsewhere would simply be an infraction of the rules, and any form of questioning is, well, out of the question.
If nothing else, Bogie taught me that these unbreakable rules we set up for ourselves are the only ones worth following. I guess they’re the stuff that dreams are made of . . .