Updated: Nov 2, 2019
The Maltese Falcon premiered on this day in 1941 at New York’s Strand Theatre — an early movie palace located in the middle of Times Square at Broadway and 47th Street, opening in 1914 and regrettably demolished in 1987 — and is widely hailed as the first great example of film noir. Hardcore fans of that genre might disagree — 1940’s They Drive By Night and 1939’s Blind Alley are just two earlier, valid examples of film noir — but there’s no denying that The Maltese Falcon should be celebrated for a variety of reasons: It was John Huston’s first directorial effort, Sydney Greenstreet’s first film after four decades in the theater (he received an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actor to boot), and it was the film that put Humphrey Bogart squarely in the mainstream public eye as a leading man and love interest, a year before Casablanca was released and made him, to film fans everywhere, quite simply immortal.
Critics were effusive in their praise of this hardboiled tale based on Dashiell Hammett’s 1930 detective novel, the story of Sam Spade and a cast of motley characters in search of a priceless statue. Variety hailed "the standout performance of Humphrey Bogart, an attention-arresting portrayal that will add immeasurable voltage to his marquee values,” while legendary film critic Bosley Crowther of the New York Times was similarly enthusiastic — here’s an excerpt of his 1941 review:
“Mary Astor is well nigh perfect as the beautiful woman whose cupidity is forever to be suspect. Sidney [sic] Greenstreet, from the Theatre Guild's roster, is magnificent as a cultivated English crook, and Peter Lorre, Elisha Cook Jr., Lee Patrick, Barton MacLane all contribute stunning characters. (Also, if you look closely, you'll see Walter Huston, John's father, in a bit part.) Don't miss The Maltese Falcon if your taste is for mystery fare. It's the slickest exercise in cerebration that has hit the screen in many months, and it is also one of the most compelling nervous-laughter provokers yet.”
The Maltese Falcon earned three Oscar nominations — in addition to Greenstreet, it received well-deserved nods for Best Screenplay (written by Huston) and Best Picture, though 1941 was an incredibly competitive year for films; other nominees included Citizen Kane, The Little Foxes, Sergeant York and Suspicion. All of these entries lost to John Ford's How Green Was My Valley.
Among these classics, the case can be made that Citizen Kane and The Maltese Falcon are the two that continue to rank highest in the minds of fans. But while few likely would go to the trouble of demonstrating their fandom for the former by purchasing a replica of Charles Foster Kane’s Rosebud sled (sorry for the spoiler), plenty of fans of The Maltese Falcon, it seems, would love to own their own “black bird.” That thought sprung to mind earlier today when someone mentioned on Twitter that they’d love to own a Maltese Falcon replica, but the $189 price for the one they located on Amazon seemed a bit steep.
We know they’re available for less from a variety of vendors out there, including several on Etsy, so if you’ve ever longed to include this iconic prop in your collection — and really, you should, it’s a fantastic conversation piece — here are a few links to vendors who have received great reviews for selling a Falcon replica.
The Etsy shop Awesome Salez offers a Falcon statue crafted in solid resin from a mold for $74.99. “It’s a very popular item for us,” notes seller Skylar Anderson, adding that the process to craft one statue requires about four hours from start to finish, including trim work and paint.
If you’d prefer to own a Falcon that feels a bit more pop art, the Etsy shop Curious Forms sells one in a brilliant blue for $65. And over at Haunted Studios, you can choose a Falcon replica starting at $99 in resin or lead, the latter in weights ranging from 10 to 30 lbs., though that choice indeed can start to get pricey, with their exclusive 30-lb. lead version going for $449. If you’re seeking to give a Maltese Falcon fan the perfect gift, Haunted Studios also offers packaging that mimics the styling seen in the film: bundled in shredded Chinese newspaper, then placed in a burlap bag labeled “La Paloma” (only newspaper is used to wrap the statue in the film, but the idea that the burlap is stamped with the name of the ship, which we’re led to believe carried the bird across the Pacific, should delight any fan).
Any of these price points, of course, would be preferable to trying to score an original Falcon. Depending on the source, anywhere from two to four statues were used during The Maltese Falcon’s production, two made of lead and weighing a hefty 45 lbs. each, the other two crafted of a lighter resin. Famously, Bogart dropped one while filming a scene; that statue remains in the Warner Bros. archives and in the past has been seen as part of its studio tour, where a glass case allows you to spot the dent resulting from Bogart’s accident (Warner Bros. can sometimes change out its exhibits, hence the hesitation to confirm the statue is on permanent exhibit — Screen Chic has reached out to inquire).
As for the others, in 2013 the auction house Bonhams sold a screen-used lead Falcon statue for a record price of $4.085 million. Six years previously, a statue signed by Cook and reportedly used for the film’s publicity stills was stolen from a locked cabinet at San Francisco’s historic John’s Grill, a favorite haunt of Hammett’s that’s also name-checked in The Maltese Falcon. In the film, Lorre’s Joel Cairo says he is “prepared to pay $5,000 for the figure’s return,” but John’s Grill owner John Konstin upped the ante, offering $25,000 in 2007. His black bird, alas, was never recovered, and he used the funds to commission an oversized homage from a local artist.
Given Hammett’s story, it seems fitting that there may still be a genuine screen-used Maltese Falcon or two floating around in the universe — perhaps quietly held in the same collection as a pair of ruby slippers, another high-profile prop believed to still exist beyond those confirmed to reside in museums and collections. Will any additional screen-used Falcons ever be found? That would be a pretty terrific moment in cinema history. You might even say it's the stuff dreams are made of.