An Earlier Maltese Falcon

I watched the 1931 version of the Maltese Falcon, starring Ricardo Cortez as Sam Spade, and Bebe Daniels as Ruth Wonderly.  This one features a nicer, friendlier version of Sam Spade, who seems genuinely capable of falling in love with the Wonderly character (known as Bridget O’Shaughnessy in the 1941 version and played by Mary Astor).  Humphrey Bogart’s version of Sam Spade seems more cynical, and his toughness may have been a facade hiding a mountain of pain.

Cortez, born Jacob Krantz in New York City in 1900, is more smirking than cynical, and seems to find success through his like-ability rather than his toughness.  I got the feeling that a series could have been made from this film, with Cortez shining as the genial Spade in each installment.  Una Merkel plays Spade’s devoted secretary, Effie.  She has real chemistry with Cortez, implying a sexual relationship.  I never got that feeling watching Bogart and his Maltese Falcon secretary, Lee Patrick.

Una Merkel and Ricardo Cortez

Having and all-star cast including Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre as the heavies helps make the 1941 version a classic.  But the 1931 version follows the same plot and contains the same characters.  I enjoyed Cortez’s interpretation of the Spade character, even though Bogart seems tougher, wiser and smarter.

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