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13 Mysterious Facts About The Maltese Falcon

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By the end of 1941, moviegoers had a new favorite star in Humphrey Bogart, a minor actor whose back-to-back starring roles in High Sierra and The Maltese Falcon catapulted him to fame. The latter film quickly became a classic, viewed as the first major "film noir" and a prototype for the genre of hardboiled detectives, femmes fatales, and carefully placed shadows. It was, to quote its last line of dialogue, the stuff dreams are made of. Here are some facts about the 75-year-old mystery. 

1.  WARNER BROS. MADE IT TWICE BEFORE, INCLUDING ONCE AS A COMEDY.

Dashiell Hammett first published The Maltese Falcon as a serialized story in the crime-fiction magazine Black Mass, following it (in 1930) with a proper hardcover release. Warner Bros. snatched up the movie rights and produced a version in 1931 starring Ricardo Cortez as the hardboiled detective and Bebe Daniels as the femme fatale. (This version is notable for coming out before the Hollywood Production Code started to be enforced, which means it has more sexual innuendo than the films of the late '30s and '40s.) In 1936, the studio made the film again, this time under the title Satan Met a Lady, and with an inexplicable emphasis on the comedy aspects, starring Warren William and Bette Davis. Nobody liked it. The third time was the charm. 

2. IT WOULDN'T EXIST IF HIGH SIERRA HADN'T BEEN A HIT.

John Huston, son of popular stage and screen actor Walter Huston, was a successful scriptwriter for Warner Bros. in the late 1930s, earning Oscar nominations for Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet (1940) and Sergeant York (1941). When he asked the Warners for a shot at directing, they agreed (and even let him choose the project himself), but only if his next script was a hit. That was High Sierra, starring Humphrey Bogart, directed by Raoul Walsh, and released in January 1941. Fortunately for Huston, it was a success, and the Warners kept their word. The Maltese Falcon, also starring Bogart, was shot that summer and released in the fall. It was the first of five movies Huston and Bogart would make together.

3. THE STUDIO WANTED GEORGE RAFT TO PLAY THE LEAD.

George Raft was a handsome actor and dancer who'd narrowly escaped an actual life of crime (his boyhood friends included Bugsy Siegel) to become someone who merely played a lot of gangsters. He was the Warners' first choice for The Maltese Falcon. (He'd been their first choice for High Sierra, too.) The Warners had given Huston free rein to make whatever movie he wanted, but they insisted on keeping some control over the casting. Huston was lucky, therefore, that Raft didn't want to work with a first-time director and turned the movie down, leaving Huston free to cast his pal Bogie. 

4. HUMPHREY BOGART'S ICONIC RAPID-FIRE DELIVERY WAS THE RESULT OF A STUDIO NOTE.

Detective Sam Spade had a lot of speeches, which the Warners felt tended to slow things down. They asked Huston to pick up the pace by having Bogart (and the others) talk faster. Huston, eager to please on his first film, took the note to heart and instructed everyone accordingly. When the film was a hit, the rat-a-tat pace became one of the hallmarks of film noir. 

5. IT GOT AWAY WITH USING AN OBJECTIONABLE WORD, PROBABLY BECAUSE THE CENSORS WEREN'T COOL ENOUGH TO KNOW IT.

Sam Spade uses the word “gunsel” three times in reference to Wilmer, the hitman who works for Kasper Gutman, a.k.a. the Fat Man. Hammett used the same word in his novel, but only after his editor objected to the word he used first: "catamite," which is a young man kept by an older man for sexual purposes. While Hammett's novel identified Cairo (Peter Lorre’s character) as a homosexual and hinted at it for Wilmer and Gutman, this term was considered too explicit. Hammett replaced it with "gunsel," which his editor assumed meant “gunslinger” or some such. But it didn't. Gunsel—from the Yiddish word for "little goose," and passed along in American hobo culture—was merely a synonym for "catamite," but was too new to be familiar. Hammett got away with it in the book, and it slipped past the Production Code censors when it popped up in the screenplay. Because of Hammett's usage, the word came to take on "gunman" as a secondary meaning. But make no mistake, it wasn't Wilmer's possession of a firearm that Sam Spade was referring to. 

6. IT INSPIRED THE NAMING OF ONE OF THE BOMBS THAT ENDED WORLD WAR II.

The atomic bombs that the United States dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were code-named Little Boy and Fat Man, respectively, after their shapes. "Fat Man" is what Spade and others call Kasper Gutman in The Maltese Falcon, and it's what inspired Manhattan Project physicist Robert Serber when he named it. It has been falsely reported that "Little Boy" also came from The Maltese Falcon, as the epithet Spade uses for Wilmer. The problem with that theory: Spade never calls him that. (He calls him "boy" a lot, but never "little boy.") "Little Boy" was, in fact, simply a variation of a third type of bomb code-named Thin Man, after the movie based on a different Dashiell Hammett book. 

7. SYDNEY GREENSTREET HAD NEVER BEEN IN FRONT OF A CAMERA BEFORE.

The rotund British thespian had spent almost four decades on English and American stages before he finally consented to be in movies at the age of 61. Despite his abundant acting experience, he was terrified to be in front of a camera, and asked co-star Mary Astor to hold his hand. Greenstreet was nominated for an Oscar for this performance and would go on to make 24 more movies, all in the 1940s, before retiring. 

8. THE DIRECTOR'S DAD APPEARS AS THE GUY WHO DELIVERS THE FALCON (AND IS SHOT FULL OF HOLES).

The ship's captain who finally puts the dingus in Spade's possession is Walter Huston, father of the first-time director. John would direct his father in two more movies, including 1948’s The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, for which the elder Huston won his first and only Oscar.

9. TO MAINTAIN PRIVACY ON THE SET, MARY ASTOR SWORE AT SOME PRIESTS.

Thanks to Huston's detailed planning, the shoot ran smoothly and on schedule, giving the cast plenty of time to bond in a low-stress atmosphere. They quickly became tight-knit and protective of the movie they were making, and they sought to keep outsiders away. Mary Astor wrote in her memoirs that it began when the film's publicist brought a small group of priests to visit the set. Just before the camera started rolling, Astor said, "Hold it a minute, I've got a g**damn run in my stocking!" The men of the cloth were quickly ushered out. After this, the cast (with Huston's full participation) would regularly engage in pre-planned "shock the tourists" pranks anytime there were visitors, including one where Bogart would pretend to blow up at Greenstreet for upstaging him.

10. IT SERVED AS INGRID BERGMAN'S GUIDE TO ACTING WITH BOGART.

Bergman didn't know Bogart when she was cast opposite him in Casablanca, and she found him hard to know. "He was polite naturally," she wrote in her autobiography, "but I always felt there was a distance; he was behind a wall." To get a better read on him, she watched The Maltese Falcon (then in current release) several times. 

11. THERE WAS ALMOST A SEQUEL.

Lest you think the near-automatic greenlighting of sequels to popular movies is a modern trend, Warner Bros. strongly considered a Maltese Falcon follow-up as soon as the film proved to be a hit. Jack Warner even approached Hammett to write it, but the author wanted $5000 (about $80,000 in 2016 dollars) in advance as a guarantee. Warner balked, and that was the end of it. 

12. THE CAST REUNITED FOR A REMAKE OF SORTS.

In 1943, Bogart, Astor, Greenstreet, and Lorre reprised their roles for a 30-minute radio adaptation of the film, which you can listen to here (it's episode 144). 

13. THE TITULAR STATUETTE TURNED OUT TO BE PRETTY VALUABLE IN REAL LIFE, TOO.

Several falcon props were made for the film, most of them lightweight (which you can see in the casual way Bogart carries them). But two 45-pound versions were also made, one of which has markings identifying it as one that definitely appears in the film. In 2013, that prop was sold for $4 million to an anonymous buyer, one of the highest prices ever paid for a piece of movie memorabilia. 

Additional sources:
American Film Institute

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15 Confusing Plant and Animal Misnomers
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People have always given names to the plants and animals around us. But as our study of the natural world has developed, we've realized that many of these names are wildly inaccurate. In fact, they often have less to say about nature than about the people who did the naming. Here’s a batch of these befuddling names.

1. COMMON NIGHTHAWK

There are two problems with this bird’s name. First, the common nighthawk doesn’t fly at night—it’s active at dawn and dusk. Second, it’s not a hawk. Native to North and South America, it belongs to a group of birds with an even stranger name: Goatsuckers. People used to think that these birds flew into barns at night and drank from the teats of goats. (In fact, they eat insects.)

2. IRISH MOSS

It’s not a moss—it’s a red alga that lives along the rocky shores of the northern Atlantic Ocean. Irish moss and other red algae give us carrageenan, a cheap food thickener that you may have eaten in gummy candies, soy milk, ice cream, veggie hot dogs, and more.

3. FISHER-CAT

Native to North America, the fisher-cat isn’t a cat at all: It’s a cousin of the weasel. It also doesn’t fish. Nobody’s sure where the fisher cat’s name came from. One possibility is that early naturalists confused it with the sea mink, a similar-looking creature that was an expert fisher. But the fisher-cat prefers to eat land animals. In fact, it’s one of the few creatures that can tackle a porcupine.

4. AMERICAN BLUE-EYED GRASS

American blue-eyed grass doesn’t have eyes (which is good, because that would be super creepy). Its blue “eyes” are flowers that peek up at you from a meadow. It’s also not a grass—it’s a member of the iris family.

5. MUDPUPPY

The mudpuppy isn’t a cute, fluffy puppy that scampered into some mud. It’s a big, mucus-covered salamander that spends all of its life underwater. (It’s still adorable, though.) The mudpuppy isn’t the only aquatic salamander with a weird name—there are many more, including the greater siren, the Alabama waterdog, and the world’s most metal amphibian, the hellbender.

6. WINGED DRAGONFISH

This weird creature has other fantastic and inaccurate names: brick seamoth, long-tailed dragonfish, and more. It’s really just a cool-looking fish. Found in the waters off of Asia, it has wing-like fins, and spends its time on the muddy seafloor.

7. NAVAL SHIPWORM

The naval shipworm is not a worm. It’s something much, much weirder: a kind of clam with a long, wormlike body that doesn’t fit in its tiny shell. It uses this modified shell to dig into wood, which it eats. The naval shipworm, and other shipworms, burrow through all sorts of submerged wood—including wooden ships.

8. WHIP SPIDERS

These leggy creatures are not spiders; they’re in a separate scientific family. They also don’t whip anything. Whip spiders have two long legs that look whip-like, but that are used as sense organs—sort of like an insect’s antennae. Despite their intimidating appearance, whip spiders are harmless to humans.

9. VELVET ANTS

A photograph of a velvet ant
Craig Pemberton, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

There are thousands of species of velvet ants … and all are wasps, not ants. These insects have a fuzzy, velvety look. Don’t pat them, though—velvet ants aren’t aggressive, but the females pack a powerful sting.

10. SLOW WORM

The slow worm is not a worm. It’s a legless reptile that lives in parts of Europe and Asia. Though it looks like a snake, it became legless through a totally separate evolutionary path from the one snakes took. It has many traits in common with lizards, such as eyelids and external ear holes.

11. TRAVELER'S PALM

This beautiful tree from Madagascar has been planted in tropical gardens all around the world. It’s not actually a palm, but belongs to a family that includes the bird of paradise flower. In its native home, the traveler’s palm reproduces with the help of lemurs that guzzle its nectar and spread pollen from tree to tree.

12. VAMPIRE SQUID

Drawing of a vampire squid
Carl Chun, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

This deep-sea critter isn’t a squid. It’s the only surviving member of a scientific order that has characteristics of both octopuses and squids. And don’t let the word “vampire” scare you; it only eats bits of falling marine debris (dead stuff, poop, and so on), and it’s only about 11 inches long.

13. MALE FERN & LADY FERN

Early botanists thought that these two ferns belonged to the same species. They figured that the male fern was the male of the species because of its coarse appearance. The lady fern, on the other hand, has lacy fronds and seemed more ladylike. Gender stereotypes aside, male and lady Ferns belong to entirely separate species, and almost all ferns can make both male and female reproductive cells. If ferns start looking manly or womanly to you, maybe you should take a break from botany.

14. TENNESSEE WARBLER

You will never find a single Tennessee warbler nest in Tennessee. This bird breeds mostly in Canada, and spends the winter in Mexico and more southern places. But early ornithologist Alexander Wilson shot one in 1811 in Tennessee during its migration, and the name stuck.

15. CANADA THISTLE

Though it’s found across much of Canada, this spiky plant comes from Europe and Asia. Early European settlers brought Canada thistle seeds to the New World, possibly as accidental hitchhikers in grain shipments. A tough weed, the plant soon spread across the continent, taking root in fields and pushing aside crops. So why does it have this inaccurate name? Americans may have been looking for someone to blame for this plant—so they blamed Canada.

A version of this story originally ran in 2015.

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18 Tea Infusers to Make Teatime More Exciting
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Make steeping tea more fun with these quirky tea infusers.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

1. SOAKING IT UP; $7.49

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That mug of hot water might eventually be a drink for you, but first it’s a hot bath for your new friend, who has special pants filled with tea.

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2. A FLYING TEA BOX; $25.98

There’s no superlaser on this Death Star, just tea.

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3. SPACE STATION; $9.99

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This astronaut's mission? Orbit the rim of your mug until you're ready to pull the space station diffuser out.

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4. BE REFINED; $12.99

This pipe works best with Earl Grey.

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5. A RIBBITING OPTION; $10.93

This frog hangs on to the side of your mug with a retractable tongue. When the tea is ready, you can put him back on his lily pad.

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6. ‘TEA’ ALL LIVE IN A YELLOW SUBMARINE; $5.95

It’s just like the movie, only with tea instead of Beatles.

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7. SHARK ATTACK; $6.99

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This fearsome shark patrols the bottom of your mug waiting for prey. For extra fun, use red tea to look like the end of a feeding frenzy.

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8. PERFECT FOR A RAINY DAY; $12.40

This umbrella’s handle conveniently hooks to the side of your mug.

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9. AN EGGCELLENT INFUSER; $5.75

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Sometimes infusers are called tea eggs, and this one takes the term to a new, literal level.

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10. FOR SQUIRRELY DRINKERS; $8.95

If you’re all right with a rodent dunking its tail into your drink, this is the infuser for you.

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11. HANGING OUT; $12.85

This pug is happy to hang onto your mug and keep you company while you wait for the tea to be ready.

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12. ANOTHER SHARK OPTION; $5.99

If you thought letting that other shark infuser swim around in the deep water of your glass was too scary, this one perches on the edge, too busy chomping on your mug to worry about humans.

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13. RUBBER DUCKIE, YOU’RE THE ONE; $8.95

Let this rubber duckie peacefully float in your cup and make teatime lots of fun.

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14. DIVING DEEP; $8.25

This old-timey deep-sea diver comes with an oxygen tank that you can use to pull it out.

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15. MAKE SWEET TEA; $10

This lollipop won't actually make your tea any sweeter, but you can always add some sugar after.

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16. A SEASONAL FAVORITE; $7.67

When Santa comes, give him some tea to go with the cookies.

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17. FLORAL TEA; $14.99

Liven up any cup of tea with this charming flower. When you’re done, you can pop it right back into its pot.

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18. KEEP IT TRADITIONAL; $7.97

If you’re nostalgic for the regular kind of tea bag, you can get reusable silicon ones that look almost the same.

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