CLOSE
YouTube
YouTube

13 Mysterious Facts About The Maltese Falcon

YouTube
YouTube

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

Blu-ray features and commentaries

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Miramax
arrow
entertainment
11 Single Facts About Bridget Jones’s Diary
Miramax
Miramax

While it's not officially a holiday movie, so much of the action in Bridget Jones's Diary happens around the most wonderful time of the year that the rom-com has become essential wintertime viewing for many movie fans. Based on Helen Fielding’s novel of the same name, it tells the story of a very single, and hopelessly romantic, working professional named Bridget (Renée Zellweger) who is determined to improve her love life. Enter two strapping gentlemen (Colin Firth and Hugh Grant) to vie for her heart. Get to know more about the timeless dramedy that’s been delighting audiences since 2001. Just as it is.

1. THE SOURCE NOVEL CAME ABOUT FROM AN ANONYMOUS COLUMN ABOUT SINGLE LIFE.

In the foreword of Bridget Jones’s Diary, author Helen Fielding wrote about how she came to conjure up the story: “The Independent asked me to write a column, as myself, about single life in London. Much as I needed the money, the idea of writing about myself in that way seemed hopelessly embarrassing and revealing. I offered to write an anonymous column instead, using an exaggerated, comic, fictional character. I assumed no one would read it, and it would be dropped after six weeks for being too silly.”

2. SEVERAL CHARACTERS ARE BASED ON PEOPLE IN HELEN FIELDING’S LIFE.


Miramax

These include Jude (Tracey MacLeod) and Shazzer (Sharon Maguire, also the film’s director). In a column for the Evening Standard, MacLeod described how she didn’t even realize she inspired part of her best friend’s story until Fielding’s book launch party. “At the launch party for the first Bridget book, I was cornered by a smug married friend, ‘So ... what's it like being Jude?’ she asked,” MacLeod writes. “I was outraged. Of course I wasn't Jude, with her self-help books and horrible boyfriend. My boyfriend wasn't anything like Vile Richard ... But as more people began to believe that Jude and Shazzer were thinly-veiled portraits of myself and Sharon, I secretly got to like the idea.”

3. TONI COLLETTE DECLINED THE LEAD, AND KATE WINSLET WAS CONSIDERED FOR IT.

Before Zellweger stole the show, Aussie Toni Collette and Brit Kate Winslet were up for the part. According to AMC, “Toni Collette declined the role because she was on Broadway starring in The Wild Party at the time, and Kate Winslet was considered but the producers decided she was too young.”

4. HUGH GRANT ONLY SIGNED ON WHEN RICHARD CURTIS WAS ANNOUNCED AS THE WRITER. 


Miramax

“The only reason [I was a hard sell] was because I didn't feel they had the script quite right for a long time,” Firth told Cinema.com. “And I kept saying, ‘It's not working. Just get Richard Curtis to come in and help rewrite it.’ Eventually they did, and as soon as Richard came on board, I signed on the dotted line. So that's all it was.”

5. RENÉE ZELLWEGER GAINED 17 POUNDS FOR THE PART.

Zellweger’s weight gain for the role had the media abuzz for a while. According to The Guardian, “In order to play the eponymous heroine in the film adaptation of Fielding's bestseller, the actress gained 17 pounds, consulting a dietitian and endocrinologist who devised a regime of three full meals a day, multiple snacks, and no exercise.”

6. ZELLWEGER WORKED AT PICADOR FOR THREE WEEKS.

Zellweger went full Method for her iconic role, and became a temporary employee of the Picador publishing house. “We came up with a plan: she would be Bridget Cavendish, Bridget for obvious reasons and Cavendish as she was to be passed off as the sister of Jonathan Cavendish, a friend of one of our company chairmen,” Picador publicist Camilla Elworthy told The Guardian. “That last bit at least is true, and no one was to know that Jonathan Cavendish was one of the film's producers.”

7. ZELLWEGER KEPT A PHOTO OF JIM CARREY ON HER DESK.


Miramax

While working at Picador, Zellweger kept a picture of Jim Carrey on her desk—which made her alter ego Bridget Cavendish seem like some sort of obsessed fan. “Under the name Bridget Cavendish, she answered phones, served coffee, and made photocopies—without being recognized by any of her co-workers, who offered career advice and wondered privately why she kept a photo of Jim Carrey (her then-boyfriend) on her desk,” noted Hollywood.com.

8. ZELLWEGER INVITED HER BOSS AT PICADOR TO BE AN EXTRA ON SET.

In Camilla Elworthy’s write-up for The Guardian, she noted how she became a part of the production. “Renée sent me a thank you letter and gift after she'd gone and I have seen her a few times since then," Elworthy wrote. "She invited me on to the film set one day. She informed me that I had to stick around and be an extra and made sure that I was put somewhere that I would be seen ... As a result, half my head can be seen for half a nano-second in the launch party scene.”

9. THE EPIC FIGHT SCENE BETWEEN GRANT AND COLIN FIRTH WASN’T CHOREOGRAPHED.

You can thank the two actors for the hilarity of the iconic scene. In a Vulture article about the greatest fight scenes in movie history, writer Denise Martin recalled the improvised spar, writing, “No stunt coordinators. No elaborate choreography. Just a perfectly realized wimp brawl between two upper-middle-class Englishmen coming to awkward fisticuffs in front of a Greek restaurant.”

10. FIELDING ASKED FRIEND SALMAN RUSHDIE TO CAMEO IN THE FILM.

Recalling how he came to be part of the film, famed novelist Salman Rushdie told Texas Monthly, “Helen Fielding, the author of the book, is an old pal of mine, and she asked if I’d come along and make a fool of myself, and I said, ‘Why not?’”

11. GRANT DIDN’T HEAR ZELLWEGER SPEAK IN HER AMERICAN ACCENT UNTIL THE FILM’S WRAP PARTY.

Zellweger was so engrossed with Bridget Jones that one of her leading love interests didn’t meet the real actress until the end of the shoot. “Not once did she stop speaking with that accent, until the wrap party,” Grant told Cinema.com, “when suddenly this weird ... Texan appeared. I wanted to call security, I didn't know who the f*ck she was!”

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Universal Home Video
arrow
entertainment
15 Surprising Facts About Scarface
Universal Home Video
Universal Home Video

Say hello to our little list. Here are a few facts to break out at your next screening of Scarface, Brian De Palma’s gangsters-and-cocaine classic, which arrived in theaters on this day in 1983.

1. IT WASN'T THE FIRST SCARFACE.

Brian De Palma's Scarface is a loose remake of the 1932 movie of the same name, which is also about the rise and fall of an American immigrant gangster. The producer of the 1983 version, Martin Bregman, saw the original on late night TV and thought the idea could be modernized—though it still pays respect to the original film. De Palma's flick is dedicated to the original film’s director, Howard Hawks, and screenwriter, Ben Hecht.

2. IT COULD HAVE BEEN A SIDNEY LUMET FILM.

At one point in the film's production, Sidney Lumet—the socially conscious director of such classics as Dog Day Afternoon and 12 Angry Men—was brought on as its director. "Sidney Lumet came up with the idea of what's happening today in Miami, and it inspired Bregman," Pacino told Empire Magazine. "He and Oliver Stone got together and produced a script that had a lot of energy and was very well written. Oliver Stone was writing about stuff that was touching on things that were going on in the world, he was in touch with that energy and that rage and that underbelly."

3. OLIVER STONE WASN'T INTERESTED IN WRITING THE SCRIPT, UNTIL LUMET GOT INVOLVED.


Universal Home Video

Producer Bregman offered relative newcomer Oliver Stone a chance to overhaul the screenplay, but Stone—who was still reeling from the box office disappointment of his film, The Hand—wasn't interested. "I didn’t like the original movie that much," Stone told Creative Screenwriting. "It didn’t really hit me at all and I had no desire to make another Italian gangster picture because so many had been done so well, there would be no point to it. The origin of it, according to Marty Bregman, [was that] Al had seen the '30s version on television, he loved it and expressed to Marty as his long time mentor/partner that he’d like to do a role like that. So Marty presented it to me and I had no interest in doing a period piece."

But when Bregman contacted Stone again about the project later, his opinion changed. "Sidney Lumet had stepped into the deal," Stone said. "Sidney had a great idea to take the 1930s American prohibition gangster movie and make it into a modern immigrant gangster movie dealing with the same problems that we had then, that we’re prohibiting drugs instead of alcohol. There’s a prohibition against drugs that’s created the same criminal class as (prohibition of alcohol) created the Mafia. It was a remarkable idea."

4. UNFORTUNATELY, ACCORDING TO STONE, LUMET HATED HIS SCRIPT.

While the chance to work with Lumet was part of what lured Stone to the project, it was his script that ultimately led to the director's departure from the film. According to Stone: "Sidney Lumet hated my script. I don’t know if he’d say that in public himself, I sound like a petulant screenwriter saying that, I’d rather not say that word. Let me say that Sidney did not understand my script, whereas Bregman wanted to continue in that direction with Al."

5. STONE HAD FIRSTHAND EXPERIENCE WITH THE SUBJECT MATTER.

In order to create the most accurate picture possible, Stone spent time in Florida and the Caribbean interviewing people on both sides of the law for research. "It got hairy," Stone admitted of the research process. "It gave me all this color. I wanted to do a sun-drenched, tropical Third World gangster, cigar, sexy Miami movie."

Unfortunately, while penning the screenplay, Stone was also dealing with his own cocaine habit, which gave him an insight into what the drug can do to users. Stone actually tried to kick his habit by leaving the country to complete the script so he could be far away from his access to the drug.

"I moved to Paris and got out of the cocaine world too because that was another problem for me," he said. "I was doing coke at the time, and I really regretted it. I got into a habit of it and I was an addictive personality. I did it, not to an extreme or to a place where I was as destructive as some people, but certainly to where I was going stale mentally. I moved out of L.A. with my wife at the time and moved back to France to try and get into another world and see the world differently. And I wrote the script totally f***ing cold sober."

6. BRIAN DE PALMA DIDN'T WANT TO AUDITION MICHELLE PFEIFFER.


Universal Home Video

De Palma was hesitant to audition the relatively untested Pfeiffer because at the time she was best known for the box office bomb Grease 2. Glenn Close, Geena Davis, Carrie Fisher, Kelly McGillis, Sharon Stone and Sigourney Weaver were all considered for the role of Elvira, but Bregman pushed for Pfeiffer to audition and she got the part.

7. YES, THERE IS A LOT OF SWEARING.

According to the Family Media Guide, which monitors profanity, sexual content, and violence in movies, Scarface features 207 uses of the “F” word, which works out to about 1.21 F-bombs per minute. In 2014, Martin Scorsese more than doubled that with a record-setting 506 F-bombs thrown in The Wolf of Wall Street.

8. TONY MONTANA WAS NAMED FOR A FOOTBALL STAR.

Stone, who was a San Francisco 49ers fan, named the character of Tony Montana after Joe Montana, his favorite football player.

9. TONY IS ONLY REFERRED TO AS "SCARFACE" ONCE, AND IT'S IN SPANISH.

Hector, the Colombian gangster who threatens Tony with the chainsaw, refers to Tony as “cara cicatriz,” meaning “scar face” in Spanish.

That chainsaw scene, by the way, was based on a real incident. To research the movie, Stone embedded himself with Miami law enforcement and based the infamous chainsaw sequence on a gangland story he heard from the Miami-Dade County police.

10. VERY LITTLE OF THE FILM WAS ACTUALLY SHOT IN MIAMI.

The film was originally going to be shot entirely on location in Miami, but protests by the local Cuban-American community forced the movie to leave Miami two weeks into production. Besides footage from those two weeks, the rest of the movie was shot in Los Angeles, New York, and Santa Barbara.

11. ALL THAT "COCAINE" LED TO PROBLEMS WITH PACINO'S NASAL PASSAGES.

Though there has long been a myth that Pacino snorted real cocaine on camera for Scarface, the "cocaine" used in the movie was supposedly powdered milk (even if De Palma has never officially stated what the crew used as a drug stand-in). But just because it wasn't real doesn't mean that it didn't create problems for Pacino's nasal passages. "For years after, I have had things up in there," Pacino said in 2015. "I don't know what happened to my nose, but it's changed."

12. PACINO'S NOSE WASN'T HIS ONLY BODY PART TO SUFFER DAMAGE.

Still of Al Pacino as Tony Montana in 'Scarface' (1983)
Universal Home Video

In the film's very bloody conclusion, Montana famously asks the assailants who've invaded his home to "say hello to my little friend," which happens to be a very large gun. That gun took a beating from all the blanks it had to fire, so much so that Pacino ended up burning his hand on its barrel. "My hand stuck to that sucker," he said. Ultimately, the actor—and his bandaged hands—had to sit out some of the action in the last few weeks of production.

13. STEVEN SPIELBERG DIRECTED A SINGLE SHOT.

De Palma and Spielberg had been friends since the two began making studio movies in the mid-1970s, and they made a habit of visiting each other’s sets. Spielberg was on hand for one of the days of shooting the Colombians’ initial attack on Tony Montana’s house at the end of the movie, so De Palma let Spielberg direct the low-angle shot where the attackers first enter the house.

14. SOME COOL TECHNOLOGY WENT INTO THE GUN MUZZLE FLASHES.

In order to heighten the severity of the gunfire, De Palma and the special effects coordinators created a mechanism to synchronize the gunfire with the open shutter on the movie camera to show the huge muzzle flash coming from the guns in the final shootout.

15. SADDAM HUSSEIN WAS A FAN OF THE FILM.

The trust fund the former Iraqi dictator set up to launder money was called “Montana Management,” a nod to the company Tony uses to launder money in the movie.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios