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The Maltese Falcon

Critique Quotes At the movies

1931, 1936, 1941, 1975

Maltese Falcon first editionFirst edition
Publication details ▽ Publication details △

First publication

Literature form

Mystery, crime

Writing language

Author's country
United States

Approx. 84,000 words

Sata n Met a Lady sceneHeavy-hitter Betty Davis, right, can't save Maltese Falcon comic ripoff, Satan Met a Lady, in 1936.

Sam Spade, er, Ted Shayne, comic for hire

Satan Met a Lady (1936): Film, 74 minutes; director William Dieterle; writer Brown Holmes; featuring Warren William, Bette Davis, Arthur Treacher

Satan Met a Lady (1936) was supposedly also based on the Hammett novel. Only the title, the plot, the characters and the overall tone were changed.

Worse, it's played as a comedy. Worse yet, a bad comedy. It's obviously trying hard to pick up some of the wisecracking, anything-could-happen vibe of a light-hearted detective flick like The Thin Man complete with fast-dialogue and witty battles of the sexes.

Warren William as Shayne
William Warren as Spade clone.

But it doesn't have the requisite Myrna Loy and William Powell duo to do the talking and battling with their accomplished light touch. Its actual stars are the heavier-hitting Bette Davis as the femme fatale and Warren William as the sleuth, now named Ted Shayne.

Nor are they given a brilliant screenplay to talk or battle with. (The writer, oddly, is Brown Holmes who was a co-scripter on the 1931 film.)

Among the shady characters trying to get their hands on a jewel-encrusted ram's horn (right, no Maltese falcon) are Arthur Treacher, of later fish and chip fame, as an uppercrust villain (I think a variation on the gunsel role).

And the head villain, Gutman of the novel and other films, is now a villainess, Madame Barrabas, played by Alison Skipworth.

And of course the ending is changed dramatically (or undramatically may be more accurate).

All these changes however would not be enough to condemn the film, if they worked. Some film buffs apparently find Satan Met a Lady comes off fresh and enjoyable, but I seem to be in the majority, finding it way over the top.

Trailer for 1936's Maltese Falcon knockoff, Satan Met a Lady.

I actually feel sorry for the actors who must have known how inappropriately they were being forced to act. Bette Davis, for one, soon afterwards broke her contract with Warner, citing the mediocre choice of roles they were giving her.

Incidentally, Warren William at the time was just concluding a run of four films in which he played iconic crime-solving lawyer Perry Mason before 1931's Sam Spade, Ricardo Cortez, took over the lawyer role.

— Eric


Critique Quotes At the movies

1931, 1936, 1941, 1975