Sam Spade (Ricardo Cortez) is a private detective. He and his partner Miles Archer (Walter Long) work in San Francisco. Sam is a womanizer so when Ruth Wonderly (Dede Daniels) shows up at the office Sam sees her right away. Ruth tells Sam that she is looking for her younger sister who came to San Francisco with a disreputable man named Floyd Thursby. She says that Floyd will not tell her where her sister is so she wants him followed. While Ruth is making her pitch Miles returns to the office and offers to personally handle the case.
Later that night the police call Sam to tell him that Miles had been shot. The police find out that Sam and Miles’ wife have been having an affair. They start looking at Sam as a suspect. The next day Sam tracks down Ruth. He didn’t buy her story the day before but her $200 retainer was the reason he took the case. He wants to know the real reason for following Thursby but Ruth isn’t giving much up. She just says he was a former partner that she didn’t trust anymore. Sam stays on the case after getting another $500 from her.
Back at the office Sam gets a visit from Dr. Joel Cairo (Otto Matieson). From him Sam learns of the falcon. Cairo believes Sam has it and offers him $5000 for it. Ever the entrepreneur, Sam plays along. When Ruth hears about Cairo’s visit she gets worried that Sam will stop working for her and start working for Cairo and uses her feminine wiles to keep him from straying. Sam then gets a note from Casper Gutman (Dudley Digges) to discuss the falcon.
Cairo and a thug named Wilmer Cook (Dwight Frye) work for Gutman. Gutman fills in all the blanks on how the falcon came to be, what it’s made of and how it disappeared. He offers Sam his choice of $50,000 for the statuette or 25% of the proceeds when it is sold. Sam plays along until Cairo shows up and lets Gutman know that Sam doesn’t have the bird. Gutman slips Sam a mickey. Cairo and Gutman figure out that Ruth double crossed Thursby and gave the bird to Captain Jacoby, the captain of a tramp steamer, to smuggle the statuette into the U.S. Cairo and Gutman head for the boat.
When Sam wakes up he heads back to the office. He’s not there long before a man comes stumbling in. He has a suitcase in his hand. He’s been shot and falls down dead. Sam finds out he is Captain Jacoby and in the suitcase is the Maltese Falcon. Sam gets an idea.
“The Maltese Falcon” was released in 1931 and was directed by Roy Del Ruth. It is a pre-code crime thriller that was based on the 1930 novel by Dashiell Hammett. The film was remade in 1941 starring Humphrey Bogart and Mary Astor.
A lot of the dialogue for the film was taken directly from the novel as was the 1941 film. Differences between the two films are mostly due to issues with the Production Code. The novel intimates the relationship between Cairo, Gutman and Wilmer as being homosexual in nature. The 1931 film includes those references whereas the 1941 film removes them. The 1931 film also has suggested sexual situations between Sam Spade and various women which also points to the film being pre-code. Warner Brothers wanted to re-release the film in 1936 but ran smack into the Production Code, which had been put into place between 1931 and 1936.
It wasn’t until after 1966 when the film could again be shown without the Production Code being in the way. Since the 1941 version of the film was so popular the title of the movie was changed to “Dangerous Female” when it went into television syndication so as not to confuse people.
Although the film doesn’t have Bogart, Greenstreet, Astor or Lorre it does have Ricardo Cortez and Dwight Frye. Unfortunately as Wilmer Cook Frye doesn’t have much in the way of screen time or lines.