The Maltese Falcon/Deutsch

May 5, 2007


In 2007 you might as well flip a coin and guess if someone is aware of Dashiel Hammett or his novel The Maltese Falcon or the film version starring Bogie. An unscientific informal interview proved the point to this reviewer beyond a shadow of a doubt. Stare eyes came up when I asked the question to many people. Yet this fairly low budget Warner Brothers film is considered to be one of the classic black and white noir films of all time! The 1941 film marked the directorial debut of John Huston at the ripe old age of 34! Sydney Greenstreet, who played Gutman, made his acting debut at the age of 61! Warner Brothers purchased the rights to the novel for $8,500 in 1930 and actually made two failed attempts of bringing it to the screen in the next few years starring Ricardo Cortez in one and Bette Davis in another. In fact a third attempt by screenplay writer Charles Belden of Charlie Chan fame never even made it to film. Hammett in the days before agents ended up selling not only the novel, but the rights to Sam Spade the detective and ended up with nothing when the radio program with Howard Duff aired in the early 50’s. The modest budget of $381,000 turned out to be a big success to Warner Brothers. Also starring Elisha Cook Jr., Peter Lorre, Mary Astor, and Ward “Wagon Train” Bond, the crisp dialog of the story of the black bird is the highlight of the fast paced who dunnit film. Bogart at the time was an up and coming actor and got the role because George Raft turned it down primarily because of the inexperience of John Huston. A year later Bogie went on to make Casablanca and the rest is history.

Adolph Deutsch is pretty much unknown today except for the keen collector. He is likely best known for the scores to the Billy Wilder films Some Like It Hot and The Apartment. His Oscar for arranging in Oklahoma has gone virtually unnoticed by soundtrack enthusiasts. The OST didn’t survive from The Maltese Falcon and the best source of listening comes from the dynamic duo of Morgan and Stromberg who recorded and restored parts of the score in their 2002 Marco Polo recording which is now reissued on the Naxos budget series making it a far better value. As far as this reviewer knows the score was given to the University of Wyoming so perhaps someday the complete score, which is approximately 55 minutes, could be done if someone was willing to take on the task of a new recording. For today we have roughly 14 minutes of material performed by the Moscow Symphony Orchestra. After the famous Steiner composed fanfare in B flat not C to give it a darker flavor the famous motif is revealed in the main title and is used throughout the film. This is one of those unforgettable themes that loves to swirl around in your head for days on end. In fact when I knew only a little about scores I always thought that Steiner wrote the theme! Deutsch was more a follower of Hindemith as opposed to Richard Wagner so the leifmotif concept was not used in this soundtrack. Clearly this soundtrack reveals in “Street Scene” the tongue in cheek writing that Adolph was capable of writing with his cartoon type use of the sax. While this is primarily a serious hard boiled film there are moments of subtle humor and Deutsch was quick to score the proper type of music to these moments. “The Deal”, a scene where Spade is drugged, is an excellent example of the wonderful underscore of Adolph. There is disturbing dissonance, excellent use of the timpani/percussion, lower register keys on the piano, and a reinstatement of the main theme using the oboe and the brass. In fact this is one of the better examples of underscore that one could hear on any score. The same holds true in both “The Plot” and “Gutman” as well. The impressive thing about these tracks is Adolph, due to the budget limitations of the film, had to use a much smaller orchestra which didn’t take away from the effectiveness of the tracks at all. Stromberg and Morgan in their orchestrations always try to keep the same amount of players to maintain as much of the original sound as possible. This is so much more than some of the “landscape material” that you hear today, which can be just blocks of notes that could be substituted into any similiar genre type of film. These tracks are ones that after a few listens will become The Maltese Falcon. The final track “End Cast” is one that is completely out of character with the film! It’s nice if you want a tightly written fox trot and it does nicely bridge itself right into the next score but? John did say it was included “just for fun”.

Included on this Adolph Deutsch CD from Naxos are scores from High Sierra, George Washington Slept Here, The Mask of Demitrios, and Northern Pursuit. These are all just dessert to the main course which is discussed above. In later reviews these films and scores will be discussed in further detail. The Film Noir RCA release from Germany only has about half the material and it repeats everything included in the Naxos Maltese Falcon tracks. This release should be considered for other material such as The Verdict by Hollander or Waxman’s Dark Passage. Recommended as a perfect introduction to Adolph Deutsch.

Golden Scores Rating (***1/2)

Produced by Betta International

Naxos B0007ACVKA

Track Listing:

1. Main Title (2:07)

2. Street Scene (1:37)

3. Door Slam (0:28)

4. The Deal (2:47)

5. Gutman (2:08)

6. End Title (0:54)

7. End Cast (0:43)


One Response to “The Maltese Falcon/Deutsch”

  1. Good Morning, Mr. Kiefner. The Lord’s peace to you. I enjoyed the most-informative article about you in Monday’s “Union-Tribune”. I know Mrs. Betty Still, the mother of Ms. Nelson of Nelson Photo. If I didn’t know Betty, I probably would hesitate contacting you–you do not know me.

    I am very interested in a movie: “Moment To Moment” (1965). Based on the Internet Movie Database you show in the U-T article, I did find the movie. I would so appreciate getting a copy. Do you have any suggestions as to how/where I might do so? I do not know how to use the Internet to intelligently search.

    Thank you for whatever you could do for me. God bless you,

    Sister Mary Leonita Metoyer
    Sister of Mercy at Mercy Hospital

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