The mystery of the Maltese falcon


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The Maltese Falcon is currently showing in theaters across the UK and Rakewell couldn’t be happier. If there was a movie to bring your traveling correspondent back to the cinema for the first time since March 2020, maybe this is it. But while we look forward to seeing Humphrey Bogart in a felt hat and being donated by Mary Astor, Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre, we can’t help but wonder about the ‘real’ Maltese falcon, or hawks, according to the case. . In the original book by Dashiell Hammett and in the faithful film adaptation of John Huston, the Maltese Falcon is known to be a “MacGuffin”. Although everyone is after the statuette, by the end of the story, it’s still not clear where it is – not that anyone really cares; our anti-hero manages to fade away and that’s what really matters. One of the film’s most memorable scenes involves Sydney’s lovable villain Greenstreet (Gutman) explaining the hawk’s provenance to Bogart’s private investigator (Sam Spade). It’s a gripping tale of an Algerian buccaneer, Greek art dealer, and Russian general, among other players – but Gutman tells his story for the drugs he slipped into Spade’s drink. take effect, so who knows if that’s really true. (Let this be a warning to anyone upon receipt of too much fascinating account of the origins of an object.)

Lead statuette of the Maltese Falcon from the film of the same name, sold at Bonhams in November 2013 for $ 4 million. Courtesy of Bonhams

In the film, the falcon – made in 1539 as a gift from the Templars of Malta to Charles V – is actually gold and encrusted with jewelry, but has been coated with black enamel to conceal its value. This is the enamelled black version that we see in the opening credits and later. In November 2013, Bonhams in New York sold a lead statuette of the Maltese Falcon for a staggering sum of $ 4 million. The Lot Note describes her – in CAPS – as “the only statuette confirmed by Warner Bros. archives to have appeared on screen” and alludes to the existence of other rival claimants, but does not fully enter into it. quite in detail. Several statuettes were believed to have been used on the set – three in plaster and one in lead – but the authentication of the plaster versions that have emerged over the years was complicated by the fact that plaster copies were made later for Black Bird (1975), a parody sequel to The Maltese Falcon. The confusion seems entirely appropriate.

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