Both its style of cinematography and its unusual plot choices show great originality. We know there was never a film of its kind prior to its debut because it created the road map for many imitators to follow. There are three aspects of the film that I will examine in this blog that I think are essential to the “formula” and go a long way to explain its appeal to decades of audiences.
First, the main character. Sam Spade is a flawed and complex hero. In other words, he is not two-dimensional; his flaws ensure that. Though he acts somewhat morally, he is not always fair or kind to those around him. For instance, at the beginning of the movie, he sends his partner, Miles Archer, out to track down a man for a new client, Miss Ruth Wonderly. Even though Archer winds up getting shot, Spade never shows any remorse or sadness for his actions. In fact, immediately after Sam gets back from the crime scene, he orders his secretary to order a painter to change the two names to one. This act shows the cold heartedness of his character.
Second, the fact that the woman is a murderer. The audience never sees it coming. (In fact, this is an element in all film noirs — there is always some twist or turn in the plot that the audience never sees coming.) When The Maltese Falcon came out, the heroines in other films at the time were merely flat, boring damsels in distress whose main purpose in life was for the hero to get her. But this heroine changed the game.
The final aspect is the use of sound. This movie's dialogue was snappy and fast-paced, with little attention to the visual. In fact, the cinematography's focus is on the faces, the reactions, the drama. The best example is the scene where the Fat Man and Sam Spade are negotiating the price for the Falcon; they are not in a room filled with mysterious, intriguing works of art. They are in a normal, boring apartment, and there are no other sounds other than their conversation. (Personally, I think that was a great decision— it helps the audience see the real Sam Spade — the one that doesn't really care about money.)
In conclusion, I think that The Maltese Falcon is an iconic movie that every movie lover should see. You can always tell a good movie when it still has the impact now that it did then.