—A Poor Adaption Leads to a Decent Climax—
For my Maltese Falcon synopsis, you can read my original write up on the film here. And if you really want to try and follow the plot in this heavily condensed radio version of the story, you’d better watch the film first, or you’ll be lost!
What I Thought
I was really looking forward to listening to this broadcast after writing up the 1946 Academy Award Theater Presents: The Maltese Falcon last week. I mean, this version had to be better, right? It’s adds Peter Lorre into the mix, reprising his role as Joel Cairo! While the still unknown radio player that portrayed Cairo in last week’s version was good, no one can stand alongside of Lorre and look good, right?
This broadcast was a bit of a mess. Lorre was not only hardly used, but his best scene from the film, the one where they first meet and Lorre wants to search Bogart’s office, isn’t even in the broadcast! It’s completely cut out and only briefly referenced when Sam Spade tells Brigid O’Shaughnessy that he knows Cairo. Ugh. Lorre was right there! That would have been some easy magic to recreate!
The other big change from the show that I reviewed last week is that this version of the script uses a radio announcer to narrate the story rather than Sam Spade himself. This means that there’s much less Bogart. For some reason, it also means that any action from first ¾ of the story is summed up in the narration rather than heard, as the broadcast steamrolls past any actual plot to get us to the very well written final scene between Spade, O’Shaughnessy, Kaspar Gutman, and Joel Cairo. If you can make it through the first 20 minutes of bland dialogue, that final scene is worth a listen, but if I were you, I’d skip right to it.
In an interesting twist on the 1941 film, one of the four main characters ends up dead at the end of this version. Even considering that interesting changeup, the script still holds true to its lackluster form and we don’t actually get to ‘witness’ it happen . . .
The Bogart Factor
To be honest, I actually enjoyed this version of Bogart’s performance better. He seems to have slipped into character a little bit more and he doesn’t sound like he’s reading his lines quite as much as he does in the later 1946 version. Unfortunately, there’s just not enough script coherence or decent direction for me to recommend this show fully. This one’s just for Bogart completists.
Mary Astor reprises her role from the film as the femme fatale, Brigid O’Shaughnessy. Unlike the 1946 radio version, Astor seems much less interested in performing here and if I hadn’t been told that it was Astor, I probably wouldn’t have noticed. She’s not bad, but compared to the film and the 1946 radio broadcast, she just seems flat.
Sydney Greenstreet reprises the role of Kaspar Gutman, the “fat man” who’s chasing the bird around the world. Even in the last scene where it seems that the reins are finally taken off of the actors, his performance seems caged compared to the 1946 version. The laugh is there, but little else. It’s not his fault though, the script just offers him nothing to work with.
In the biggest disappointment of all, Peter Lorre reprises his role as Joel Cairo, one of the criminals chasing after the bird, only to be relegated to the sidelines for the entire show. Although, saying that he’s “relegated to the sidelines” would be a generous metaphor to use, and I might better say that he’s more of a third string waterboy in the storyline as his part is miniscule and it doesn’t even sound like they let him stand near the microphone!
Classic Bogie Moment
He does his best, but all of the bite that Sam Spade has in the film is taken away when so much of his dialogue is spent recapping action instead of showing it. That being said, Bogart really does light up when he gets to bounce his performance off of Greenstreet, and with only a limited number of performances shared by the two greats, I’ll take what I can get. Bogart again gives 100% to this role, even if it is just a sad and condensed version of the classic film.
The Bottom Line
If you’ve got nothing else to listen to in the car, go for it. I might make it sound a little worse than it is, but the 1946 version is definitely a step up!