The Maltese Falcon (1941 Film)

The Maltese Falcon (1941 Film) Literary Elements


John Huston

Leading Actors/Actresses

Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor

Supporting Actors/Actresses

Gladys George, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet


Film-Noir, Mystery, Crime




Nominated for 3 Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Writing-Screenplay, Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Sydney Greenstreet)

Date of Release



Arthur Edeson

Setting and Context

San Francisco 1941

Narrator and Point of View

The film follows Sam Spade's perspective: it almost never diverges from his plot-line. We are only privy to events of which he is ignorant at a few moments in the film.

Tone and Mood

Film-Noir, Dramatic, Mysterious, Ominous

Protagonist and Antagonist

Protagonist is Sam Spade, Antagonists are Kasper Gutman, Joel Cairo and Brigid O'Shaughnessy

Major Conflict

Sam's partner Miles is killed while investigating a case, which leads Sam to seek answers in the mystery surrounding the murder and the plight of Brigid O'Shaughnessy, while also escaping the suspicion of the police.


At the very end of the film, Gutman discovers that the Maltese Falcon is a fake. Sam discovers Brigid killed his partner. He turns her over to the police after the police have already captured Gutman and his associates.


Miles being shot and killed foreshadows the danger of Sam's enemies. The presence of Wilmer following Sam foreshadows the arrival of Gutman. When Sam finds the newspaper announcing the arrival of the La Paloma, we are clued in to the significance of the ship in the acquisition of the statue.


Brigid thinks that Sam should forgive him for killing Miles, not anticipating the seriousness of her crime. Much of Gutman's dialogue is understatement, as he maintains a polite and pleasant demeanor while committing villainous acts.

Innovations in Filming or Lighting or Camera Techniques

Many photographic and cinematographic innovations for its time, with scenes shot from unique angles and perspectives to heighten the suspense.


The story of the Maltese Falcon alludes to a long history of Western civilization, including the Crusades, and the conflicts between the East and the West.


Sam tells Gutman that they are in a paradoxical dynamic when he acquires the Maltese Falcon, because Gutman cannot kill him so long as he has the statuette, so he will not be able to apply brute force to get what he wants and must cooperate.


The scenes in which Gutman and Sam share drinks parallel one another, while having very distinct arcs. Both Brigid and Gutman marvel at how "unpredictable" Sam is.