The Maltese Falcon (1941)
The first ever film noir? Yes, probably, but how could they know? Dashiell Hammett's novel had already been filmed ten years prior, but debutant John Huston takes the detective film genre to a new level with this dynamic, nonchalantly playful mystery. It is fresher than most film noirs you'll see, because it hasn't established itself anywhere. Huston just keeps pushing limits, approximating his hero to his femme fatale, enclosing them in paranoia, pessimism, apathy and arrogance and letting their true spirit be up for interpretation until the very end. It isn't so much a mystery of a bird as it is a mystery of characters, and what is brilliant is how Huston lets them remain exuberant and teasingly mischievous until the very end. Bogart downplays his character to perfection, never letting his feelings show, but always staying on top of his game. And that grin could save any scene from ridicule. Add Peter Lorre in superb form and you just can't lose. Through Huston's crisp script, packed with delightful dialogue, the film twists and turns (subtly, never abruptly) through deception, cigarettes, murders, indifference, sex (yes, implicitly), more cigarettes and Bogey's snooty investigation. The ending's indisputable conclusiveness is a bit disappointing, but nothing more than one would have to expect. Besides, we already had our fun.