Each week, this column will cover one film on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 greatest American films of all time, covering my general thoughts on the film and whether or not I think it belongs on the list. You can also see my personal ranking here. To celebrate Noirvember, I’ll be covering some film noir from the list, starting with #31, the earliest example: The Maltese Falcon (1941).
John Huston’s directorial debut is the most famous early example of film noir and served as the prototype for the genre’s proliferation over the following decades. Its story concerns a private detective (played by Humphrey Bogart) who becomes caught up in a web of crime after being hired by a woman who may not be what she seems. The narrative is incredibly dense, twisting and turning with every scene as the double crosses pile up. The intricate story and lengthy exposition-laiden monologues would become overbearing if it weren’t for Bogart’s performance at its center. The filmmaking is striking and dynamic, but it’s his cool confidence and charisma that keeps the film so engaging from moment to moment. I’m not a rabid fan of film noir, Huston, or even Bogart, but it’s impossible not to get wrapped up in the intrigue of the plot from the opening scene, even if the story becomes mind-numbing at a certain point.
Does It Belong on the List?
As with It Happened One Night, just because it sets the template, doesn’t mean there aren’t better examples to follow. At the risk of seeming like I’ve got a bone to pick with Huston, I’d also kick this one off the list.