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Tuesday, March 16, 2010


The first film version of Dashiell Hammett’s classic detective story holds a bit of interest as a companion piece to the famous John Huston/Humphrey Bogart 1941 pic. Ricardo Cortex is a randy Sam Spade (lots of Pre-Code sexual innuendo), who greets each plot twist with an insipid grin. A poor substitute for Bogie’s insolence & romantic fatalism. Worse, it keeps the film from gaining any sort of dramatic traction. But he’s hardly alone in missing the point, the whole crew, which looks decent enough on paper (Bebe Daniels, Dudley Diggs, Dwight Frye!, Una Merkel), exhibit none of the magical alchemy between actor & role that Huston conjured up ten years later. This version even fudges the plot structure with a tricked up ending that makes a mockery of Spade’s ethics & intentions. As standard early Talkie fare, this is an acceptable 1931 release, but little more.

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