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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

SATAN WAS A LADY (1936)


This joked-up redo of THE MALTESE FALCON, made five years after the mediocre Ricardo Cortez version, and five years before the John Huston/Humphrey Bogart classic, is something of a head-scratcher. It’s star (Bette Davis) and helmer (William Dieterle) had each moved past such Grade ‘B’ shenanigans (unlike co-stars Warren William & the irritating Marie Wilson); so what were they doing here? A punishment? Just keeping busy? The answer is probably found @ M-G-M where Dashiell Hammett’s light-hearted detective yarn THE THIN MAN/’34 was about to sire a sequel, AFTER THE THIN MAN/’36. THE MALTESE FALCON was the only Hammett title Warners owned; why not gag it up? Alas, refitting Sam Spade & Co. as a larky murder mystery with renamed characters, a major gender reversal & a gem-filled horn in place of the famous black bird didn’t turn out to be such a great idea. (Dieterle & lenser Arthur Edeson only seem happy toward the end, staging an atmospheric rain-soaked climax.) There’d be no sequel to SATAN, but Huston’s straight take on the book, with Edeson repeating as lenser, would prove that third time’s the charm.

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