Saturday, May 13, 2017

THE PRIVATE LIVES OF ELIZABETH AND ESSEX is a lavish costume epic put out by Warner Brothers in the banner year of 1939. Based on Maxwell Anderson's 1930 Broadway play (which starred Lynn Fontaine and Alfred Lunt), ELIZABETH THE QUEEN, it focuses on the tragic love affair between the aging Queen Elizabeth I (wonderfully played by Bette Davis - she would play the same part again 16 years later in THE VIRGIN QUEEN), and the younger, dashing Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex (Errol Flynn in one of his best roles - though Davis wanted Laurence Olivier, and did not think much of Flynn), and all the court intrigues surrounding this doomed love. The title was originally to be the play’s, but Flynn demanded acknowledgement of his character, so it was changed to THE KNIGHT AND THE LADY, but that title upset Davis (the play had been specifically bought for her to star in), so it was changed again to it’s current one (there was already a book entitled ELIZABETH AND ESSEX, hence the longer one, which also referred back to other films, such as THE PRIVATE LIFE OF HENRY VIII, about Elizabeth’s father, wonderfully played by Charles Laughton – who visited the set, and had private conversation with Davis).
The history is only marginally adhered to (as was common in Hollywood), such as no mention of Essex's wife, mistress, or children (4 with the former, 1 with the latter), romanticizing their relationship (he was a favourite, but not uncommonly so), which could also be seen as incestuous (her mother and his maternal great-grandmother were sisters Anne and Mary Boleyn); also posing both Sir Robert Cecil (a marvelously slimy Henry Daniell), and Sir Walter Raleigh (Vincent Price in one of his earliest movie roles) as conniving rivals of Essex, though both did more for England, and rivalry was quite normal.
Directed by Michael Curtiz at the top of his game (a Hollywood director par excellence), this is a rousing, beautiful, full-blooded spectacle, where all the best in cinematography (Sol Polito), art direction (Anton Grot), costumes (Orry-Kelly), music (Erich Wolfgang Korngold), and cast (a lot of the best character actors in the biz).
The story picks up as Essex is returning from defeating the Spanish Armada at Cadiz. Elizabeth, who had commanded Essex's return, is furious with him, as his pursuit of glory, which has found favor with the people, but has strained the royal coffers, causing high taxation (which the people are not happy about, but blame the ministers, such as Cecil – sounds familiar, no?); also, though Essex was victorious, he failed to capture the treasure fleet, as he had promised.
When Essex enters the court holding himself up as the returning conqueror, the Queen quickly castigates him for his vainglory. He defends his actions; they go back and forth, till Elizabeth clears the court for a private audience. We now see the stormy love these two share, both proud, stubborn, and passionate. She is concerned over her being older (she was 30 years his senior in real life, though the amount is not mentioned in the film), but he assures her he doesn’t care. Their banter fluctuates between declarations of love, and fighting over money (that age old subject of arguments between lovers). They end in a row, she banishes him from London, and he returns to his ancestral home.
Davis and Flynn have a great on-screen chemistry, and we never see the off-screen dislike they held for each other (in later years, while watching the film again with de Havilland, she admitted she was wrong about his casting).
The Queen’s secretary, Cecil (Daniell), tries to drive a further wedge by reading her an inflammatory letter from Essex to Francis Bacon, his only friend at court, which he has intercepted.
We then are taken to Hadham Hall, where Bacon (Donald Crisp) is visiting Essex, and trying to advise him against his headstrong ways. Though Bacon seems doubtful of the truth of Essex’s love for Elizabeth, the latter assures him that it is genuine.
Back in the Queen’s chamber Lady Penelope (Olivia de Havilland), who is in love with Essex, and therefore jealous of the Queen, causes the latter’s anger through conniving jibes. After Elizabeth orders the ladies out, one Mistress Margaret (Nanette Fabray in her film debut) remains behind, crying, and there is a touching conversation between the two women, as the younger, innocent child expresses her sympathy for the Queen, as her own love is far off in the Irish campaign.
While discussing Essex with Bacon, trying to figure out how to bring him back to court, Elizabeth receives news of the Irish rebels’ defeat of English forces, Bacon points out the now legitimate need for Essex to return.
Though Essex at first refuses to return, when Bacon explains the situation with Ireland, he quickly changes his mind, saying that of course the Queen needs him, being surrounded by nincompoops.
Upon his return Essex runs into Raleigh (Price), who wears his new silver armour, which Essex feigns admiration for, though Raleigh is not fooled, and Essex brings in the Queen’s guard, whom he has had outfitted with the same designed silver armour. Bacon again tries to caution Essex about pushing his enemies, but the latter’s arrogance dismisses the threat. As Essex comes to the Queen’s chamber Penelope tries to warn him to be careful, showing her love for him, but he plays off both.
Elizabeth and Essex’s meeting is, as usual, stormy, as they want to just love each other, but pride and ambition rear their ugly heads. Essex admits he believes he would be a better ruler because he is a man. The Queen gives him a ring, which her father had given her, and for the same purpose: should he need her forgiveness in a dire moment, to send the ring to her.
At a Privy Council meeting despite warnings from Elizabeth before and during Essex allows himself to be riled up into taking over the Irish campaign (historically known as the Nine Years War, 1595-1603 – and Devereux, in reality, talked himself into the situation), which his predecessors had failed at. For all his arrogance, Robert does prove himself kind of dim at times.
And he fails miserably in Ireland, being routed by Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone (Alan Hale – who had played Little John to Flynn’s Robin Hood the year before, and to Douglas Fairbanks’ Robin 17 years earlier), and seemingly abandoned by the Queen (there letters were intercepted by Cecil et al by conning the jealous Penelope). But he ignores the order to disband his army, and return in shame to London, instead stopping off in Wales to re-arm, and march into the city at the head of his army.
The conspirators are a panic, Penelope in regret threatens to tell all, Bacon overhears, but diplomatically says he will not divulge. The Queen calls for court to meet. Essex marches in and takes control of the palace, entering the throne room, to meet Elizabeth.
Alone again these two passionate, prideful egos clash and jockey for dominance. They also discover that each had written extensively to the other, though neither received the others letters. Elizabeth falsely lies that she will share her kingdom equally (part of her feels that’s all he really wanted), as he will not accept a supporting role, in order to get him to send off his troops, and allow her guards the ground again; then has him arrested.
We skip over the trial (which can really slow a film down), and come to the Queen moving into the Tower, where Devereux is imprisoned. She has not slept in days, and is hoping he will send the ring for forgiveness. Penelope confesses all, hoping to save him. Cecil comes to ask permission for the guards to use force against the rowdy crowds, but Elizabeth denies him, and instead sends him to bring Essex to her.
Their final meeting is far more somber than previously. They both declare their love, and Elizabeth asks him why he did not send the ring. He explains because she would pardon him, and he would take her thrown, but she will not relinquish her crown; she explains that despite how much she loves him she has a greater love, that of England, and that his rule would be disastrous for the country. He finally understands, but also knows he must go to his death, for her sake, admitting he cannot let go of his ambition. And proudly he goes, in the tradition of the tragic hero.
The film was released in November of 1939, and was a huge hit. It was nominated for 5 Academy Awards: Best (color) Cinematography, Best Art Direction, Best Music (scoring), Best Sound Recording, Best Special Effects, but did not win any (the first 2 were taken by GONE WITH THE WIND).
As suggested, if you’re a history buff, you may be disappointed in the fictions offered; Davis did her homework, but she was still cast in a romantic tragedy with historical trappings. And it is a rousing, deeply romantic, lushly produced spectacle that is fully entertaining.

Research material:
“ELIZABETH AND ESSEX: BATTLE ROYALE” – a short documentary from 2005, with information provided by Lincoln Hurst (Professor of Film at UC Davis), Rudy Behlmer (author/film historian), Bob Thomas (author), and Nanette Fabray (actress). – articles on the film, and on the historical Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex.

Was to be published in "Multitude of Movies" #4 (Winter 2016), but a natural catastrophe caused the closure of the digest.

“The Mediator Between the Head and Hands Must Be the Heart”

METROPOLIS is one of the most iconic films of the 20th Century, even if you have never seen it, nor heard of it, it has influenced films and other mediums right down to the present. It is a cinematic masterpiece from a film director who had several. Fritz Lang is not the household name that Hitchcock is, but that is the fickleness of fame.
In 1925 Fritz Lang was at the top of his game. The year before had seen his 2 part epic version of DIE NIBELUNGEN. Working at UFA, the most prestigious German film studio, afforded him the best production values cinema had to offer. His wife of 3 years, Thea von Harbou, had been a successful novelist, before turning her attentions to writing for film - she had written the screenplay for the 2 part mythic epic.
This silent film power couple set to work on what was to become the prototype for many science fiction films to come. There had been sci-fi films since early on in the pioneering of cinema (Georges Melies' 1902 film LE VOYAGE DANS LA LUNE is considered the first), but METROPOLIS upped the ante, setting into motion the images of a dystopian society, with it's disparity between the powerful and powerless; the city of the future, reportedly inspired by Lang's visit to New York City, including the engines that run it; the mad scientist - especially the wild hair, and obsessed eyes; his laboratory, which is filled with visually stunning, but meaningless gadgetry; his creation, the first movie robot; the bland uniforms of the workers.
Filming began on 22 May 1925, and finished on 30 October '26. von Harbou published a serialised form (somewhat different from the screenplay) in “Illustriertes Blatt”, in 1925, then as a novel the following year; and translated into English the year after that (which I read years ago).
It tells the story of a machine run city of 2026, with much religious and socialist iconography, in which there is a huge divide between the wealthy, whose children play unburdened in sports fields, pleasure gardens, night clubs, and such, and the workers, who work grueling 10 hour shifts in the underground machinery, and live below that, never seeing the Sun. When one pleasure garden is entered by Maria (Brigitte Helm, in her film debut), of the workers' city, with a crowd of the workers' children, introducing each to the other as "your brothers", her saintly demeanor catches the eye of Freder (Gustav Frohlich), son of the Master of Metropolis, Joh Fredersen (Alfred Abel).
Freder tries to follow Maria, ending up in the Machine Halls, where he is horrified by a massive explosion, causing a vision of the gigantic central machine as Moloch (an ancient Ammonite god, to whom children were reportedly sacrificed), where slaves are thrown into it's maw. His father takes this news with bland aplomb. Freder wonders where the hands that built the city, his brothers and sisters, fit in, and his father tells him where they belong; and what if they rebel? Fredersen is then brought more mysterious maps by Grot (Heinrich George), the head foreman of the Heart Machine, found on workers after the explosion; Frederson fires his secretary, Josephat (Theodor Loos), for not bringing all this news; but Freder enlists Josephat's aid. Fredersen calls upon the Thin Man (Fritz Rasp), to have his son followed.
Freder returns to the Machine, takes over the duties of an over-exhausted worker, but finding the work tortuous.
In an ancient house Fredersen discovers Rotwang (Klein-Rogge) the inventor's monument to Hel, whom they'd been rivals for, she having died giving birth to Freder. Rotwang informs Fredersen he has recreated Hel, losing a hand in the process; then takes him to his "Machine-Human" (Helm in a fabulous suit by Walter Schulze-Mittendorff), proclaiming the worker of the future ("robot" had been coined in Karel Capek’s 1920 play R.U.R., but not yet universal).
All the characters now in place, each follows their drive, for good or ill. Maria preaches patience to the workers, promising that the Mediator will come; Freder pursues his belief his destiny is that Mediator, and the love he shares with her; Fredersen has Rotwang make the Machine-Human look like Maria (rather than Hel) to sow rebellion, so he can use force against the workers; Rotwang plans to use Maria to destroy Fredersen's son and city, as revenge for Hel; the false Maria drives the "upper 1000" (men) to madness, and the workers to rebellion; Josephat remains loyal to Freder; the Thin Man skulks and menaces; and Grot tries to protect the Heart Machine.
The rebellion causes the machinery to malfunction, throwing the upper city into darkness and chaos, and the lower city becomes flooded. Maria, Freder, and Josephat save the children who were left there as their parents stormed the machines. Meanwhile, Grot finally gets through to the workers that their city is flooded, their children (assumed) drowned, then leads them against the "witch", i.e., the false Maria, whom they chase, capture, and put to the stake.
Terrified by the mob the real Maria runs and hides among the statues of the church. Rotwang comes along, sees her, and chases her up inside. Freder shows up to the auto-de-fe, thinks his beloved Maria is being fried, tries to stop it, but the mob recognizes him, and assaults him. More mayhem ensues as Fredersen and the Thin Man show up; Freder sees Rotwang carrying Maria up to the roofs of the church, and goes in hot pursuit. There is a final, desperate fight between hero and villain, till the latter falls from the parapet.
On the steps of the church, everyone now relieved (the mob informed their children were saved), Fredersen (the Head) and Grot (the Hands) hesitantly look at each other, not sure what to do, so Maria encourages Freder to Mediate, and he takes his father's hand, leads him to Grot, takes his hand, and brings them together for a happy, socialist ending.
The film premiered in Berlin on 10 January 1927; it was then cut shorter for all markets including Germany; U.S. distributor Paramount even altered the story. It was the most expensive German film to date, having gone way over budget and over schedule. UFA never made their money back on it.
But it was also immediately iconic. In Fox’s 1930 production JUST IMAGINE, the first talkie sci-fi, also a musical, the futuristic design of the city of 1980 is obviously influenced by METROPOLIS; that design continues to influence “future cities” – a shot of one building is copied in BLADE RUNNER; “Superman” creators named their fictional city Metropolis. The robot has influenced descendents, such as C3PO from the STAR WARS films; and in her human form numerous androids to come, right up to EX MACHINA (’15) (actress Brigitte Helm played another science project, twice, in the 1928 silent and 1930 sound versions of ALRAUNE – she was Whale’s first choice for the BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN). Rotwang can be seen in such divergent characters as Dr. Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger) in BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (’35), DR. STRANGELOVE (Peter Sellers ‘64), ‘80’s icon Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) in the BACK TO THE FUTURE films, among others. Osamu Tezuka was inspired by just the poster for his manga METOROPORISU (’49), which was animated in 2001.
Attempts had been made to reconstruct the original film starting in the 1970’s. In 1984 composer Giorgio Moroder put together a version using stills from missing scenes, some added effects, subtitles instead of intertitles, and a pop soundtrack with a variety of well-known singers (personally dislike). Film historian Enno Patalas made an exhaustive attempt at restoration in 1986. Over the next decade & a half other segments were discovered in various museums and archives, leading to an authorized restoration in 2002 by Kino International, in conjunction with the F.W. Murnau Foundation, which used title cards to describe missing scenes.
Then in 2008 news of an amazing find in The Museo del Cine in Buenos Aires, Argentina. New curator Paula Felix-Didier invited her ex-husband, Fernando Martin Pena, director of the film department of the MALBA, to come look at some film canisters in her archive, as he suspected they might contain a 16mm version of METROPOLIS, which had been passed through several hands before ending up in the museum in 1992, the value unrealised. They discovered that this was the complete film, brought to Argentina in 1928 by Terra film distribution head Adolfo Z. Wilson; and later reduced to 16mm for easier storage. Felix-Didier headed to Germany, where she first talked with Karen Naundorf of “Die Zeit” magazine, who in turn called in three experts to examine the find. It was determined that this was indeed the full film, and restoration began. Earlier, in 2005, historian and politician Michael Organ had discovered a full print in the National Film Archive of New Zealand, and when he heard of the restoration going on, notified the restorers of his find. Another was found in Australia, and these three prints were brought together to make THE COMPLETE METROPOLIS, released in 2010 by Kino. Though there are still several minutes missing, due to print degradation, and some shots could only be restored so much, it is probably as complete as it ever will be.
And what a masterpiece it is.
Have been reading about this film since the ‘70’s, so can’t remember all the sources, but here are some:


Published in "Multitude of Movies" #3 (Fall 2015)



THE MALTESE FALCON was Dashiell Hammett's third novel, having written short stories for some years for the pulp detective magazine "BLACK MASK", then 2 novels (both published in 1929), in 1930. It was an immediate success. Hammett had, as he had told his publisher he would, raised the American hardboiled detective story to the level of true literature.
In the novel, Sam Spade and Miles Archer, who are partners in a private detective agency in San Francisco, are hired by Brigid O'Shaughnessy, using the alias Miss Wonderly, to trail her partner Floyd Thursby, but using a false story involving a younger sister having run away with Thursby, and needing to get her back to New York before their parents returned from Europe. That night Archer is murdered on the job; later the same night Thursby is also murdered. The police, in the form of detectives Tom Polhaus and Lt. Dundy, who breathe down Spade's neck, and Archer's widow - with whom Spade was having an affair - add to his difficulties.
O'Shaughnessy proves to be a chronic liar (she uses another alias, Leblanc, for one of her disappearing acts), and manipulative, which frustrates Spade no end, despite his intense attraction to her (or is that unpredictability part of that attraction?). Other players enter the scene, first Joel Cairo, from whom we first learn of the black bird of the title; another, Caspar Gutman, explains what it is during a second meeting (having refused to divulge his information the first time round): a jewel encrusted statuette of a falcon, made by the Knights of St. John, later of Malta, for the King of Spain, which was lost to pirates (Spade later double-checks this info); and elaborates on it's checkered history, including centuries of murder and theft, until it ended up in the hands of a Russian general in Constantinople, from whom he tried unsuccessfully to buy it, then had O'Shaugnessy and Cairo steal it from. Spade's drink turns out to have been drugged, and when he awakens, he finds a bump on his head, and the fat man and his boy-toy gunsel, Wilmer Cook, gone.
After more detective work, Spade searches Cairo's room, with the help of the hotel dick, Luke, finds a newspaper with part of the ship arrivals cut out. Spade buys a copy of the same paper, and finds six ships listed in the missing section, including La Paloma from Hong Kong. Back at the office, Effie tells him there was a ship on fire at the docks, which she saw was La Paloma, which cinches Spade's suspicion it is the ship in question.
Spade meets with Polhaus for info, before an official visit with the D.A., accompanied by his lawyer. More detective work leads Spade to find out the motley band of conspirators had met with the Captain of La Paloma, Jacobi, for several hours, before leaving all together. (Later we learn the bird had been given by O'Shaughnessy to, Jacobi, another confederate of hers, to bring along on a slower boat).
Though mortally wounded by Cook, Jacobi manages to get to Spade's office with the bird before dying; Brigid calls just then, from Gutman's hotel, but is cut off; Spade heads out, stashing the falcon at a bus terminal station, then off to the hotel, where he finds a drugged Rhea Gutman, daughter of Caspar (who never makes it to the film versions), who manages to send him on a wild goose chase.
After a confab with his smart secretary, Effie Perine, who had taken the call, he heads back to his place, finding Brigid out front; and the "boy trio" inside his apartment. Heated negotiations ensue; Gutman gives Spade $10,000, who balks at so lowly an amount, but the latter then turns to the need for a fall guy to hand to the police for the 3 murders, though it is supposed that Thursby killed Archer. Gutman is reticent; Spade suggests Wilmer, but Gutman feels as if the boy "were (his) own son." (There has been a subtle undertone of homosexuality, though primarily regarding Cairo). There is a lot of back and forth, till Wilmer gets up on his heels, wanting to shoot if out with Spade; Gutman and Cairo wrestle with him, till Spade steps in and knocks the kid out; Cairo attacks Spade, who easily repels the smaller, weaker man; this all results in the agreement of Cook being the fall guy. Spade then has Gutman fill in all the blanks (i.e., actions that happened out of his sight), so as to cover any loose ends. Gutman tries one last trick, palming one of the thousand dollar bills, and suggesting O'Shaughnessy took it, to cause conflict between she and Spade; Sam goes for it, but when it's not found on her, he confronts Casper, who fesses up. Gutman, out of earshot of Brigid, warns Spade that she is bad. Meanwhile, Cairo has been trying to soothe Cook, but finally riles the boy, who socks Joel in the mouth, and telling him to get away. Then, the waiting game.
At 7am Sam calls Effie, tells her to get the envelope with the check in ticket for the bundle at the station, then get the bundle, and bring it to him at his apartment, which she does. The falcon turns out to be a fake, recriminations fly about, though it is realized the Russian they'd stolen it from, had had the duplicate made once he had an idea of its value. Gutman declares his intent on returning to Constantinople, inviting Cairo along; he also takes his $10,000 back by gunpoint, but let's Spade keep $1,000; then the duo leave, after which Spade calls Polhaus and alerts him about them, and the kid.
Then it's time for the big showdown between Sam and Brigid, as he knows she is the one who killed Archer, but being a detective, he wants all the facts intact. It all gets very intense, as Sam tells her he's turning her over to the cops, because he won't play the sap for her, as others before him have. She tries to use emotional blackmail, but fails. When detectives Polhaus and Dundy show up at this door, Spade turns over her, the falcon, and even the $1000 bill he took from Gutman for payment.
It was not long before a studio, in this case Warner Brothers, bought the screen rights. After all, the novel easily lent itself to the medium of motion pictures (even though it needed some taming down for censorship reasons).
In 1931 WB released THE MALTESE FALCON, with a screenplay by Maude Fulton & Brown Holmes, under the direction of Roy Del Ruth, starring Ricardo Cortez as private detective Sam Spade, with Walter Long as his partner Miles Archer, who are hired by Ruth Wonderly (Bebe Daniels), who does not use any aliases in this version, but does give them the false runaway younger sister bit. Archer does his duties tailing Thursby, and getting shot dead; an added scene has Spade leaving the police scene, coming across a Chinese man (uncredited actor) standing nearby, talking with him in Chinese for a moment, before continuing on; turns out the Chinese witnessed Wonderly kill Archer, so Spade knew the whole time (which, in my opinion, diminishes the interplay between Sam and Ruth).
This version suffers some of the ills of many an early talkie. Cameras were loud, so had to be contained within a windowed box, so as not to be picked up by the microphone; there was yet no post-dubbing, or even separate sound tracks, so scenes of dialogue - and this is a dialogue heavy film - tend to be stagy; no incidental music, which would later help cover-up the stage bound echoey-ness, as well as up the pacing.
Of the cast: Cortez does look a bit like Hammett's description, especially the satanic smile, but he lacks range, and is too smooth; Daniels as Wonderly is a good bad girl, but not convincing in her lies; Dudley Digges' Gutman is fine, but lacks any subtly; Una Merkel's Perine is a bit too comic (Merkel's best success was in comedy); Otto Matieson is suitably oily as Cairo; Robert Elliott and J. Farrell MacDonald are stock-in-trade detectives; Thelma Todd is good as the adulterous and jealous Mrs. Archer, but Walter Long is clunky as the Mr.; and Dwight Frye is not given much to do as Cook.
If one was unfamiliar with the novel (and, especially the later classic film version) this would be an enjoyable, if not a particularly memorable movie.
Then there was the next version...
The only reason I can think for the existence of this complete misfire, is the success of rival studio MGM's THE THIN MAN, which had taken another hardboiled detective novel by Hammett, added some winning humour (I love both the novel and the film), and launched a series - SATAN MET A LADY, as the film was re-titled, came out in 1936, the same year as the second THIN MAN movie.
The script, by Brown Holmes, who had co-written the first one, is downright awful. Director William Dieterle, who helmed several classics, fails miserably here. One-on-one scenes range from bland to dreadful. Warren William as the renamed p.i. Ted Shayne is a buffoonish cad, Bette Davis is lost in her badly written turn as femme-fatale Valerie Purvis; character actors Arthur Treacher, Marie Wilson, Porter Hall, Olin Howland, and Charles C. Wilson are wasted in their renamed parts (for Cairo, Perine, Archer, Dundy, and Polhaus respectively), Wilson being the only one with some funny moments (she later gained fame as Irma in the radio series "MY FRIEND IRMA", then the film and television versions). Wini Shaw as the partner's amorous widow seems dropped in from another movie; uncredited Maynard Holmes as the gunsel, Kenneth, is just ridiculous. The one bright spot in the cast is Alison Skipworth as the gender-swapped stand-in for Gutman, Madame Barabbas. She is marvelous, and makes William look good in the far too few worthwhile scenes.
The falcon is changed to a jewel-filled (animal) horn, becoming the butt of too many lame jokes about saxophones or trumpets.
Oh, and did I mention the overt sexism? Not that Hammett's novels didn't include a lot of male fantasy femme-fatales, but whereas Spade's attitude was standard sexism, Shayne's is skirt chasing sleazy. This movie is a real stinker. It's neither funny nor thrilling. Just a lame duck.
And then there is the 1941 version. First, the novel was suggested to writer John Huston, who was eager to direct, by producer Howard Hawks, for his debut, as the rights were still owned by WB *. Huston had his secretary put the novel into script form, which was accidently sent to studio head Jack L. Warner, i.e., before Huston had worked on it, but Warner loved it and gave it the green light. Tho' it was pared down some (mostly bits that weren't completely necessary, such as Spade's visits to his lawyer, which were changed to a phone conversation, and telling Effie to call, or streamlining Spade's finding information about La Paloma).
Then there was the casting. The part of Spade was first offered to George Raft, who turned it down, as he saw it as an unimportant picture (being a remake - and possibly also because of directorial debut*); it then went to Humphrey Bogart, a contract player, who had just scored in WB's HIGH SIERRA, which had been co-scripted by Huston. Bogart looked nothing like Spade, but, then, neither did Raft. Though several actresses were considered for Brigid, WB especially wanting Geraldine Fitzgerald, but Huston was interested in Mary Astor, who had gained a sordid reputation with various scandalous affairs (a servant sold her diary, containing her sexual exploits, to newspapers during a bitter custody battle), and alcoholism*, which gave her the right amount of wild behaviour for a femme-fatale; shown the script by Huston and Bogart, she was in. Theatre actor Sydney Greenstreet made his film debut as Gutman, at age 61; and, with help from cameraman Arthur Edeson, and Huston, he embodies the role superbly, adding a subtle humour. Character actor par excellence Peter Lorre plays Cairo with wit and wile, a crafty, temperamental, effeminate little man not to be trusted. Lee Patrick is marvelous, and supportive, in her role as Effie. Ward Bond and Barton MacLane fill the police shoes admirably well. Elisha Cook Jr. is marvelous as Wilmer, and looks like such a tough kid, even though he was almost 40. Jerome Cowan and Gladys George round out the cast as the Archers. When I read the novel it was hard not to think of this cast. Under Huston's assured hand, the actors bring a very dramatic range and depth to their characters; they truly bring them to life. And Huston's actor father, Walter, makes an uncredited cameo as Captain Jacoby.
WB wanted to release this version as THE GENT FROM FRISCO*, as the original title had already been used, but Huston prevailed upon them to use the better title.
After the major success of this film WB announced a sequel, THREE STRANGERS, headed by Sam Spade, but Hammett reminded them that the characters were copyrighted, and so it was changed to be its own story with different characters, and released in 1946, starring Geraldine Fitzgerald, Sydney Greenstreet, and Peter Lorre.
The ‘41 film was also one of the prototypes for what the French would come to christen Film Noir.
In 1975 a comic sequel, THE BLACK BIRD, starring George Segal as Sam Spade Jr. was released. Lee Patrick and Elisha Cook Jr. reprise their roles from the classic version.

*1 Though that quote is from the 1941 film, it is not from the novel, but paraphrased from Shakespeare's THE TEMPEST, the actual quote being "We are such stuff as dreams are made on..."

*2 As stated in the excellent documentary "THE MALTESE FALCON: ONE MAGNIFICENT BIRD" by Gary Leva.

*3 Have read for decades how Raft turned down the role, so not sure of the initial source. According to it was in his contract that he did not have to do remakes. The latter reason was posited by John McCarty, author of THE FILMS OF JOHN HUSTON, in a radio interview.

*4 Astor was quite candid on her lifestyle in her book MY STORY: AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY ('59)

*5 From trivia - original source unknown

Published in "Multitude of Movies" #2 (Summer 2015)