Now, ordinarily I flinch away from using words like "unfeminine," and certainly this isn't a post that should meander into concepts such as the "male gaze" effect; nonetheless, for such a period "sexy dame" Astor strikes me as too, oh, mannish or schoolmarmish to generate the kind of sexual heat and disorienting desire that makes a tough cookie like Spade crumble, even temporarily, contrary to his own professional nature and personal interests.
So that crucial element of The Maltese Falcon has always held me at arm's length, and I miss that sweat-stained, seductive noirish heat.
And now here I was watching Laura when it clicked — Gene Tierney would have been ideal as Brigid. She could have played a va-voom! sexuality hiding a steely determination, and mixed a dangerous schemer with an inescapable allure, all without leaning too hard on any single aspect of the character. Granted, Falcon was three years before Laura (Tierney would have been 21, ideal for Brigid), and Tierney was signed with 20th Century-Fox instead of Warner, and in Astor the studio had a much more established "name" than Tierney. But in my imagination's alt-Hollywood, it all works out.
No matter. I love The Maltese Falcon for the well-cast, crisply written, precisely directed classic that it is. A couple of Christmases ago Elizabeth even presented me with my own film-authentic Falcon, which sits looming on the DVDs case. It's what dreams are made of, as the man says.
Another thing that struck me about Laura — Dana Andrews seems to have studied for his role as the dick by watching Jimmy Cagney movies. Several times his body language reminds me of Cagney, although his trenchcoat-and-fedora shamus is of the Bogart mold. And Vincent Price looks 11 feet tall and linebacker broad, especially when he's wearing that prototype of David Byrne's Big Suit.
Maltese Falcon trailer hosted at TCM:
Music: Jessica Williams Trio, "Kristen"
Near at hand: Hammett's novel, hardback edition with cool slipcase