Tuesday, August 23, 2005

The Maltese Falcon, Part 1

This is taken from one of Mary Astor's autobiographies about one of America's favorite films--and one of mine.*
* * *
"BEFORE THE LIGHTS WENT OUT, THERE WAS THE MALTESE FALCON. There is very little I can say about that one, because everything has been said. But anyway, 'Shall we talk about the Black Bird?'
"So often, I have been asked 'What was it like?' to work in a picture that was so ahead of its time, such a departure in methods, point of view, etc. Of course you don't know you're making history while you're in there making it. We were, all of us excited about a good story--one that had everyone confused! However, the 'where was who when what happened' could be traced down. There wasn't a loophole in it. It helped a great deal that we shot the picture in sequence, except for some exterior night shots on the street set. But even so, John Huston often had to call time out to clear up matters. All of us had read the Dashiell Hammett book and studied the script, but it got so that when the 'now just a minute' look came on to somebody's face, it became a joke to say, 'When did Brigid shoot Thursby? On Friday!'"
* * *
". . . If you recall, a tall burly figure staggers into Spade's office late one night, clutching a heavy package wrapped in torn newspapers. He is dressed in the clothes of a seaman, with his peaked cap pulled down over his eyes. He is the captain of the ship which burned in port late that afternoon. He mutters something about 'the Falcon--the bird--' and falls dead on the floor of the office with some bullet holes in him.
"Just a bit--you never saw him before--and that's all he has to do, just stagger in and fall and drop the package. John thought it would be great fun to have his father, Walter Huston, come in one morning and do the part. And so did Walter--his son's first movie, etc. A bit of fun-sentiment.
"John took hours to film it, and Walter got very grumpy: 'Didn't expect to have to put in a day's work.'
"'Let's do it again. Sorry, Dad, you missed your mark.'
"'Take seven. Sorry, Dad. This time try it without staggering so much.'
"'Take ten, please. Sorry, Dad. We've got to reload.'
"The next day, after they'd seen the rushes [what they had already filmed]--they were fine, of course--John told me to call Walter's house and pretend to be his, John's, secretary. I called on the set phone and when Walter answered, I told him that Mr. Huston was sorry, but that we'd have to retake the sequence that afternoon--something had happened to the film in the lab--and could he be ready to shoot at one o'clock?
"I held the receiver from my ear and everybody could hear Walter yelling, 'You tell my son to get another actor or go to h*ll! He made me take twenty falls, and I'm sore all over, and I'm not about to take twenty more. Or even one!'"
[This still of Mary Astor is from www.moviebadgirls.com.]
*From A Life on Film by Mary Astor; Delacorte Press; 1967, 1969, 1971; New York; page 159 to 162.


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