Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) is a thousand things to a thousand different people. A gumshoe detective with a cold heart and devilish grin everything about the man oozes cool from his stylish suits to the dozens of smokes he puts back a day--he is the man who the term "Bogarted" was created after. To Miles Archer (Jerome Cowan) he is a partner in the private-detecting business, to Archer's wife he is a lover, to Det. Dundy (Barton MacLane) he is a lying pain in the ass and for Brigid O'Shaughnessy (Mary Astor) the only solution for her problem, of which she has several.
John Huston's first effort starts off simply enough: a woman strolls into Spade and Archer enlisting help to find her runaway sister, after Archer gets killed, things get messy. Brigid's actual motives are made clear and the object of her desire is The Maltese Falcon, the fabled treasure that men have been searching for for hundreds of years. Spade is under investigation for the deaths of Archer and Thursby
The plot itself could be described as convoluted, yet the point of The Maltese Falcon isn't why Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre at his zany best) switches sides, or why Kasper Gutman (Sidney Greenstreet in his first silverscreen appearance) protected Wilmer for so long, or why Brigid is such a compulsive liar. Huston really wanted to focus on Spade's character and how a man such as he operates.
The ending reveals that while Spade is amoral, a man knows that he can't let his partner's murder go without retribution, sleep with his wife sure, but not let his killer go. Spade may just be the first generally like anti-hero, but "I hope they don't hang you, precious, by that sweet neck..." keys the audience on how that constantly working mind of Spades really works. It is almost disturbing how much we root for a man who is so crooked and loves every minute of it.
Acknowledged as the first of its genre The Maltese Falcon is a must-see if for nothing else, but Bogart's iconic performance.