Daily Archives: February 11, 2019

Satan Met a Lady (1936)

*. Based on “a book” by Dashiell Hammett. That’s cold.
*. It is, of course, based on The Maltese Falcon, though it’s a very free adaptation. I guess Warner Bros. just figured that since they already had the rights to The Maltese Falcon they could film it again under a different title giving the characters different names and nobody would be any the wiser.
*. But why this title? Earlier drafts went with The Man in the Black Hat and Men on Her Mind, neither of which seem to have much relation to what’s going on. But what does Satan Met a Lady refer to? I assume the lady is Valerie Purvis (Bette Davis), but then who is Satan? Detective Ted Shane (Warren William)?
*. Bette Davis thought the film crap (or “junk,” to quote her directly) and wasn’t going to do it, but she needed the money. That’s not really an auspicious way to get started.
*. Again we are forced into making comparisons, though given the changes they made there isn’t the same sense of seeing a diminished thing as when putting the 1931 version of The Maltese Falcon alongside John Huston’s 1941 classic. This is a different film.
*. Most of the changes are cosmetic. Instead of a Maltese falcon we’re chasing after the legendary horn of Roland, which is an artefact made of ivory and supposedly filled with precious gems. The Gutman character is now a tough old dame and Wilmer the gunsel is her babyish adult son (who is always just about to tell Shane somethin’). Joel Cairo is a proper English fellow. And the femme fatale is Bette.
*. The biggest shift, however, has to do with tone. This has always been difficult for filmmakers to get right. Only Bogart has managed to project the sense of wry cynicism and physical threat that Sam Spade needs. In the 1931 film Ricard Cortez was a bit too leering, while here Warren William seems to be auditioning for William Powell’s role in The Thin Man (a successful franchise in the mid-’30s).
*. It’s all very lighthearted and farcical, which doesn’t really fit with much of what’s going on. The cuckolding and murder of Shane’s partner, for example, is treated as a laugh. Which, when you think about it, is remarkable.
*. And I don’t mean remarkable in a good way. I mean a misfire, to the point where I’m not even sure what target they were trying to hit. There are a few things to enjoy here, like the big baby Kenny playing at being a gunman, and Bette Davis nearly succeeding in not embarassing herself, but overall this is a mess that doesn’t play well five years after the first Maltese Falcon and seems totally misguided in light of what we’d be getting next.