The Little Black Bird Behind the Glass Case: 80 Years of The Maltese Falcon

Los Angeles is full of tourist destinations for film lovers, it is Hollywood, after all. From the Dolby Theater to the glamorous homes of Bel Air, to the amazing art found at the Getty, Los Angeles is a city full of life, color, and cinema history. If you travel up past Griffith Park you will head into Studio City right next to Burbank. On Riverside Drive to the right is the famed Warner Brothers Studio, where you can embark on a wonderful tour of one of Hollywood’s finest studios. Toward the end of the Classic Tour, you will travel to a large warehouse, where Props and Costumes eagerly await their next performance. You can even rent props for your own production if you wish, but one of the first you’ll notice is a small black bird behind a glass display case next to a picture of Humphrey Bogart.

This is a replica of the Maltese Falcon, the famous MacGuffin from the film of the same name that celebrates its 80th anniversary this year. While the original bird is lost, Jack Warner made numerous casts for friends and family as gifts, he personally loved the film and thought the bird was the coolest piece. Indeed, that copied bird is awesome, and the history of the bird and the film that it comes from is just as interesting as the unknown original.

Directed by first-timer John Huston, who was given the position due to his father being a friend of the studio, The Maltese Falcon chronicles the journey of gumshoe Sam Spade, played by the immortal Humphrey Bogart in his signature role, as he tries to deduce the murder of his partner, the reasoning for why a beautiful woman walked into his door, and what it all has to do with a black bird. The end result is one of espionage, betrayal, and a lot of beautiful cinematography that not only cemented noir as a legitimate film genre, but catapulted the careers of Bogart and Huston. The film was nominated for Best Picture, but lost the award to How Green Was My Valley, a relatively unknown film compared to Falcon and another heavyweight from that year, Citizen Kane.

The film is a wonderful addition to any collection and is frankly one of the greatest films ever put to film, if only for cinematography alone, but the script is solid, the pacing is wonderful, and Bogart delivers a memorable performance. There is a reason most noir films copy this classic original, with the detective’s office, to the damsel in distress, to the wonderful villain, Falcon is incredibly fun to watch and is deserving of a re-watch after the credits roll.

The Maltese Falcon is currently available to stream on HBO Max.