I thought it would be fitting to start Noirvember with a discussion of John Huston’s iconic adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon. Although film noir, a term coined in 1946 by French film critic Nino Frank, is often thought of as an post-war era in American cinema (many neo-noir and foreign films would later emulate these original films), this film has been cited as the first true American Film Noir. There’s a great debate about when the era starts and whether it counts as a genre (I don’t believe in genres period, so you can probably guess where I stand on that issue). A lot of the early crime films in the thirties and the silents made during German Expressionism all led to the style and topics seen in the noir films, but for me I think the films made during this era were distinctly full of post-war angst. That said, I’ll admit if The Maltese Falcon isn’t the first true noir, it’s definitely the premiere proto-noir. The film essentially launched Humphrey Bogart as a leading man, following his explosive earlier that year in Raoul Walsh’s High Sierra, in a performance that set the tone for all of noir’s anti-hero heroes to come. The film was nominated for three Academy Awards, though it didn’t win any: Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor Sydney Greenstreet and Best Picture. The other films nominated that year were: Blossoms in the Dust, Citizen Kane, Here Comes Mr. Jordan, Hold Back the Dawn, The Little Foxes, One Foot in Heaven, Sergeant York (co-written by John Huston), Suspicion and winner How Green Was My Valley.
I first saw The Thin Man late on a Saturday night on PBS when I was in high school. I caught it from the very beginning (rare when you’re flipping through the channels!) and I fell in love. That PBS station then showed the film’s sequels every subsequent Saturday. It was a magical six weeks. I still wish I owned The Thin Man DVD collection. William Powell and Myrna Loy made 14 films together including 1936’s Libeled Lady with Spencer Tracy and Jean Harlow. Powell and Loy have some of the best on-screen chemistry ever captured on film (hence their being paired together so many times), but nothing beats the work they did together as Nick and Nora Charles in The Thin Man. The film was nominated for four Academy Awards, though it didn’t win any: Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor William Powell, Best Director and Best Picture. The other films nominated for Best Picture that year were The Barretts of Wimpole Street, Cleopatra, Flirtation Walk, The Gay Divorcee, Here Comes the Navy, The House of Rothschild, Imitation of Life, One Night of Love, Viva Villa!, The White Parade and winner It Happened One Night. As you can see, there were TWELVE Best Picture nominees. Oddly enough, there were only three Best Actor nominees that year, four Best Actress nominees (Bette Davis was the fourth, a write-in) and three Best Director nominees (Van Dyke, Victor Schertzinger for One Night of Love and winner Frank Capra for It Happened One Night).