Metaphorically speaking, a thriller is nothing more than a maze (or a mess) through which a series of disreputable characters circulate trying to find something. In the most emblematic case (that of John Huston’s “The Maltese Falcon”), everyone tries to find a falcon, nobody knows why. Not because they like the elegant flight of such birds (since this particular falcon is unable to fly due to a problem in its constitution: it’s made of gold) but for some other reason that escapes me. The detective (Humphrey Bogart) is brought into this damn mess by a ‘femme fatale’ (Mary Astor). Unfortunately, in addition to this fatal woman, there is also a wide assortment of fatal men, all of whom cause trouble for Humphrey Bogart. To begin with, they kill his partner, who was the mastermind of the detective agency, thus leaving the business brainless. At this very moment, the viewers are beginning to adjust to the idea that they will be home late for tea time. If the dead man had been Bogart instead of his partner, the film would have ended promptly and by now all of us could be at home having tea and scones. (However, this all makes sense in terms of box office performance, as it’s convenient for any film to last more than five minutes in order to avoid riots.) The thing is that Bogart is as lost in such a mess as the viewers are -perhaps even more. The further he goes into the mess, the less he understands anything. For her part, Mary Astor doesn’t help at all, quite the contrary. If instead of a ‘femme fatale’, Mary Astor had been a typical 1940s American housewife, we would already being having tea and scones. But for some reason thriller fans prefer a ‘femme fatale’ over a loving housewife, which is something beyond my understanding. In any case, this movie meant Bogart’s definite launch into the Hollywood stardom, so he was able to stop acting on Broadway as a chorus girl and start playing roles more in keeping with his marked masculinity.

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