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The gay touch of Maltese is fey, funny Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre). When Joel tries to shake-down superbly hardboiled Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart), it may be the wittiest of many confrontations in small rooms that make John Huston’s first directorial assignment a jewel of cinematic stagecraft. A direct transfer of Dashiell Hammett’s San Francisco novel, the movie exhaled the noir spirit like cigarette smoke into ’40s American film. It is as great in tight exposition as Kane is a form-breaker. The terrific cast, talking wonderfully, includes Mary Astor, Elisha Cook Jr., Jerome Cowan, Barton MacLane, Gladys George, Ward Bond, Lee Patrick, and the astonishing film debut of huge Sydney Greenstreet, perfectly named Gutman.

Marilyn Ann Moss will appear at 7 p.m. on Saturday, July 30, at D.G. Wills Books, 7461 Girard Avenue in La Jolla. She will discuss her acclaimed new book Raoul Walsh: The True Adventures of Hollywood’s Legendary Director. Moss had access to Walsh papers and family stories not previously brought to print and deeply researched this vivid biography of the action-minded but often subtle master who guided such stars as James Cagney (in White Heat), Errol Flynn (Gentleman Jim), John Wayne (The Big Trail), and Humphrey Bogart (High Sierra), plus some remarkable women.

Reviewed in the movie capsules: Beats Rhymes & Life and If a Tree Falls.

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