Movie Wonders, Happy Accidents: Maltese Falcon–How Bogart Owes his Stardom to George Raft

Humphrey Bogart became a bona fide star and Hollywood major player in 1941, as a result of appearing in two major films, neither of which was originally intended for him.

Bogart was not the first choice to play Sam Spade in John Huston’s stunning debut, “The Maltese Falcon.”

Producer Hal Wallis initially offered the role to George Raft, who rejected it because he did not want to work with an inexperienced director, choosing instead to make Manpower, opposite Edward G. Robinson, with director Raoul Walsh.

George Raft had also turned down the lead role in Walsh’s High Sierra, the film that launched Bogart’s career as leading man

Bogart liked the ambiguity of his character—Sam Spade is both honorable and greedy. He could be immoral and use illegitimate means to achieve his goal—up to a point. Feelings and emotions do not bear on his professionalism.

The film helped to consolidate the friendship and professional collaboration of Huston and Bogart, manifest in such great films as The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), Key Largo (1948), and The African Queen (1951), which brought Bogart his first and only Best Actor Oscar.

Bogart’s interpretation became the archetype for a private detective in the film noir, providing him near-instant acclaim and rounding and solidifying his onscreen persona.

Mary Astor

The role of the deceitful femme fatale Brigid O’Shaughnessy was originally offered to Geraldine Fitzgerald, but went to Mary Astor when Fitzgerald decided to appear in a stage play.  This turned out to be the best year in the career of Astor, who won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for the melodrama, The Great Lie.

Hammett remembers that the character “had two originals, one an artist, the other a woman who came to Pinkerton’s San Francisco office to hire an operative to discharge her housekeeper, but neither of these women was a criminal.”