Tag Archives: John Huston

Sidebar: A Memo from Joseph Breen

A (possibly apocryphal) story I’ve heard about Huston’s adaptation of The Maltese Falcon was that Huston was going on vacation before beginning work on the script. Before he left, he asked his secretary to transcribe the book’s dialogue into script form so he’d have something to work with when he got back. While he was gone, his secretary’s transcription was accidentally sent to studio head Jack L. Warner, who loved the “script” and directed a very surprised Huston to begin filming immediately.

A confidential informant (see Greg, I protected your identity!)  

Greg and I were batting this around in the comments section earlier today, and it got my juices flowing, to the extent they can flow nowadays.  Is it possible that maybe the most famous and revered crime movie of all time resulted from a director being forced to film his secretary’s transcription of a novel’s dialogue? No it is not, but could some version of this story be true?  How much do we know about what went on over at the Warner’s lot back then?

I’d hate to have to tell you who I had to kill to get what I’m about to share with you all now.  Mainly because I’d hate for you all to know what a humdrum existence I lead.

I pulled down this venerable dusty tome (paperback, I’m not made of money) that I recently obtained for research purposes, entitled Discovering The Maltese Falcon and Sam Spade, by one Richard Layman.  (Clearly an alias.  Perhaps a defrocked clergyman.)

I found this.  You tell me whether it supports our source’s secondhand allegation–or dismantles it.  I honestly don’t know.

(Please note, the original memo, which the so-called Layman reproduces in photostatic form, was not in block format, but I just can’t be bothered to hit the tab key that many times.  Old war injury, carpal in nature; I was in the 69th Typist’s Brigade, the Fighting Hunt&Peckers.  Otherwise, I have endeavored to reproduce it faithfully.  Please note, this memo in its original form took up three entire sheets of typing paper, which I shall infer was foolscap.  Single spaced.)

May 27, 1941

 

Mr. Jack L. Warner
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Burbank, California

 

Dear Mr. Warner:

 

We have read the final script, dated May 24, 1941, for your proposed production titled THE MALTESE FALCON, and regret to advise that while the basic story is acceptable, a picture based upon this script could not be approved under the provisions of the Code because of several important objectionable details, namely:

 

(1)    it is indicated that Spade and Brigid have had an illicit sex affair and that the relationship between Spade and Iva has been illicit.

 

(2)    Cairo seems to be characterized as a pansy.

 

(3)    There is a great deal of unnecessary drinking.

 

It will be necessary to overcome these objections before the finished picture could be approved.

 

Going through the script in detail, we call your attention to the following points:

 

Page 13:    Spade’s line, “Damn her !” is unacceptable.

 

Page 14:    In accordance with the Association’s policy re drinking, some other business besides drinking in Spade’s apartment must be substituted on Pages 14 sqq. 19, 50 sqq. and 65 sqq.

 

Page 21:    Any flavor that Spade and Iva have been illicitly intimate must be eliminated from this scene if it is to be approved in the finished picture. Accordingly, it is essential that there be no physical contact between Iva and Spade, other than that of decent sympathy.  In this connection, see Page 80, where the physical contact is unacceptable.  The entire conversation between Iva and Spade will have to be rewritten to get away from this flavor.

 

Page 35:    We cannot approve the characterization of Cairo as a pansy, as indicated by the lavender perfume, high-pitched voice, and other accouterments. In this connection, we refer you to scenes 21, and 115, where Cairo should not appear effeminate while rubbing the boy’s temple.

 

Page 54:    Gruesomeness must be avoided in this shot where Cairo is shown bleeding.

 

Page 67:    This fade-out of Spade and Brigid is unacceptable because of the definite indication of an illicit sex affair.  There must be no indication that Brigid and Spade are spending the night together in Spade’s apartment. Otherwise it cannot be approved in the finished picture.  In this connection, please see Page 75.

 

Page 70:    The Boy’s line, “–you !” and his soundless repetition of the same words will be unacceptable if curse words.

 

Page 81:    While the drinking in these scenes is necessary as a story point, in order to prepare for later scenes where Spade is drugged, we must insist that the actual drinking be kept to the absolute minimum necessary to the development of the plot.  It seems that audiences are offended not so much by the presence of liquor as by the actual drinking.

 

Page 84:    Gutman’s use of the interjection “by Gad”, here and on pages 92, 117, 121, 125, 126, and 128, seems to be offensive if only by the number of times he uses it.  We suggest you use some other interjection at times.

 

There should be no gruesomeness in Scenes 71, 81, 88 and 89.

 

Pages 118 and 119:    Spade’s speech about the District Attorneys should be rewritten to get away from characterizing most District Attorneys as men who will do anything to further their careers.  This is important.

 

Page 141:    Brigid’s line to Spade, “Not after what we’ve been to each other  ” is unacceptable as pointing up the previous sex affair.

 

Page 143:    There must be nothing sex suggestive in Spade’s eyeing of Brigid.

 

Page 144:    The underlined words in Spade’s speech are unacceptable, “I won’t because all of me wants to — wants to say to hell with consequences and do it.”   Likewise, in this conversation between Spade and Brigid, there should be no flavor of a previous sex affair underlying the conversation.

 

Page 147:    The action of Spade putting his hand on Effie’s hip must not be offensive.

 

You understand, of course, that our final judgment must be based upon the finished picture.

 

Cordially yours,

 

Joseph I. Breen.

 

12:HF

C O P Y

Many clues.  I shall look forward to seeing your deductions in the comments section.  But please, no offensive language, unnecessary drinking, or intimations of previous sex affairs.  If any.  I’d say no pansies, but that is now unacceptable, and anyway, some of my favorite people…..

Cordially yours,

Frederick Effing Fitch.

 

 

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