x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Maltese Falcon film prop auctioned for $4.08m

Two statuettes of the falcon were made for the 1941 movie that starred Humphrey Bogart and Mary Astor, but only one appeared in the film.

The “Maltese Falcon”, a 45-pound, 12-inch-tall, black figurine cast in lead that was specifically made for John Huston's screen version of the film bears its name. AP Photo / Bonham’s Auction House
The “Maltese Falcon”, a 45-pound, 12-inch-tall, black figurine cast in lead that was specifically made for John Huston's screen version of the film bears its name. AP Photo / Bonham’s Auction House

A statuette of the Maltese Falcon used in the eponymous film was sold at a New York auction recently for a remarkable US$4.08 million.

The auction was conducted by Bonhams in cooperation with Turner Classic Movies.

The auction house did not provide a pre-sale estimate, but the winning bid, which the anonymous buyer made via telephone, is thought to have been at the high end of estimates.

Two statuettes of the falcon were made for the 1941 movie that starred Humphrey Bogart and Mary Astor, but only one appeared in the film.

The film, which is widely credited as being the first film noir, marked John Huston’s directing debut.

According to Bonhams, markings on the statuette auctioned, particularly a small dent from where the statuette was dropped, can be matched to the one on film.

Catherine Williamson, the director of Bonhams’ entertainment memorabilia department, said the eye-popping sale price could be explained by the statuette’s “tremendous significance”.

“The Maltese Falcon is arguably the most important movie prop ever and is central to the history of cinema,” she said.

Bonhams’ description of the statuette said it had “some scratches to head and chest, lower right tail feather visibly bent”.

It added: “Given the exact visual match to the film, the extensive archival evidence, and the long exhibition history of WB 90067 [the Warner Brothers inventory number etched into the base], its authenticity is beyond reproach.”

The 12-inch-tall prop was bought privately by its previous owner in the 1980s and was occasionally exhibited at the Warner Brothers museum.

Along with his or her purchase, the new unnamed owner also received a DVD copy of the film, so the person is unlikely to need a recollection of the film’s last lines (via IMDb), no matter how apt they still seem.

Detective Tom Polhaus: [picks up the falcon] Heavy. What is it?

Sam Spade: The, uh, stuff that dreams are made of.

Polhaus: Huh?

ascott@thenational.ae