The Narrative Omniscience In John Huston's The Maltese Falcon

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Rule breaking, leads to rulemaking. But to break an established rule in any artform hinges on the author's intent; to do it out of ignorance or laziness just results in sloppy work. To effectively break the rules, it’s necessary to learn them, acknowledge them, and then go on without them. John Huston’s The Maltese Falcon (1941) is the perfect example of this. Huston makes use of the tools in classical Hollywood narration to create a visually and technically mediocre film, but manipulates and bends those same tools to profoundly enhance storytelling and character development. The Maltese Falcon takes advantage of the continuity system to make each cut leave a lasting impact and push the plot forward. The film, while not devoid of cuts, makes…show more content…
In contrast, The Maltese Falcon uses this omniscience sparingly when showing characters’ true feelings about their own and each other’s actions. Characters lie and act deceitful towards each other as they pursue their own goals throughout the film. However, the viewer isn’t in on the truth when they hear a lie, or even know if what is spoken is truth or lie. For example, Spade seems to be playing on both Gutman and O'Shaughnessy’s side throughout the movie. In this case, the film has a limited narrator. It shows viewers all of these exchanges but does not offer a definitive goal for Spade. Instead, Huston has put the viewer in charge of determining Spade’s character, and does not spoon feed it through this narrator. However Huston does not ignore the ability to show temporarily irrelevant information visually in order to set up a future scene. While the narrator does not know the individual intentions of the characters, it does have a clear awareness of future events shown in the film. For example, when Spade and Gutman are first introduced in the hotel room, the camera lingers away from our protagonist and antagonist to show Wilmer sullenly shuffle into a back room. Initially this shot is peculiar as it adds no value to the scene up front. However, it sets context for an important reveal for later in the film. When Cairo is shown to be working for Gutman, he emerges from the previously alluded door. The viewer takes his hiding spot at face value because it’s already been presented, even if it’s likely to have been consciously forgotten. Another tool of classical Hollywood narration has been first acknowledged and then manipulated, in this case reigned in, to make a more engaging conflict that the viewer must decipher for
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