Warner Bros., 1941. Cast lead with dark patina, figure of a falcon on a pedestal with smooth breast feathers, almond eyes, and rounded tail feathers. With Warner Bros. prop department inventory number “WB 90067” to rear tail feathers and underside. Some scratches to head and chest, lower right tail feather visibly bent. A copy of the DVD of the film and a reproduction still accompany this lot.
Dimensions: 12 in. h. x 4 1/2 in. d. x 5 in. w.
Weight: approx. 45 lbs.
One of two known cast lead statuettes created for use in John Huston’s screen version of The Maltese Falcon, the “bent tail feather” bird, and THE ONLY STATUETTE CONFIRMED BY WARNER BROS. ARCHIVES AS HAVING APPEARED ON SCREEN.
Humphrey Bogart plays San Francisco detective Sam Spade in John Huston’s directorial debut. Spade tangles with three nefarious characters played by Mary Astor, Sidney Greenstreet, and Peter Lorre, all of whom are chasing a statuette they believe to be a gold and jewel-encrusted figure of a falcon, but which ultimately is revealed to be made of lead.
The WB 90067 falcon was purchased privately by the present owner in the 1980s, and has been in his collection or on exhibition at the Warner Bros. Museum and other prominent institutions since that time (see full exhibition history below). Accompanying the falcon is correspondence from Warner Bros. Archivist Leith Adams confirming that WB 90067 is seen on screen in the classic 1941 film, and that the present owner is the rightful owner of the piece.
Additional statuettes made of other materials1 have come to market in the past two decades, but only the lead statuettes bear the smooth breast feathers, almond eyes and rounded tail feathers that match the falcon seen on screen during the credits and in Sam Spade’s apartment. Additionally, at least three publicity department memos of the period written by Robert S. Taplinger, Warner Bros. Director of Publicity (today part of the Warner Bros. Archive housed at USC; copies are available for review), state that the falcon used on screen was made of lead or metal. Furthermore, one of the film stills showing Greenstreet, Astor and Lorre examining the bird on the table in Spade’s apartment shows that the blotter paper on the table has ripped under the weight of the bird as it is turned, suggesting that only one of the lead versions can have been used.
The second lead falcon with a consecutive Warner Bros. inventory number (WB90066) to its rear tail feathers and underside sold at auction in 1994, and is identical to the present lot except for the damaged right tail feather. The bent tail feather of our bird, however, sets it above even its twin. One of the Taplinger memos mentions a significant incident during filming of the finale: actress Lee Patrick (as Spade’s secretary Effie, the woman who delivers the falcon to his apartment) dropped the statuette while handing it over to Bogart. Bogart pushed Patrick out of the way of the falling bird, but in so doing his own foot caught the brunt of the falcon’s weight, causing him to injure two toenails. The right tail feather of the falcon was reportedly damaged in the fall, and the damage is visible2 as Sam carries the bird out of his apartment at the end of the film (see next page for detail).
Given the exact visual match to the film, the extensive archival evidence, and the long exhibition history of WB 90067, its authenticity is beyond reproach. Long celebrated as one of the greatest pieces of movie memorabilia of all time, its appearance at auction marks a major event. This rare bird with the bent tail feather truly is—to quote Sam Spade in the final moments of the film—”the stuff that dreams are made of.”