You may have heard that the Maltese Falcon, the original screen-used prop from the movie, “The Maltese Falcon,” just sold for $4,085,000. Auctioned at Bonham’s in New York City, the winning bid came over the telephone, an anonymous purchase. It was part of a sale of famous movie props. Historically, there were three authenticated falcon props from the movie: the lead one that just sold, which was in the movie, a backup lead version, and a resin one used in publicity pictures. The sculpture was originally created by an unknown artist, possibly Fred Sexton, a friend of Director John Huston. The resin one was likely sanded down to give the smooth, worn appearance of the prop seen in the film.
“The Maltese Falcon” star Humphrey Bogart described the bird as ‘the stuff dreams are made of,’ paraphrasing Shakespeare. The movie was based on Dashiell Hammett’s book about an iconic statue traced back to the time of the Crusades, a golden bird encrusted with precious jewels. In the book and movie, it turns out that the falcon in question is made of painted lead, that the buyers had been duped into purchasing a decoy. Character Joel Cairo offered Sam Spade $5000 for the black bird, so the value has certainly appreciated, since the movie was made, in 1941, and since the book was written, in 1930.
Well, the black bird is something that is part of our everyday life here at Jane Street and, in fact, there are six Maltese Falcons in our house. One is made of painted plaster and likely linked back to the Sexton statue before it was altered for the movie. Another from that mold is made of resin, but has feathers smoothed down to match the movie version. One is a purchased bird made by a sculptor who copied photos of the resin falcon. The rest have been sculpted by my husband. The first is made of wax and was sculpted when he was in his 20s. Then, we have the newest versions, based on a masterpiece. A paper clay master was sculpted last April, from which four were cast and finished in the fall.
Since, the bird is in the news, so I thought you might be interested in this story, newsworthy in itself. The detail on the replica clay sculpture is incredible and the proportions are perfect. Mark started off by studying printed off, blown-up movie stills and other photos of the bird. He used them as references for his sculpture. After that, the actual work commenced. Beginning with a 25 lb. block of paper clay, he began marking out the design. Day-by-day, he worked on the sculpture, spraying it down and covering it with paper and plastic after each session. He was meticulous in his work and the resulting sculpture looks exactly like the Maltese Falcon in the movie. After completing his clay master, he built a mold out of MDF, sprayed the master with mold release and cast it with Smooth-On Sorta-Clear 40, a semi-transparent food grade silicone. He then cut it apart, removed the sculpture, cleaned it, sprayed it with mold release then put it back together for the next step. Cinched tightly with ratcheted straps, he mixed black urethane resin and poured it into the mold. The chemical reaction creates much heat…the bird was very hot when it was removed from the mold. Next, he fixed defects with automotive filler and covered the bird with many coats of black primer, which he then buffed with fine steel wool. The paper clay sculpture is unweathered. So far, he’s cast four birds from the silicone mold, sanding each down to give the trademark weathered appearance. He did a great job!
“Mr. Spade, have you any conception of how much money can be got for that black bird?” — Kaspar Gutman