John Huston:"The Maltese Falcon" (1941)

 The Maltese Falcon
After two previous film versions of Dashiell Hammett's detective classic The Maltese Falcon, Warner Bros. finally got it right in 1941--or, rather, John Huston, a long-established screenwriter making his directorial debut, got it right, simply by adhering as closely as possible to the original. Taking over from a recalcitrant George Raft, Humphrey Bogart achieved true stardom as Sam Spade, a hard-boiled San Francisco private eye who can be as unscrupulous as the next guy but also adheres to his own personal code of honor. Into the offices of the Spade & Archer detective agency sweeps a Miss Wonderly (Mary Astor), who offers a large retainer to Sam and his partner Miles Archer (Jerome Cowan) if they'll protect her from someone named Floyd Thursby. The detectives believe neither Miss Wonderly nor her story, but they believe her money. Since Archer saw her first, he takes the case -- and later that evening he is shot to death, as is the mysterious Thursby. Miss Wonderly's real name turns out to be Brigid O'Shaughnessey, and, as the story continues, Sam is also introduced to the effeminate Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre) and the fat, erudite Kasper Gutman (Sydney Greenstreet, in his film debut). It turns out that Brigid, Cairo and Gutman are all international scoundrels, all involved in the search for a foot-high, jewel-encrusted statuette in the shape of a falcon. Though both Cairo and Gutman offer Spade small fortunes to find the "black bird," they are obviously willing to commit mayhem and murder towards that goal: Gutman, for example, drugs Spade and allows his "gunsel" Wilmer (Elisha Cook Jr.) to kick and beat the unconscious detective. This classic film noir detective yarn gets better with each viewing, which is more than can be said for the first two Maltese Falcons and the ill-advised 1975 "sequel" The Black Bird.

Thin Lizzy :"Jailbreak" (1976)

Thin Lizzy Jailbreak
Thin Lizzy found their trademark twin-guitar sound on 1975's Fighting, but it was on its 1976 successor, Jailbreak, where the band truly took flight. Unlike the leap between Night Life and Fighting, there is not a great distance between Jailbreak and its predecessor. If anything, the album was more of a culmination of everything that came before, as Phil Lynott hit a peak as a songwriter just as guitarists Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson pioneered an intertwined, dual-lead guitar interplay that was one of the most distinctive sounds of '70s rock, and one of the most influential. Lynott no longer let Gorham and Robertson contribute individual songs -- they co-wrote, but had no individual credits -- which helps tighten up the album, giving it a cohesive personality, namely Lynott's rough rebel with a heart of a poet. Lynott loves turning the commonplace into legend -- or bringing myth into the modern world, as he does on "Cowboy Song" or, to a lesser extent, "Romeo and the Lonely Girl" -- and this myth-making is married to an exceptional eye for details; when the boys are back in town, they don't just come back to a local bar, they're down at Dino's, picking up girls and driving the old men crazy. This gives his lovingly florid songs, crammed with specifics and overflowing with life, a universality that's hammered home by the vicious, primal, and precise attack of the band. Thin Lizzy is tough as rhino skin and as brutal as bandits, but it's leavened by Lynott's light touch as a singer, which is almost seductive in its croon. This gives Jailbreak a dimension of richness that sustains, but there's such kinetic energy to the band that it still sounds immediate no matter how many times it's played. Either one would make it a classic, but both qualities in one record makes it a truly exceptional album.

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