Satan Met a Lady (1936)

 “A blonde’s been the death of many a man.”

satan-met-a-ladyIn Satan Met a Lady, mystery woman Valerie Purvis (Bette Davis) employs private detective, Ames (Porter Hall) to track down a man. Ames is killed and his partner Ted Shayne (William Warren) takes up the case. Soon Shayne is offered money by various people who all want to possess the legendary Horn of Roland that is reputedly stuffed with gems. Valerie Purvis–one of the people after the Horn–plays fast and loose with ladies’ man Shayne.

Satan Met a Lady is based on the Dashiell Hammett novel, Watch on the Rhine, and that same novel also inspired The Maltese Falcon. Satan Met a Lady made in 1936, is almost unrecognizable as The Maltese Falcon–one of the greats of the film noir genre made only 5 years later in 1941. If you’re expecting to see a different version of The Maltese Falcon, then you’ll be disappointed in Satan Met a Lady. If you’re a Bette Davis fan, you may still be disappointed. It’s not one of her best roles–actually in the line-up of her career, it’s very weak. The lead female role of Valerie Purvis is a role without bite and only a little guile. The role hems in Davis’s talent, and she’s not allowed any great evil scenes, and only luke-warm flirtation. Shayne’s abysmally dense, but ever-faithful secretary, Miss Murgatroyd (Marie Wilson) is supposed to be endearing, but she’s mainly rather annoying. William Warren as the smooth operator, Shayne, calls women “kitten”, “heart-throb”, “precious”, “child” “sister”, and “honey” throughout the film, and after a while, Shayne’s self-adoration becomes a bit tedious. Many of the scenes should be serious (a gun is pulled on Shayne, for example), and this is just an excuse for light repartee and sly jokes that bounce around like after-dinner conversation. The plot can’t seem to make a firm stand–is this a screwball comedy or a thriller? The film is well-paced, only mildly entertaining, and there are a few genuinely funny moments. For me, however, the main interest comes in seeing how the 30s interpreted the novel. Watching Satan Met a Lady and The Maltese Falcon allows the viewer to see how the world changed to a much darker place in just a few years, and these two films reflect that change. From director William Dieterle.

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