At the end of John Huston's Maltese Falcon (1941), Detective Tom Polhaus (Ward Bond) picks up the heavy statue of the falcon and asks, "What is it?" to which Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) replies meaningfully: "That, uh … stuff that dreams are made of." There is no such line in either Dashiell Hammet's novel or John Huston's script. It was near the end of his life when Huston finally cleared up the origin of this line when he said:
… That last line in the Falcon, … it was Bogie's idea. It has been quoted several times, but this is the first time I have had to determine where the credit for it lies. Before we shot that scene, Bogie said to me, "John, don't you think it would be a good idea to have this line? Be a good ending?" And it was!
In fact, it's widely believed to be one of the best closing lines in the history of cinema. Bogart remembered the line from the end of Shakespeare's The Tempest (circa 1611) when the protagonist Prospero said:
We are things like that
How dreams are made and our little life
Is rounded off with a sleep.
Bogart knew Shakespeare's work well and, according to his son, could quote a thousand lines from it by heart. Bogart was also able to quote Plato, Emerson, and Pope, who subscribed to the Harvard Law Review and corresponded with Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. Experts who smugly claim that replacing “Ein” with “Ein” at the end of the quote is more of a mistake than an adaptation are overwhelmed. Bogart was also able to improvise memorable lines that weren't written in other films, such as "Here you are looking, child" Casablanca (1942).
What does "The, uh … Stuff Dreams Are Made Of" contribute to the film?
1) It completes the hawk story quest, just as Spade's "You Take the Case" speech to Brigid completed the story of their romance.
2) It increases Spade's expressiveness and that of the entire narrative to the level of metaphor and increased literacy. and
3) For those viewers familiar with the origins of the quote, it is a joy to see the intertextuality in the game.
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About Richard Raskin
Richard Raskin was born in Brooklyn in 1941 and currently lives in Denmark. His main interest was telling short films. For over 30 years he taught students at Aarhus University the art of making short films. He has served on juries and lectures at international film festivals, is the founding editor of Short Film Studies published in the UK, has written books and articles on short film, co-founded a school called Multiplatform Storytelling and Production, and wrote the screenplay for an award-winning short film, Seven Minutes in the Warsaw Ghetto.