Let’s say you happen to have $4m burning a hole in your pocket. Let’s also say you’ve got a lifelong love of The Maltese Falcon. A little schnapps here, a little bidding there, and suddenly you find yourself in the possession of The Maltese Falcon’s Maltese Falcon. What do you do with it?
Well, some anonymous soul has just landed in that very situation (minus the schnapps). The Maltese Falcon was auctioned off for the low, low price of $4m and change to some exorbitantly wealthy Humphrey Bogart fan. As we all contemplate the truly astronomical sum that purchased a single movie prop, note that its price tag, while certainly not cheap, is not the heftiest ever paid for a piece of movie memorabilia. Sean Connery’s Goldfinger Aston Martin went for just a smidge higher – $4.1m – while the original Adam West Batmobile went for $4.6m. Nor was it entirely a personal purchase, as a chunk of those millions (how big a chunk, we don’t know) went towards the charity Film Foundation, which works to preserve movie history.
But once you’ve accomplished what Peter Lorre and the Fat Man never could, and obtained the original Falcon, what’s the next step? Does it sit, forever untouched, in a display case amongst other rare cinematic birds, nestled in between the original Big Bird and the birds from The Birds, or do you trot it out to impress guests and dazzle young children? Maybe you unwrap the bird on video along with the most Peter Lorre-looking guy you know. There is a second falcon out there- the birds were produced in a pair, but the recently sold falcon was the only one to ever make it on celluloid. Maybe this anonymous bird-buyer’s next goal is to track down the other prop.
Once you’ve got the falcon however, it seems like the only thing you can really do is let it gather dust somewhere. Unlike, say, Judy Garland’s Wizard of Oz ruby slippers, you can’t wear a falcon statue. And you can’t drive a falcon statue, like you could a street-legal Adam West Batmobile. The part of me that wishes I was Indiana Jones says the falcon belongs in a museum, but at least the slippers are already there, having been purchased by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for a museum set to open in 2017. Note that the slippers were also described as “the holy grail of all Hollywood Memorabilia,” lending credence to the idea that I really am Indiana Jones.
Despite the sudden hubbub surrounding The Maltese Falcon, Hollywood memorabilia auctions are a constant occurrence. The one that hocked the falcon also did away with a number of classic movie props, especially clothes. Turner Classic Movies (in charge of the auctioneering) pilfered the wardrobes of Shirley Temple, Bela Lugosi, Chico Marx, and anyone else who regularly appears on their channel and is no longer alive to require a regular change of clothes. Marvel cranks out a new auction for every single one of their films, in case you’ve ever wanted to pay far too much money for a pair of Chris Evans’ fake feet (I’m sure there’s someone out there who does). Their current auction, at least is for charity – the Dominic M. Aguilar Special Needs Trust – and has a prize that involves hanging out with the real Chris Evans, and not just his artificial ankles.
But in every one of these cases, the same wisdom can be applied. Memorabilia auctions are about “cool movie stuff,” and less about the films themselves. There’s no rule stating that whomever paid several million dollars for the actual Maltese Falcon loves the film any more than the average person who regularly watches The Maltese Falcon on DVD. All this really proves is that there are people out there (more than one, given that the falcon’s eventual sale price was “at the high end of expert estimates”) who both love classic Hollywood films, and are willing to spend far more on a small bird statuette than you or I would on a house.