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) meaningfully replies: “The, uh… stuff that dreams are made of.” There is no such line in Dashiell Hammet’s novel nor in John Huston’s screenplay. It was near the end of his life that Huston finally cleared up the origin of that line when he stated:
…that last line in the Falcon,… it was Bogie’s idea. It’s been quoted a number of times but this is the first opportunity I’ve had to tell 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, this line? Be a good ending?’ And it certainly was!
In fact, it is widely believed to be one of the best closing lines in the history of cinema. Bogart remembered the line from the ending of Shakespeare’s The Tempest (ca. 1611), when the protagonist Prospero says:
We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
Bogart knew Shakespeare’s work well and according to his son, was able to quote a thousand lines from it by heart. Bogart could also quote Plato, Emerson and Pope, subscribed to the Harvard Law Review and corresponded with Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. Experts who smugly suggest that the substitution of “of” for “on” at the end of the quote is an error rather than an adaptation, are out of their depth. Bogart was also able to improvise unforgettable lines that were not scripted in other films as well, such as “Here’s looking at you kid” in Casablanca (1942).
What does “The, uh… stuff that dreams are made of” contribute to the film?
1) It brings closure to the quest for the falcon storyline, just as Spade’s “You’re taking the fall” speech to Brigid had closed the story of their romance;
2) It elevates Spade’s expressivity and that of the entire narrative to the level of metaphor and heightened literacy; and
3) For those viewers familiar with the origins of the quote, it brings the pleasure of recognizing the intertextuality in play.