I have seen this film twice before at movie theaters here in San Francisco (the setting of the film as well), and each time I spotted the image and said to myself "That's Louise Brooks." I guessed it was one of her French portraits, taken while she was in Paris filming Prix de beaute in 1930. It certainly looks like one of the images taken by the Studio Lorelle, though it doesn't match any of them. Below is a photograph of the Studio Lorelle taken on the streets of Paris in 1930.
The image in question is seen twice in the film. The first time is early on, about 30 minutes into the story. The second time is later on, somewhat near the end. In this later scene, Spade places a telephone call from his apartment. And hanging on the wall near the phone is a picture of a woman we assume to be his sweetheart. That woman, I have long thought, is Brooks.
Or might it be random set decoration? And why would it be there? I haven't been able to find any connections, except that ... in 1931, Brooks appeared in one Warner Bros. movie, God’s Gift to Women, and was considered for another, The Public Enemy. Each was released around the same time as The Maltese Falcon. Might an extra publicity photo around the studio account for why an image of the actress was included in this latter production?
Here is a close-up. What do you think? If it ain't Louise Brooks, might you know who it is?
Wikipedia entry on the 1931 film: "The film closely follows the plot of the book. The sanitized 1941 adaptation, which began with a revised version of the 1931 script, closely follows the book as well, although most references to homosexuality, stripping (the missing $1000) and other no longer permissible portions under the Motion Picture Production Code are missing. The dialogue for both films is often taken directly from the novel, verbatim. Differences between the two films are due almost wholly to Pre-Code aspects of the earlier film. In addition to an overall lighter tone and looser pace, the 1931 film contains sexually suggestive situations; in the opening scene, a woman (likely Iva Archer) is shown straightening her stockings as she leaves Spade's office. Miss Wonderly (Bebe Daniels) is shown bathing, and later in the film is strip-searched by Spade over missing money. The 1931 film does not shy away from homosexual themes: Wilmer is called Gutman's "boyfriend". The homosexual subtext regarding Gutman, Cairo and Wilmer is abundant in Hammett's original story. Effie facetiously describes Cairo to Spade as "gorgeous". Spade taunts Dundy by constantly referring to him as "sweetheart", "darling", and "precious". All of this is absent from the better-known 1941 version.
In 1936, Warner Brothers attempted to re-release the film, but were denied approval by the Production Code Office owing to the film's "lewd" content.... For several decades, unedited copies of the film could not be seen in the United States. Once restrictions were lifted from showing this film sometime after 1966, the film was retitled Dangerous Female for U.S. television in order to avoid confusion with the 1941 remake, which had previously been the only version available by the original name."