As faithful readers of PopeWatch know, Pope Francis sent PopeWatch a Blu-ray copy of a Spanish dubbed version of The Maltese Falcon (1941) with a note attached indicating that what the actor Sydney Greenstreet says in the film is true. PopeWatch suspects the Pope was referring to this piece of dialogue:
Kasper Gutman : This is going to be the most astounding thing you have ever heard of, sir, and I say that knowing that a man of your caliber, in your profession, must have known some astounding things in his time. What do you know, sir, about the Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem, later known as the Knights of Rhodes and other things?
Sam Spade : Crusaders or something, weren’t they?
Kasper Gutman : Very good. In 1539, these crusading knights persuaded the Emperor Charles V to give them the island of Malta. He made them but one condition: They were to pay him, each year, the tribute of one falcon, in acknowledgment that Malta was still under Spain. Do you have any conception of the extreme, the immeasurable wealth of the Order at that time?
Sam Spade : I imagine they were pretty well fixed
Kasper Gutman : Pretty well is putting it mildly. They were rolling in wealth, sir. For years they had taken from the East, nobody knows what spoils of gems, of precious metals, silks, ivories, sir. We all know that the Holy Wars were to them largely a matter of loot. The Knights were profoundly grateful to the Emperor Charles for his generosity toward them. They hit upon the happy thought of sending him for the first year’s tribute, not an insignificant live bird, but a glorious golden falcon, encrusted from head to feet with the finest jewels in their coffers. Well, sir, what do you think of that?
Sam Spade : I don’t know.
Kasper Gutman : These are facts, sir. Not school book history, not Mr. Wells’s history, but history nevertheless. They sent this foot-high jeweled bird to Charles, who was then in Spain. They sent it in a galley commanded by a member of the Order. It never reached Spain. A famous admiral of buccaneers took the Knight’s galley and the bird. In 1713 it turned up in Sicily. In 1840 it appeared in Paris. It had by then acquired a coat of black enamel so that it looked like nothing more than a fairly interesting black statuette. In that disguise, sir, it was, you might say, kicked around Paris for more than three score years, by private owners too stupid to see what it was under the skin… Then in 1923, a Greek dealer named Charilaos Konstantinides found it in an obscure shop. No thickness of enamel could conceal value from his eyes. You begin to believe me a little?
Kasper Gutman : You begin to believe me a little?
Sam Spade : I haven’t said I didn’t.
Kasper Gutman : Well, sir, to hold it safe while pursuing his researches into its history, Charliaos re-enameled the bird. Despite that precaution, I got wind of his find. Ah, sir, if only I had known a few days sooner. I was in London when I heard. I packed a bag and took the boat train immediately. On the train I opened a paper, The Times, and read that Charilaos’ establishment had been burglarized and him murdered. Sure enough, I discovered upon arriving there that the bird was gone. That was seventeen years ago. Well, sir, it took me seventeen years to locate that bird, but I did. I wanted it and I’m not a man that’s easily discouraged when I want something. I traced it to the home of a Russian general – one Kemidov – in an Istanbul suburb. He didn’t know a thing about it. It was nothing but a black enameled figure to him, but his natural contrariness kept him from selling it to me when I made him an offer. So I sent some – ah – agents to get it. Well, sir, they got it, and I haven’t got it. But I’m going to get it… Your glass, sir.
Sam Spade : Then the bird doesn’t belong to any of you but to a General Kemidov?
Kasper Gutman : Well, sir, you might say it belonged to the King of Spain, but I don’t see how you can honestly grant anybody else clear title to it – except by right of possession. Well, now, before we start to talk prices, how soon can you – or how soon are you willing to produce the Falcon?
PopeWatch has sent a letter to the Pope asking if this is what the Pope was referring to. If and when PopeWatch hears back, PopeWatch will give his readers all the details.