["The Maltese Falcon"] turns out to be the best mystery thriller of the year, and young Mr. Huston gives promise of becoming one of the smartest directors in the field….
[With "The Maltese Falcon," Mr. Huston gives] us again something of the old thrill we got from Alfred Hitchcock's brilliant melodramas or from "The Thin Man" before he died of hunger.
This is not to imply, however, that Mr. Huston has imitated any one. He has worked out his own style, which is brisk and supremely hardboiled. We didn't see the first "Falcon"…. But we'll wager it wasn't half as tough nor half as flavored with idioms as is this present version…. For the trick which Mr. Huston has pulled is a combination of American ruggedness with the suavity of the English crime school—a blend of mind and muscle—plus a slight touch of pathos….
It's the slickest exercise in celebration that has hit the screen in many months, and it is also one of the most compelling nervous-laughter provokers yet.
Bosley Crowther, "'The Maltese Falcon'," in The New York Times (© 1941 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), October 4, 1941 (and reprinted in The New York Times Film Reviews: 1939–1948, The New York Times Company & Arno Press, 1970, p. 1813).