Thursday, May 20, 2021

The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett (1929)

About the author: Samuel Dashiell Hammett (1894 – 1961) was an American author of hard-boiled detective novels and short stories. He was also a screenwriter and political activist. Among the enduring characters he created are Sam Spade (The Maltese Falcon), Nick and Nora Charles (The Thin Man), the Continental Op (Red Harvest and The Dain Curse) and the comic strip character Secret Agent X-9. (wikipedia)

Major characters:
  • Sam Spade, private eye
  • Miles Archer, his partner
  • Effie Perrine, their secretary
  • Brigid O'Shaughnessy, a.k.a. Miss Ruth Wonderly
  • Joel Cairo, a slippery Greek
  • Casper Gutman, the fat man
  • Floyd Thursby
  • Iva Archer, Miles' widow
  • Detective Tom Polhaus
  • Lt. Dundy

Locale: San Francisco CA

Synopsis: Private Eye Sam Spade is approached by Miss Ruth Wonderly, who hires him to follow Floyd Thursby, who has run off with her sister. Miles Archer goes out on the tail job and is quickly shot dead. Hours later, Thursby himself is shot dead. Lt. Dundy of the police immediately suspect Spade of having shot Thursby in revenge.

The next day, Archer's widow, Iva Archer, comes to Spade's office and a romance between them is revealed. Miss Wonderly is found to be Brigid O'Shaughnessy, who is looking for a black statuette of a falcon. She is one of a group of three who all want it, the others being slippery Joel Cairo and fat man Casper Gutman.

Brigid admits her initial story about her sister was all a fabrication, she really wanted Spade to locate Thursby, who had hidden the falcon somewhere. Spade agrees to try to locate the falcon, but insists on the gang agreeing on a fall guy to take the blame for two murders.

Review: Despite the detailed description of Sam Spade, Joel Cairo, and Casper Gutman; my mind's eye can only see them as Humphrey Bogart, Peter Lorre, and Sydney Greenstreet as cast in the 1941 film version.

The best way to enjoy this classic book and film is as a duo. Read the book FIRST, then watch the 1941 film. The bulk of the film's dialog is taken verbatim from the book, so you can follow the story easily. The characters - all except Bogart - speak so rapidly (as was the custom then), there is no way you can follow their dialog unless you had an advance inkling of what they are saying. Plus, on my DVD version, Bogart is the only actor who can be heard with adequate volume - all the others are much quieter, likely due to microphone placement issues.

Also see this review by Bev Hankins on My Reader's Block.

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