The Maltese Falcon (novel)
Cover of the first edition
|Published||1929 (Alfred A. Knopf)|
|Media type||Print (hardcover)|
|Preceded by||The Dain Curse|
|Followed by||The Glass Key|
The Maltese Falcon is a 1929 detective novel by Dashiell Hammett, originally serialized in the magazine Black Mask beginning with the September 1929 issue. The story has been adapted several times for the cinema. The main character, Sam Spade, appears in this novel and in three lesser-known short stories and is widely cited as the crystallizing figure in the development of the hard-boiled private detective genre. Raymond Chandler's character Philip Marlowe, for instance, was strongly influenced by Hammett's Spade. Spade was a departure from Hammett's nameless detective, The Continental Op. Spade combined several features of previous detectives, notably his cold detachment, keen eye for detail, unflinching, sometimes ruthless, determination to achieve his own form of justice, and a complete lack of sentimentality.
The novel contains a considerable amount of homosexual subtext concerning Wilmer Cook and Joel Cairo (Cairo is also referred to as the "Levantine"), all of which was excised, because of Production Code restraints, from the 1941 film version starring Humphrey Bogart and Mary Astor, the best known of three films between 1931 and 1941 about Hammett's novel. The briefly seen character Rhea Gutman, who has no back story, does not appear in either the 1931 or the 1941 film version.
In 1998, the Modern Library ranked The Maltese Falcon 56th on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century.
Private detectives Sam Spade and Miles Archer are hired by an attractive young woman, "Miss Wonderly", to follow a man, Floyd Thursby, who has allegedly run off with her younger sister, Corinne. Spade and Archer take the assignment because the money is good, but neither man believes her story, and Spade implies that she looks like trouble.
That night, Spade receives a phone call telling him that Archer is dead. When questioned by Sgt. Polhaus about Archer's activities, Spade says that Archer was tailing Thursby but refuses to reveal their client's identity. Later that night, Polhaus and Lieutenant Dundy visit Spade and inquire about his recent whereabouts, saying that Thursby was also killed and that Spade is a suspect. They have no evidence against Spade but tell him that they will be conducting an investigation into the matter.
The next day, Archer's wife, Iva, with whom Spade had had an affair, asks Spade if he killed Miles. He tells her to leave, and coolly tells his young secretary, Effie Perine, with whom he has a more complicated relationship than either will acknowledge, to remove "Spade & Archer" from the office door and have it replaced with "Samuel Spade". Visiting his client at her hotel, he learns her real name is Brigid O'Shaughnessy. She has no sister, and Thursby was an acquaintance who had betrayed her. Spade tells her that he and Archer never believed her story.
Later, Spade is visited by Joel Cairo, who offers Spade $5,000 if he can retrieve a figurine of a black bird that has recently arrived in San Francisco. Cairo suddenly pulls a gun, declaring his intention to search Spade's office, but Spade knocks him unconscious. When O'Shaughnessy contacts Spade, he senses a connection between her and Cairo and casually mentions that he has spoken to Cairo. O'Shaughnessy becomes nervous and asks Spade to arrange a meeting with Cairo. Spade agrees.
When they meet at Spade's apartment, Cairo says he is ready to pay for the figurine, but O'Shaughnessy says she does not have it. They also refer to a mysterious figure, "G", of whom they seem to be scared. As the two begin to argue, Polhaus and Dundy show up, but Spade refuses to let them in. As they are about to leave, Cairo screams, and they force their way in. Spade says that Cairo and O'Shaughnessy were merely play-acting, which the officers seem to accept, but they take Cairo with them to the police station. Spade tries to get more information from O'Shaughnessy, who stalls.
Spade confronts and instantly dislikes a young man named Wilmer Cook, telling him that his boss, "G", will have to deal with Spade. He later receives a call from Casper Gutman ("G"), who wishes to meet him. Gutman opens their conversation with whiskey and says he will pay handsomely for the black bird. Spade bluffs, saying he can get it, but first wants to know what it is. Gutman refuses to offer more information except that it is of unimaginable value. Spade leaves, only to be summoned to visit Gutman again later in the day. Spade disarms Wilmer before this next meeting, in which Gutman tells him that the figurine was a gift from the Knights of Malta to the King of Spain but was lost in transit. It was covered with fine jewels but acquired a layer of black enamel to conceal its value.
Gutman had been looking for it for seventeen years. He traced it to the Russian general Kemidov and sent O'Shaughnessy to Constantinople to attempt to buy it. Kemidov, led to suspect its value from Gutman's interest in it, refused to sell. O'Shaughnessy then recruited Cairo, a shady figure who inhabits the Levantine underworld, and the two stole it from Kemidov. (They later realized that Kemidov made the theft suspiciously easy, but they suspected nothing at the time.) O'Shaughnessy, now set on keeping the falcon for herself, used the story that she feared a double-cross by Cairo to recruit a new partner, Floyd Thursby, an American gunman who fled the United States to avoid going to prison. She and Thursby ditched Cairo by having him arrested for passing a fraudulent check. While he was in jail, they left for Hong Kong.
While listening to Gutman's version of this story, Spade realizes that his whiskey has been drugged. Cook, described as a "tiny fisted boy", is boiling with rage because Spade got the better of him and took his pistols in the hallway and has treated him with contempt. When Spade starts to fall to the floor from the knockout drops Gutman put in his whiskey, Cook trips him and sends him sprawling. Spade passes out, and Wilmer kicks him violently in the temple as he and Gutman depart.
After Spade returns to his office, Captain Jacobi, of the ship La Paloma, arrives, drops a package on the floor, and dies, having been shot numerous times. Spade opens the package, which contains the falcon. He receives a call from O'Shaughnessy, asking for his help. He stores the falcon at a bus station luggage counter and mails himself the claim check. At the dock, La Paloma is on fire. He goes to the address O'Shaughnessy gave him and finds a drugged girl, Gutman's daughter, Rhea, her stomach scratched by a pin to keep her awake. She gives him information she has been fed, but it is a false lead, which takes him to Burlingame on a wild goose chase.
He meets O'Shaughnessy outside his apartment building, and they go to his apartment, where Cook, Cairo, and Gutman are waiting. Gutman gives Spade $10,000 for the bird. Spade takes the money but demands details about the murders and, to divide the gang, says they will need a "fall guy" to give the police to take the blame for the murders. Cairo and Gutman eventually agree to give him Cook as he has demanded, since he already has Cook's guns which will match the bullets that killed Thursby and Jacobi. Gutman warns Spade not to trust O'Shaughnessy. Spade calls Effie and asks her to pick up the figurine where he stored it (a locker at a bus terminal), and she brings it to Spade's apartment. Spade gives it to Gutman, who checks and quickly learns it's a fake. He realizes that Kemidov must have discovered its true value and substituted a copy. Wilmer escapes. Gutman regains his composure, and announces that, although this has been a small setback, he intends to continue his quest for the falcon. Gutman asks Spade for the $10,000. Spade keeps $1,000 for expenses. Cairo and Gutman leave.
Immediately after Cairo and Gutman leave, Spade phones Sgt. Polhaus, telling him that Wilmer killed both Thursby and Captain Jacobi and that Gutman, the man who gave the orders, is in a hurry to leave San Francisco. Spade uses the impending arrival of the police to confront O'Shaughnessy, whom he realizes is the one who murdered Archer, to admit to and explain why. She says she hired the detectives to scare Thursby. When Thursby refused to be scared off, she took one of Thursby's guns—a very distinctive English Webley-Fosbery Automatic Revolver—and approached Archer, who had no suspicions of her, in an alley where he was trailing Thursby and killed him at point-blank range. She left the Webley at the scene to pin the crime on Thursby.
When Thursby was killed, she knew that Gutman must be in town, so she came to Spade for protection. She begs Spade to protect her from the law. (She and Spade have slept together in an earlier episode, and she believes that this has created a bond between them that she can exploit to her advantage.) However, Spade refuses: he is a detective, she killed his partner, and turning her in to the law has become a matter of honor. Spade points out that O'Shaughnessy, being an attractive woman and a gifted actress, may persuade a prosecutor and jury to let her off with a 20-year sentence, and he tells her he will wait for her. But if she is hanged, he sardonically adds, he will always remember her. She begs him not to turn her in and talks about their love for each other, but he replies that he has no choice, as otherwise the police will assume he is guilty, which could mean the gallows. When the police arrive, Spade turns over O'Shaughnessy. The police tell Spade that Cook was waiting at the hotel and killed Gutman when the latter arrived. Spade is not surprised.
Spade continues business as usual, although his secretary, Effie Perine, who by intuition had assured him that Miss Wonderly (O'Shaughnessy) was honest and trustworthy, is disappointed to learn that she was an unscrupulous adventuress. She tells Spade not to touch her. She knows he was right to do what he did but, she tells him she needs some time. As the story ends, Perine tells Spade that Iva Archer is waiting for him.
Although Hammett himself worked for a time as a private detective for the Pinkerton Detective Agency in San Francisco (and used his given name, Samuel, for the story's protagonist), Hammett called Spade "a dream man" with "no original":
Spade has no original. He is a dream man in the sense that he is what most of the private detectives I worked with would like to have been, and, in their cockier moments, thought they approached.
Hammett reportedly drew upon his years as a detective in creating many of the other characters for The Maltese Falcon, which reworks elements from two of his stories published in Black Mask magazine in 1925, "The Whosis Kid" and "The Gutting of Couffignal". The novel was serialized in five parts in Black Mask in 1929 and 1930 before being published in book form in 1930 by Alfred A. Knopf.
The novel has been filmed three times, twice under its original title:
- The Maltese Falcon (1931), the first version, a pre-Code production starring Ricardo Cortez as Sam Spade and Bebe Daniels as Brigid O'Shaughnessy. In 1936, Warner Brothers attempted to re-release the film but was denied approval by the Hays Production Code censors because of its "lewd" content; this led to the production of the 1936 version. It was not until after 1966 that unedited copies of the 1931 film could be shown in the United States.
- Satan Met a Lady (1936), a comedic adaptation starring Bette Davis and Warren William, with Sam Spade becoming "Ted Shane". The film received poor reviews, and Davis later referred to the film as "junk".
- The Maltese Falcon (1941), the third and best-known version, considered to be a film noir classic. This is a sanitized version shorn of much of the content in the 1931 film version. The films stars Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet and Gladys George.
- The Black Bird (1975), a spoof film, featuring George Segal as Sam Spade, Jr. Elisha Cook Jr. and Lee Patrick reprised their roles from the 1941 film.
- The Maltese Falcon (2001), an audio adaptation by the BBC starring Jane Lapotaire and Tom Wilkinson, was published as an audio book in 2001 and broadcast on BBC Radio 7 in 2009.
- Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon (2008), a Grammy-nominated audiobook dramatization by the Hollywood Theater of the Ear, starring Michael Madsen, Sandra Oh, and Edward Herrmann, was released in 2008 by Blackstone Audio.
- The Maltese Murder (2008), by playwright Bryan Colley, was commissioned by the Johnson County Library in Kansas as part of the National Endowment for the Arts Big Read.
- Introduction to The Maltese Falcon (1934 edition)
- Hammett, Dashiell. "Introduction to The Maltese Falcon (1934 edition)". Retrieved April 15, 2007.
- Hardyment, Christina (November 24, 2001). "John Gielgud: An Actor's Life. Written and read by Gyles Brandreth". The Independent. London, UK. Retrieved September 3, 2009.
- "Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon". BBC. Retrieved September 3, 2009.
- Herron, Don (2009). The Dashiell Hammett Tour: Thirtieth Anniversary Guidebook. San Francisco: Vince Emery Productions.
- Layman, Richard (2000). Literary Masterpieces. Vol 3, The Maltese Falcon. Farmington Hills, Michigan: Gale Group.
- Layman, Richard, ed. (2005). Discovering The Maltese Falcon and Sam Spade: The Evolution of Dashiell Hammett's Masterpiece, Including John Huston's Movie with Humphrey Bogart. San Francisco: Vince Emery Productions,.
- Miller, Walter James (1988). Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon: A Critical Commentary. New York: Simon & Schuster.
- Stone, Dan (2006). An Introduction to The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett: Audio Guide. Washington, D.C.: National Endowment for the Arts.
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- Listen to the Old Time Radio adaption of The Maltese Falcon starring Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor and Sydney Greenstreet.
- The Apartment of Dashiell Hammett and Sam Spade
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