Wednesday, October 3, 2007

"The stuff that dreams are made of"

"The Maltese Falcon" premiered 66 years ago today. It's as good today as it was then. (We're talking about the Huston/Bogart/Astor/Greenstreet/Lorre version, not the two earlier versions.)

It's a tough call, picking classic moments--the movie is full of them, one after the other. This one's a gem, though (some of you will notice that Peter Lorre's wonderful rant later became a signature line for "Ren and Stimpy"):

(I suppose technically that deserved a spoiler alert. Ah well.)

And you can't really appreciate the aura of cold-blooded calculation that radiates from every single character in the film without this:

Dashiell Hammett famously wrote of private eyes like his creation Sam Spade:
He wants to be a hard and shifty fellow, able to take care of himself in any situation, able to get the best of anybody he comes in contact with, whether criminal, innocent by-stander or client.


Chuck Butcher said...

The movie comes very close to a word for word of the book, a testament to Hammett's writing skills. Many disregard the genre of "hardboiled detectives" as kid's stuff, Hammett is another type altogether, a kid could read him and enjoy, but there are messages buried all through his writings, a counterpoint to the modern technique of beating the reader over the head with an agenda or saying nothing of import at all.
(yeah, I'm a Hammett fan)

Nothstine said...

Hey, Chuck--

I totally agree re the faithfulness of the screenplay in the 1941 'Falcon.' The only things of consequence missing, really, are the thread about Gutman's daughter and the very strange little story of the businessman who disappeared in San Francisco and reappeared in Portland.

I think the reason that the other film versions didn't catch on was that Hammett told his Spade stories totally from the outside. You read what he said and did, the look on his face and his posture and such--but you got not one clue beyond that about what was going on inside his head. Why should the reader get any more edge than the people around Spade did? If you weren't willing to let Spade be Spade--shifty, hard to read even up to the last moment--your only alternative would be to start monkeying with the story. And at that point, you don't have Hammett's story anymore. The only way to show Hammett's Spade is to tell the story the way Hammett did.

For your huge amounts of free reading time, I recommend Gumshoe: Reflections in a Private Eye by Josiah Thompson. Thompson was a philosophy professor at an east coast private college before he quit to become a private investigator. The book tells stories from his PI apprenticeship, alternating with his spare-time research into Hammett's life. Pretty interesting.