The Maltese Falcon

One of the striking things to me, this time reading THE MALTESE FALCON, was its visual quality.

Hammett describes his characters and situations visually -- this seems to lend the novel well to film.

For example, he starts the novel with a description of the main character:

"Samuel Spade's jaw was long and bony..." The paragraph's end is, "He looked rather pleasantly like a blond satan." Thus, in describing how he LOOKS, he is describing how he IS. How is Spade a "blonde satan"?

How is Humphrey Bogart the perfect Spade?

Bogart & Detective Fiction

Humphrey Bogart also plays the lead in another classic noir film, from an equally famous detective novel, this time by Raymond Chandler, THE BIG SLEEP.

Raymond Chandler, like Dashiell Hammett, worked on screenplays as well as on novels and short stories. Chandler, like Hammett, knew *really famous* novelist William Faulkner, during Faulkner's Hollywood period.

[A character based on William Faulkner is in the Cohen Brothers' neo noir film BARTON FINK]

Hammett drank with Faulkner in New York even before that.

Film Noir Essays Online

Film Noir and the Hard-Boiled Detective Hero

Because Hammett is the original "hard boiled" detective novelist, a great deal of this essay is about THE MALTESE FALCON.

"It was in this atmosphere — with the airy-mannered amateur detective still going strong, and with early film noir beginning to question the legitimacy of this image — that first-time director John Huston adapted for the screen Dashiell Hammett's most famous novel, The Maltese Falcon. Hammett's novel had been filmed twice before, but neither movie had attempted to capture the full impact of the novel's bleak and uncompromising vision of urban America or the unheroic aspects of its hero. Indeed, the second version, Satan Met a Lady (Warner Bros., 1936), seemed incapable of deciding whether to be a screwball comedy or a murder mystery."

Many Hammett fans are disappointed in his highly lucrative THE THIN MAN series of "softer" stories loosely based on the early stage of his relationship with Liilian Hellman, the next author we'll be studying.


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How is a frame from a motion picture different from a photograph? How is a promotional photograph different from a still?

How is a page of a book different from a section of the book? How is a short story different from a novel?

Direct Experience vs. Literature

Hammett WAS a private detective -- like Spade, he was a detective in the Bay area; like an earlier character of his, who was never named (he's referred to as "Continental Op" by Hammett fans), he worked for a private agency

the famous (or infamous) PINKERTON'S agency

while Hammett became a leftist when he became political, as a Pinkerton's agent, he was called out to bust mining strikes during the 20s

Hammett had no formal higher education; Raymond Chandler grew up in England, and attended "public school" there (which is very expensive private education).

Scholarly Essays on Noir Online

No Place for a Woman: The Family in Film Noir

Film Noir's Progressive Portrayal of Women

The Outer Limits of Film Noir

10 Shades of Noir

The introduction to FILM NOIR


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