A Guide to The Maltese Falcon
In 1930, mystery writer Dashiell Hammett wrote “The Maltese Falcon”. This book has ended up being the source of several movies, including the 1941 John Huston film starring Humphrey Bogart, along with others. In addition, this novel has set the standard for mystery writers for several decades.
The Hammett novel followed the hardboiled detective Sam Spade, which became the standard for future novel and movie detectives. From a simply easy case of following a man, Spade’s partner and shot, which lead Spade into a web of mystery and in the pursuit of the Maltese Falcon, which was a valued artifact, that the Maltese government gave a as a gift to the King of Spain. The novel leads the reader in several different directions and introduces us to several shady characters. By the end of the novel, Spade solves the mystery, turns the murderer over to the police and has another mysterious woman appear at his doorway with another mystery.
From the novel, a film was adapted in 1931, starring Ricardo Cortez and Bebe Daniels. In 1936, the story was made into comedy called “Satan Met a Lady”, starring Warren William and Bette Davis. In 1941, the most famous film version of “The Maltese Falcon” was directed by John Huston. This version starred Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade, Mary Astor as his client, Miss Wonderly, Jerome Cowen as Spade’s partner, Miles Archer, Peter Lorre as Joel Cairo and Sydney Greenstreet as Kasper Gutman. This version has been included in several lists of all time greatest movies.
In subsequent years there have been several other versions or parodies of this classic. The story has been presented as a radio version, including a 30 minute version in 1943 which featured the voices of Bogart, Astor, Greenstreet and Lorre all reprising their original movie roles. In 1975, a parody called “The Black Bird” was released with George Segal in the role of Sam Spade Jr. on the trail of the missing bird.
“The Maltese Falcon” was groundbreaking work in cinema, and is widely considered the first movie in the film noir genre. Film noir is a term in the cinema used to describe stylish Hollywood crime dramas, particularly those that emphasize cynical attitudes by the detective hero and sexual motivations on the part of the heroine. Several other detective movies have followed this format.
The modern detective drama of movies and television, owes its beginnings to Dashiell Hammett. Hammett drew upon his experiences with the Pinkerton National Detective Agency in his novels and his characters were based on people that he met in his line of duty. Including the character Sam Spade, which was based on Hammett, including the first name of Samuel, which is Hammett’s real name.
To understand the writings of Hammett and “The Maltese Falcon”, we have included a selection of resources: