The Maltese Falcon has been filmed several times: once in i931 and then again in 1936. Actually, the '36 one was filmed after Warner Brothers tried to re-release the 1931 version but were prevented by the fact that the Hays Code had come into effect by this time and the film was considered to be too lewd. So they remade it instead. The third- and most well-known version- is the 1941 remake which stars Humphrey Bogart and Mary Astor. This is the only one which I've seen, so when I'm comparing the book and film, it will be this movie which I'm using. As I said before, I saw the movie long before I read the novel, so when the various characters in the book were conversing, I was hearing their conversations in the voices of the actors. This was made even easier by the fact that whole swathes of the film dialogue are lifted almost unchanged from the book. The movie actually follows the book very closely, only with more profanity and we're told straight out that Spade and Brigid have a sexual relationship. This of course was impossible to show in the film due to the previously mentioned Hays Code. The existence of this relationship in the novel, however, makes Sam's statements to Brigid when he turns her in more believable. In the film, his hesitation to hand her over to the cops seems a little unlikely, as does his statement that he might love her; nothing which has been shown justifies these things.
I love this scene.
One of the other differences between the novel and film is in the character of Joe Cairo, who is a whole lot gayer in the book. There are hints of this in the film, but it is much more obvious in the novel, and it's also implied- Sam states it straight out- that Cairo and Wilmer are more than partners in crime. Speaking of Wilmer, I love it in both the book and the movie when he tries the tough guy routine on Spade and gets owned every time, because Sam is tougher and smarter. Their interactions are always amusing.
Another difference between the film and book is the presence of Gutman's daughter, who isn't in the movie. Which I think was a wise decision. The scene with her in it in the novel is one of those unnecessary twists I was talking about earlier. It does nothing to advance the plot, goes nowhere, and doesn't result in any character development either. She is an unimportant and forgettable character whom we do not miss in the film. The female character whose role is more substantial in the novel than in the film is that of Effie Perine, Spade's secretary. Effie is the only woman in Sam's life whom he trusts and respects. Which is why she is safe from his womanizing ways. She is always ready to do what is necessary to help Sam out of the trouble he's gotten into, even if she doesn't approve of how or why he got into it. I generally like her character in the book, as she is loyal and sensible... until the end of the novel, when she annoys me. After Sam has handed over Brigid to the police, he returns to his office where Effie is waiting for him. Weirdly, she is upset with Spade for having turned O'Shaughnessy in, which seems totally out of character. Effie only actually met Brigid a couple of times, and then only to show her into Sam's office; she barely knew her. And Brigid betrayed her boss, whom she's very fond of, over and over. Effie should have been enthusiastically waving as the paddy wagon carted Brigid off to chokey, but instead she is angry, and thinks that Sam betrayed the murderess. It makes no sense.
Speaking of the relationship between Sam and Brigid, it's an extremely disfunctional and unhealthy one. At the end, Brigid throws herself at Sam, saying that she loves him. That doesn't mean anything... as Sam replies, she'd say anything to save herself. Spade says that he might love her, but this just makes it obvious that he knows nothing about what actual love is. He doesn't respect or trust Brigid- for good reason: she's a compulsive liar, a thief, and a murderer. If Spade had ever had a healthy, unselfish relationship he would never mistake the combination of attraction and fascination he feels for Brigid as love.
Fairly early in the novel, Sam relates a story to Brigid about a missing persons case which he investigated some years before. At first glance, this seems like an odd little aside in the narrative; it has nothing to do with the main plot, and is never revisited. So why include it? In the story, an ordinary man survives a near death experience which causes him to reevaluate his life. He disappears, leaving his wife and job ... his whole life. Sam is hired to find out what happened to him. He eventually finds the man, who is living under an assumed name in another city. Surprisingly, the new life he has made for himself looks a good deal like his old life; he has settled down with a home and job a good deal like his old one... he even has a new wife, who greatly resembles the one he left behind. Other than location, his life hasn't changed much. I think that the point of this tale is that it underlines Spade's belief that people behave according to their characters, that in the end, whatever the circumstances, we are who we are. Sam figures out that Brigid killed Myles because he expects a certain level of behaviour from both of them. Brigid has made a habit of using and betraying men. Sam assumes she will continue this mode of operation. Which she does. Myles Archer is a serial womanizer, who Spade knows would be a willing victim for Brigid. Which he was. One might argue that this is a cynical and dark way of viewing human nature- as unchanging and unchangeable- but it obviously worked well for Sam on this case, anyway. So those are my thoughts on The Maltese Falcon. It doesn't, in my opinion, have a really great mystery plot... we're never really in doubt who's responsible for the crimes, and the novel takes a lot of unnecessary twists and turns. But it is a interesting study of fascinating and deeply flawed characters.
Yesterday was Holocaust Memorial Day and coincidentally- or not- it was also the day when people who are pro-life (anti-abortion) took to the streets in the March For Life. In case it wasn't obvious in other posts, such as my review of The Giver, I am vehemently against the killing of the pre-born. My position is, of course, informed by the Christian faith which shapes my morality but is also based in common sense. No one can give a coherent explanation as to how something can magically change from a non-human into a human by travelling through the birth canal. It is a ridiculous proposition which is used to defend the indefensible. I also have a very personal reason for my stance. Six years ago, one of my sisters found out that her unborn child had spina bifida and it was strongly recommended that she have an abortion. My sister and her husband were financially stable, were already parents, and were having another child because they wanted to; there was no reason for the doctors to suggest abortion except for the fact that the baby was not going to be physically perfect. Of course my sister and brother-in-law refused and today my niece is a beautiful and happy child who attends school, loves to sing, and whose favourite movie character was The Little Mermaid until recently when she decided that she liked Darth Vader better. Here's a photo of her from Halloween, with her wheelchair decked out as a tie fighter:
If the pro-abortionists had had their way, this funny, feisty kid's life would have been snuffed out before our family had a chance to know and love her. In my review of Suite Francaise, I said that one of the tragedies and outrages of the Holocaust was the lost potential- so many lives cut short, their possible contributions to our world destroyed, their futures stolen from them, and from us. The same could be said for the millions of little lives which have been sacrificed on the altars of convenience and selfishness.
It's Robert Burns' birthday, and all over the world Scottish people will be gathering to celebrate with dinners in his honour. Burns was born on January 25, 1759 in Ayrshire, Scotland and eventually became a skilled poet. Writing predominately in a Scottish dialect, he is now widely regarded as the national poet of Scotland, and his birth is commemorated accordingly. The most common way of celebrating this occasion is with something called a Burns Supper, a meal which progresses following certain traditions. Generally it starts with the Selkirk Grace, which is often attributed to Burns, but actually pre-dates him:
Some hae meat an canna eat, And some wad eat that want it; But we hae meat, and we can eat, And sae let the Lord be thankit
The blessing is followed by a soup course, and then it's time for the main event; everyone stands up as a bagpiper pipes in the haggis. After it is placed on the head table, someone recites Burns' "Address To A Haggis" over it. Then, using a knife which he's been brandishing while reciting the poem, the address-giver cuts open the haggis, there is a toast, and then it's time to eat. Haggis is generally served with tatties and neeps, otherwise known as mashed potatoes and turnips. As mentioned, the Burns Supper is given to honour Robert Burns' birthday, but can also occur at other times during the year. I attended one in Edinburgh when I was there one August. It was the first time that I had eaten haggis; It tasted rather like heavily seasoned turkey dressing. Below I'm going to post a video of someone performing the Address To The Haggis:
Dashiell Hammett, the author of The Maltese Falcon, was the master of the "hard boiled" genre of detective fiction. The 1930 novel is set in San Francisco, a place which Hammett knew well because he worked there himself as a Pinkerton detective. He wrote the character of Sam Spade based on the detectives he knew and worked with, but made Spade tougher and smarter. He himself said Spade was the detective they wanted- and sometimes thought- themselves to be. I have, of course, seen the movie numerous times but had never read the novel until I got it for my birthday. Working my way through my stack of books waiting to be read, I got at The Maltese Falcon in the fall. And I enjoyed it. The Maltese Falcon is nominally a murder mystery but is really the search for a MacGuffin (an object which drives the plot). In this case, it is the coveted falcon statuette. To be honest, the strength of this book is not the plot which I find to be overly convoluted; it has many twists and turns without ever getting very deep. The attraction of the novel- for me, anyway- is in the characters.
The character of Sam Spade is of course the most important to the story, and he's more or less an anti-hero. He's not a particularly nice guy; he's sleeping with his partner's wife and has a terrible opinion of women, which isn't particularly surprising, considering the type of women he spends time with. He also has a very adversarial relationship with the police, though since law enforcement is a little morally dubious by times, that is perhaps understandable. Despite this, Spade is careful to never deliberately defy the law and make an enemy of the police. He is an expert at walking right up to the line of illegal activity without actually crossing over it. He has his own code of honour, if a somewhat skewed one. For example, despite the fact that he was stepping out with Archer's missus and he personally disliked his partner, he felt obligated to hunt down his murderer- and not just to clear his own name. He did it because it was the right thing to do.
Brigid O'Shaughnessy (if that is her real name) is a completely skeezy character. She will do anything- anything- to get what she wants, including theft, murder, and prostituting herself. She lies and manipulates constantly, until one is not sure which of her explanations and excuses are true, or if any of them are. She alternately attempts to pull off the damsel in distress, the suave sophisticate and the penitent sinner routines, and none of them are true. When she becomes furious at Joe Cairo and attacks him like an enraged harpy, I think Brigid is being a lot more true to her actual character, though involuntarily. All of the baddies in The Maltese Falcon have very different characters; besides Brigid, there's Gutman with his refined accent and habits, Cairo with his oily, effeminate fastidiousness, and Wilmer, the muscle who thinks he's tougher than he actually is. Despite their very different characters, however, in the end they are shown to be all the same: grubby thieves desperately doing whatever it takes in order to claw their way to what they want. Of course, it's very hard to discuss the novel without mentioning the movie of The Maltese Falcon, because it's so well known. In my next post, I'll discuss the similarities and differences between the two, as well as some final thoughts on the book.
Sunday movie night this week featured the 2010 Disney film Secretariat, the true story of the 1973 winner of the Triple Crown. I had watched this before soon after it was released on DVD, but really enjoyed seeing it again. It's a very good movie- although John Malkovich is singularly unconvincing as a French Canadian; his accent is terrible. But that's merely a quibble... it really is a well done and very enjoyable film.