Nov 6, 2017 in Literature Category

The Maltese Falcon

The Maltese Falcon, initially a novel by Dashiell Hammett, was made into a Hollywood film during the first year of the Second World War, inspired by the attributes of the noir film which included aspects such as darkness, pessimism and a tragic overview of the modern American pop culture. A noir film is basically a term employed by the French to refer to a dark or black film. This essay strives to explain why The Maltese Falcon is an important noir film, its close resemblance to the novel version by Hammett and exclusion of the “unfilmed” chapters by Huston.

            A mysterious plot that included the main protagonist as a hardboiled detective, named Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon (1941) suites as an important noir film. The atmosphere and the mood of the film tell it all. Sam Spade, the detective and the hero, is portrayed as smart, self-assured, sexy and tough man who is not easily derailed from his motives. At the center of the film there is the search for a priceless jewel identified as the golden Falcon, the black figure of a bird greedily pursued by many for different reasons. The elusive object seems to drive the plot of the film but later on at the film’s end it is proven worthless. Various intriguing styles are used in the film, for example romance, thriller coupled with a dramatic mystery. The presence of hard-nosed villains, such as, the “Fat Man” who makes it harder for the detective to solve the puzzle, deceptive and rather two-faced unpredictable character like Brigid O'Shaughnessy, who brings out the treacherous and betrayal themes not forgetting a materialistic greed. The styles embodied in the film are essentials of a dark or noir film. Some scenes were shot on the dark streets, which portrays the dark essence and, moreover, it includes a murder obscurity that is originally Sam Spade’s assignment to solve only for him to be entangled in the elusive black bird saga.

            The unsuspecting climax of the film further makes it an important noir film. After a swift through the intriguing episodes that will keep you glued to the screen, I expect the mystery of the black bird to be solved but it turns out to be all fake. Also, Sam Spade, the main protagonist, despite his feelings for Brigid, eventually turns her in maybe to keep his dignity or to put halt to any future repetitive distrust and unpredictable betrayal that may occur if he decided not to sell her out. Menacing and violent scenes in the film with its great dialogues make it remarkable as one of the best classical detective films ever made. The element of symbolism is used by Huston in the film when he uses the title of The Maltese Falcon to interweave characters of personalities which became putrefied with greed and as dubious as the Falcon which at the end is robbed of its shimmering fabulousness and revealed to be fake, coated which cheap enamel just like its conspirators, Gutman, Cairo and Wilmer.

            Some philosophical essence of darkness in the noir film is also used. Spade refers to the whole controversy as the stuff that dreams are made of. Perhaps this is to point out to the futility of the search of the black bird that has been going on for years destroying those in its pursuit. Unlike the neo-noir films which use the feel of the classic noirs, the mood and tone, classic noirs go way further to illustrate this by using dark subject matter in the film. The centre of the plot of the Maltese Falcon film, as discussed, is about a search for a fabulous black statue. Wilmer is also said to be hiding in dark shadows, Spade feels a dark figure always looming behind him ready to attack. The film was black-and-white that others may consider out of touch yet they offer an alternative glimpse into the reality. The lead character finds himself in situations where his villains are deceitful, so to find the way out he is forced to act tough and sly, even in his dialogues, despite his soft spot for the femme fatale who in this case is Brigid.

            Film noir goes beyond the genre because its artistic expression makes noir to be more of a style in the film. The elements that developed the noir style are the mentioned cynical detective who in the end turns out to be the hero along with the villains who twist and double-cross others so that the casual observer is more curious and glued. The sense of alienation and audience’s identification of a certain impending doom creates a dilemma in the movies as its plot unravels. Noir gothic elements are not really used, maybe a little implication of the lightening and wind that blows the curtains, creating an eerie atmosphere with a little casting of faces cloaked in the shadows.

            Huston did all the best to include each summarized and noteworthy chapter of the novel into the film. In the novel Hammet portrays Spade as a tough nonsensical detective who is surrounded by controversies such as the alleged affair between him and his detective partner’s wife Iva Miles. When Miles is killed, versions of his resultant death reflect to Spade’s affair with his wife and Spade is also implicated in Thusby’s death on claims that he was avenging for Miles’s death. All along the film, as in the book, Spade carries an aura of uncertainty around him, which makes him associated with crooked and violent criminals, letting the police think that he is in the same league with the criminals, though he is working singlehandedly to win the trust of his enemies and catch the offenders. The film therefore is of a hard-boiled genre just like the novel and mysterious, too, like any detective story.

            The film, however, excluded one chapter from the novel. The chapter titled “G in the air” tells a story of a man called Flitcraft. Earlier on, before Cairo’s appearance, Spade had engaged Brigid in a conversation about a man named “Flitcraft” who has abandoned his family and wanders for some time. What pushed him to abandon his family was his risky encounter with falling heavy steel beam as he walked along a construction site, which fortunately hits rock bottom of the concrete floor just a slight distance from his face. He gets nervous and never goes back home due to that narrow escape with death. Flitcraft leaves behind a well-to-do family with his real estate practice. Spade compares his departure to a fist when you open your hand. Gone just like that. Later on Flitcraft is spotted living almost the same life and when questioned by detective Spade he explains that for him his close encounter with death rattled him and he would never have known the peace since had he not moved away. The same way his life could be ended with the falling beam is the same way he could change his life by moving away, so he chose the latter. Spade mentions to Brigid that he finds it intriguing for a man to adapt to a life quite similar to the one he had let go without a second thought.

            Sam Spade, cynical as he is, tells this story to Brigid alone which sounds like warning, no wonder it was not included in the film. I would say that the author included this chapter to the novel to develop the theme of betrayal. Spade feels that Brigid is deceitful and may end up betraying him and maybe he is warning her that eventually she will revert back to form once she slips away just like Flitcraft. In the long run Flitcraft gradually gets back to his life because he gets used to the beams falling and feels like they don’t even fall anymore. Nevertheless, the importance of this Flitcraft parable is not really explained. Its meaning may even have a resemblance to the Maltese Falcon, which is presented as an unsolved mystery.

            Towards the end of the film, Spade solved the puzzle of his detective partner’s death, motivated by the fact that, even if the one had thought so little of his partner, the onus is on him to find out who killed Miles to fulfill justice. The audience is also amazed by the turn of events: Spade surprisingly turns over Brigid to the police, despite the fact that they love each other. According to Spade, he has done the right thing as his job always demands him to do so, leaving suspense written all over the audience faces. Nobody, not even the author, nor Spade himself can correctly clarify why he gives in Brigid to the police.

            In conclusion, the movie turned out to be as terrific as the book due to the direct translation and it is one of the hard-boiled detective stories ever. The Maltese Falcon is, indeed, an intriguing classical film noir, crafty and with an unsolved mystery that keeps the viewer in an unpredictable climax. The producer ably organized events, characters and scenes in a manner that kept the audience entertained although.

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