OK, I think my obsession with the The Maltese Falcon has run its course now.
I finished the book up last night. What a great novel! Hammett’s characters are very much 3-dimensional beings. Sam Spade is an extraordinarily complex character: good yet bad; greedy yet generous; always cagey; always smart; always looking out for himself. He’s very well painted.
Same for all the other characters. Bigid O’Shaughnessy (Hah! I finally know how to spell it!) is such an exquisite liar, so vulnerable yet so devious. You can hear Joel Cairo’s accent and see his lithe frame. And Gutman is just such a great personality; so smart and so dumb.
I find the writing to be superb. There is so much interaction between the characters that is non-verbal; I’m amazed that he can convey so much by only resorting to a few words of description.
The plot is very well put together and leads inexorably to the conclusion. And if you don’t know the solution to the final puzzle, then I’m sure not going to tell you. But I will tell you it’s an absolute classic.
The 1941 movie is amazingly true to the book. Bogart really does an incredible job of portraying Spade. He portrays his complexity amazingly convincingly and the final scene is totally believable because of him.
The other actors are also very strong. I cannot read Gutman’s dialogue anymore without hearing Sidney Greenstreet. He is Gutman. Same with Peter Lorrie. Marie Astor, for some reason, I’m a little less impressed with but she still pulls it off.
The dialogue in the film is sometimes taken word-for-word from the book, which is a testament to the strength of Hammett’s writings. Many of the best lines in the movie are Hammett’s, not the screen-writer’s. I suspect this fidelity to the book is one of the reasons that the movie works so well. That and the spectacular acting of course.
Anyway, my main intention here is to push the book not the movie. Dasheill Hammett is not just a fine mystery writer; he is one of the great American writers, period. Go to the library and pick it up; you’ll like it.