Friday, March 20, 2009

Sam Spade Redux

I am anxious to read the newly released novel SPADE & ARCHER by acclaimed mystery writer and onetime private eye Joe Gores. This is a "prequel" to Dashiell Hammett's classic 1929 story THE MALTESE FALCON, from which three feature films were made.

The last of these, released in 1941 and directed by John Huston, itself became a classic, starring Humphrey Bogart, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, and Mary Astor. This movie, more than any other factor, whetted my interest in writing mystery stories, particularly in the noir genre. I came to like the book as much as the film, but interestingly, because I saw the story on the screen first, I had a clear vision of the main characters. When I read the book, Bogart of course was Samuel Spade, Greenstreet was the "Fat Man," Lorre was Joel Cairo, and Mary Astor was the duplicitous Bridget O'Shaughnessy.

Like many people, I usually tackle a book before seeing (often with trepidation) the film version, so the characters' appearances become formed in my mind's eye--only to later be overturned by the cinema casting. This leads to the question: Will "Spade & Archer" be made into a movie? If so, it will be a daunting challenge for the filmmakers to find a Sam Spade who can make viewers erase the image of Humphrey Bogart. For that matter, Jerome Cowan also was damned good as Miles Archer, albeit in a smaller role.

One reason the Huston-directed movie was so enjoyable was its remarkable fidelity to the book. Much of the dialogue came word-for-word from the novel, delivered by first-rate performers. If ever there was a film truer to the story from which it was taken, I'm unaware of it. But I'm open to nominations. Do you have any?

Robert Goldsborough

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