Maltese Falcon (Read a Great Movie)

The Maltese Falcon - Dashiell Hammett The concept of a corrupt society filled with power hungry individuals is a constant underlying theme in Hammett’s work. Dashiell Hammett, while working as a detective for Pinkerton detective agency was offered a huge sum of money to kill off union leader Frank Little to suppress a labor strike (which he was working on at that time). Hammett refused and a short while later, Frank Little was lynched. This had a profound impact on Dashiell Hammett and would prove to be the central theme in most of his stories and there are no heroes, even if there is a central character. And if you want to identity with him, you are up for a sore disappointment.

Maltese falcon is another perfect example of the same theme where a group of people struggle within themselves through course of murder, blackmail and double-cross to get ahold of something of monetary value or power, which in this case, is a statuette: Maltese Falcon.

When detective Sam Spade is employed by a Miss. Wonderly to spy on a man called Thursby, Spade’s partner Miles Archer dies in the stakeout and shortly thereafter, so does Thursby. Spade finds himself accused of both the murders and Miss. Wonderly is not quite who she claims to be. Spade is soon caught in a desperate struggle for power and money where he has a key role to play whatever the outcome is going to be. Spade is portrayed as a ruthless, power hungry opportunist, no different from the rest of the villains. He is willing to use his intelligence and cunning to come out of the struggle on top, even if it takes to stand on someone’s crushed head. He has no regard for morale or law. Nor is he fearful of it. The point where he sits down comfortably and discusses calmly who is to be sacrificed would shatter any of your hopes for him being remotely likeable.

The story was written in 1930’s and it shows in most places, especially upon reading that Spade sat down to roll a cigarette. It is funny to see Hammett taking pains to indicate the usage of the “F*ck you” sentence that is being used without any shame or restraint these days. The story is not the only thing that has been affected by the flow of time. Hammett’s writing suffers a lot too. Hammett has always been praised for his concise and elegant writing, but having read Red harvest, I can assure you that this is neither his most elegant nor the most concise. Here, the prose is slightly inarticulate, not very concise, bit rambled up and a bit cumbersome. Hammett distinctive style is noted for its simplicity and its snappy prose, but there are times, when handled wrong, it just feels messy rather than snappy and Maltese falcon has a lot of those moments. Case in point, the descriptions of facial features that you’ll find often in the story. No one needs to be told how V a certain face looks every ten pages. Maybe Maltese falcon was a towering triumph when it was written, but there are tons of better stories around these days. If you are a hard-boiled fan and would like to check out how Hammett’s writing influenced the later writers, do check this out. I found no other reasons.

Rating: 2/5.