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Dashiell Hammett The Maltese Falcon (novel)

The Maltese Falcon (novel)

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The Maltese Falcon

Cover of the first edition
Author Dashiell Hammett
CountryUnited States
Genre Detective fiction
Published1930 ( Alfred A. Knopf )
Media typePrint ( hardcover )
Preceded by The Dain Curse  
Followed by The Glass Key  

The Maltese Falcon is a 1930 detective novel by American writer Dashiell Hammett , originally serialized in the magazine Black Mask beginning with the September 1929 issue. The story is told entirely in external third-person narrative; there is no description whatever of any character’s internal thoughts or feelings, only what they say and do, and how they look. The novel has been adapted several times for the cinema.

The main character, Sam Spade (who also appeared later in some lesser-known short stories), was a departure from Hammett’s nameless detective, The Continental Op . Spade combined several features of previous detectives, notably his cold detachment, keen eye for detail, unflinching, sometimes ruthless, determination to achieve his own form of justice, and a complete lack of sentimentality.


  • 1 Plot
  • 2 Background
  • 3 Adaptations
  • 4 References
  • 5 Further reading
  • 6 External links

Plot[ edit ]

‘Sam’ Spade is a private detective in San Francisco , in partnership with Miles Archer. The beautiful “Miss Wonderly” hires them to follow Floyd Thursby, who has run off with her sister. Archer takes the first stint but is found shot dead that night. Thursby is also killed later and Spade is a suspect. The next morning, Spade coolly tells his office secretary, Effie Perine, to have the office door repainted to read simply “Samuel Spade”.

“Miss Wonderly” is soon revealed to be an acquisitive adventuress named Brigid O’Shaughnessy, involved in the search for a black statuette of unknown but substantial value. Others are after this falcon, including Joel Cairo, an effeminate Greek homosexual , and Casper Gutman, a fat man accompanied by a vicious young gunman, Wilmer Cook. O’Shaughnessy begs for Spade’s protection, while telling him as little as possible. They meet with Cairo at Spade’s apartment and then Spade again presses O’Shaughnessy for details; again she stalls but instead kisses Spade. The next morning, she is asleep in his bed. Leaving her there, Spade slips out to search her apartment.

Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade in the 1941 film adaptation

Effie believes O’Shaughnessy “is all right” and Spade should help her. Effie agrees to hide her at her own home, but O’Shaughnessy disappears again. When Spade meets Gutman in his hotel room, neither of them will tell what he knows. Spade implies he is looking out for himself, not O’Shaughnessy. Red herrings abound. The police suspect Spade in the shootings because he was bedding Archer’s wife Iva. The District Attorney ties the shootings to Dixie Monahan, a Chicago gambler who had employed Thursby as a bodyguard in the Far East.

At a second meeting, Gutman tells Spade the history of the falcon. It was made of gold and jewels by the 16th-century Knights of Malta as a gift to the King of Spain but was captured by pirates. After passing from owner to owner, at some time it was coated with black enamel to conceal its value. Gutman traced the falcon to General Kemidov, a Russian exile in Constantinople , and hired O’Shaughnessy to get it; she brought in Cairo to help. Then O’Shaughnessy and Thursby fled with it to Hong Kong and from there to San Francisco. During this conversation, Gutman drugs Spade, who passes out on the floor.

Spade awakens alone and returns to his office where a wounded ship’s captain staggers in and dies, carrying a package containing the falcon. O’Shaughnessy calls the office, begging for Spade’s help but sending him on a wild goose chase. When he returns, O’Shaughnessy is waiting in front of Spade’s apartment building. Inside it they find Gutman, Wilmer, and Cairo in wait with guns drawn. Gutman presents $10,000 in cash for the falcon but Spade remarks that the police must arrest someone for the murders that have been committed. During a fight, Spade knocks Wilmer out and then Gutman agrees to give him up.

Spade has Effie fetch the falcon. But Gutman discovers it is a fake (a decoy made by General Kemidov). During the excitement, Wilmer escapes. Gutman decides to go to Constantinople for the real falcon; Cairo joins him and they leave. Spade then calls the police and tells them the story, adding that he has Wilmer’s guns and other evidence. While they are waiting, he bullies O’Shaughnessy into confessing her real role. Archer was shot with Thursby’s gun but by her. She has lied to him and double-crossed him. O’Shaughnessy admits all this, but pleads that she is in love with Spade. Maybe he does care for her, Spade admits, but “I won’t play the sap for you” – for personal as well as professional reasons. If she can get off with a long prison term, he’ll wait for her; but if she hangs, so be it. When the police arrive, he turns her in and the police tell him Wilmer has just shot Gutman dead.

Background[ edit ]

Although Hammett himself worked for a time as a private detective for the Pinkerton Detective Agency in San Francisco (and used his given name, Samuel, for the story’s protagonist), Hammett asserted that “Spade has no original. He is a dream man in the sense that he is what most of the private detectives I worked with would like to have been, and, in their cockier moments, thought they approached.” [1]

Hammett reportedly drew upon his years as a detective in creating many of the other characters for The Maltese Falcon, which reworks elements from two of his stories published in Black Mask magazine in 1925, “The Whosis Kid” and “The Gutting of Couffignal”. [2] The novel was serialized in five parts in Black Mask in 1929 and 1930 before being published in book form in 1930 by Alfred A. Knopf .

Adaptations[ edit ]

Photograph of the Maltese Falcon film prop created by Fred Sexton for John Huston and the 1941 Warner Bros. film

The novel has been filmed four times, twice under its original title:

  • The Maltese Falcon (1931), the first version, a pre- Code production starring Ricardo Cortez as Sam Spade and Bebe Daniels as Brigid O’Shaughnessy. In 1936, Warner Brothers attempted to re-release the film but was denied approval by the Hays Production Code censors because of its “lewd” content; this led to the production of the 1936 version . It was not until after 1966 that unedited copies of the 1931 film could be shown in the United States.
  • Satan Met a Lady (1936), a comedic adaptation starring Bette Davis and Warren William , with Sam Spade becoming “Ted Shane”. The film received poor reviews, and Davis later referred to the film as “junk”.
  • The Maltese Falcon (1941), the third and best-known version, considered to be a film noir classic. This version dropped much of the suggestive content in the 1931 version. The film stars Humphrey Bogart , Mary Astor , Peter Lorre , Sydney Greenstreet , and Gladys George .
  • The Black Bird (1975), a spoof sequel, featuring George Segal as Sam Spade, Jr. ( Elisha Cook Jr. and Lee Patrick reprised their roles from the 1941 film.)

There have been two audiobooks of the novel:

  • The Maltese Falcon (2001), a “full-cast dramatisation” by BBC Radio 4 , featuring Jane Lapotaire and Tom Wilkinson , was published as an audiobook. [3]
  • Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon (2008), a Grammy-nominated audiobook dramatization by the Hollywood Theater of the Ear , starring Michael Madsen , Sandra Oh , and Edward Herrmann , released by Blackstone Audio.

There has been one stage adaptation:

  • The Maltese Murder (2008), by playwright Bryan Colley, commissioned by the Johnson County Library in Kansas as part of the National Endowment for the Arts Big Read.

References[ edit ]

  1. ^ Introduction to The Maltese Falcon (1934 edition)
  2. ^ Hammett, Dashiell. “Introduction to The Maltese Falcon (1934 edition)” . Retrieved April 15, 2007.

  3. ^ “The Maltese Falcon” . Worldcat.

Further reading[ edit ]

  • Herron, Don (2009). The Dashiell Hammett Tour: Thirtieth Anniversary Guidebook. San Francisco: Vince Emery Productions.
  • Layman, Richard (2000). Literary Masterpieces. Vol 3, The Maltese Falcon. Farmington Hills, Michigan: Gale Group.
  • Layman, Richard, ed. (2005). Discovering The Maltese Falcon and Sam Spade: The Evolution of Dashiell Hammett’s Masterpiece, Including John Huston’s Movie with Humphrey Bogart. San Francisco: Vince Emery Productions,.
  • Miller, Walter James (1988). Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon: A Critical Commentary. New York: Simon & Schuster.
  • Stone, Dan (2006). An Introduction to The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett: Audio Guide. Washington, D.C.: National Endowment for the Arts.

External links[ edit ]

Wikimedia Commons has media related to The Maltese Falcon (novel) .
Wikiquote has quotations related to: The Maltese Falcon (novel)
  • The Maltese Falcon at Faded Page (Canada)
  • Listen to the Old Time Radio adaption of The Maltese Falcon (starring Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor and Sydney Greenstreet)
  • The Apartment of Dashiell Hammett and Sam Spade
  • reviews and ratings
  • v
  • t
  • e
Works by Dashiell Hammett
  • Red Harvest
  • The Dain Curse
  • The Maltese Falcon
  • The Glass Key
  • The Thin Man
  • The Continental Op
  • Sam Spade
  • Ned Beaumont
  • Nick and Nora Charles
  • After the Thin Man
  • Shadow of the Thin Man
  • The Glass Key
  • Watch on the Rhine
  • Secret Agent X-9
  • Roadhouse Nights (1930)
  • City Streets (1931)
  • The Maltese Falcon (1931)
  • The Thin Man (1934)
  • Woman in the Dark (1934)
  • The Glass Key (1935)
  • Satan Met a Lady (1936)
  • After the Thin Man (1936)
  • Secret Agent X-9 (1937)
  • Another Thin Man (1939)
  • The Maltese Falcon (1941)
  • Shadow of the Thin Man (1941)
  • The Glass Key (1942)
  • The Thin Man Goes Home (1945)
  • Secret Agent X-9 (1945)
  • Song of the Thin Man (1947)
  • No Good Deed (2002)
  • v
  • t
  • e
Dashiell Hammett ‘s The Maltese Falcon
  • Sam Spade
  • The Maltese Falcon (1931)
  • Satan Met a Lady (1936)
  • The Maltese Falcon (1941)
  • Beat the Devil
  • The Black Bird
  • The Falcon’s Malteser
  • Just Ask for Diamond
  • The Maltese Falcon (soundtrack)
  • The Adventures of Sam Spade
  • Maltese Falcon Society
  • Tim Trench
Authority control Edit this at Wikidata
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      Dashiell Hammett

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      Dashiell Hammett


      in St. Mary’s County, Maryland, The United States

      May 27, 1894

      January 10, 1961

      Mystery & Thrillers

      edit data

      Also wrote as Peter Collinson, Daghull Hammett, Samuel Dashiell, Mary Jane Hammett

      Samuel Dashiell Hammett was an American author of hardboiled detective novels and short stories. Among the enduring characters he created are Sam Spade (The Maltese Falcon), Nick and Nora Charles (The Thin Man), and the Continental Op (Red Harvest and The Dain Curse). In addition to the significant influence his novels and stories had on film, Hammett “is now widely regarded as one of the finest mystery writers of all time” and was called, in his obituary in the New York Times, “the dean of the… ‘hard-boiled’ school of detective fiction.”

      See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dashiell…

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      Quotes by Dashiell Hammett

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