Mention detective fiction and Dashiell Hammett’s hard-boiled private detective Sam Spade is likely to come up sooner or later, but most people think of the character created by Humphrey Bogart and director John Huston in the 1941 movie The Maltese Falcon. This now classic movie was a recreation of a 1932 movie of the Hammett novel Maltese Falcon. The first movie was declared “lewd” by the motion picture production code and went out of production.
I became acquainted with Sam through Bogart’s movie first and only later, in the 90s, did I get a copy of Hammett’s 1930 novel. The Vintage Crime/Black Lizard edition in my library begins this way:
Samuel Spade’s jaw was long and bony, his chin a jutting v under the more flexible v of his mouth. His nostrils curved back to make another, smaller, v. His yellow-grey eyes were horizontal. The v motif was picked up again by the thickish brows rising outward from twin creases above a hooked nose, and his pale brown hair grew down—from high on his temples—in a point on his forehead. He looked rather pleasantly like a blond satan.
He said to Effie Perine: “Yes, sweetheart?”
This gets the novel off to a good start even if Samuel Spade of the novel doesn’t closely resemble my image of Sam as played by Bogart. The book is still a good read and holds its own in the detective fiction genre that it launched.
The International Association of Crime Writers, North American Division, awards the Hammett Prize each year to a gifted North American writer. The prize is for literary excellence in the field of crime writing, but is restricted to books published in the English language in the US and/or Canada. The winner receives a Thin Man trophy, designed by sculptor Peter Boiger. The Thin Man is, of course, one of Hammett’s crime fighting characters. The 2010 winner has yet to be announced.
Day 10: The Maltese Falcon (Dashiell Hammett) (1930).