RARA-AVIS: Reading The Maltese Falcon

From: William Denton ( buff@pobox.com)
Date: 07 Sep 2004

I'm reading THE MALTESE FALCOM for Falcon month. I probably know it better than any other novel (not to say that means much), because of multiple readings and many viewings of the 1941 movie, but it still surprises me. I'd forgotten things like the detailed description of how Spade rolls a cigarette--a medium-long paragraph, with complete instructions--and the head-to-toe listing of every piece of clothing Spade puts on when he gets dressed after being called about Archer's death.
(For undies, he wears a union suit plus garters to hold up his socks, so he was pretty bundled up. San Francisco's pretty cold.)

We all know how close the novel is to the 1941 movie, except for the missing Flitcraft episode. So far the differences I've noticed are just mild cursing and Joel Cairo's description, but I'll do a closer comparison when I watch the movie with book in hand, with reference to Mr. Duggan's work. How's that going, Mr. Duggan? It's been a while since we heard how your work was proceeding, I think.

I was thinking that THE MALTESE FALCON was an "ur text" of hardboiled writing, but apparently that means a best version of a lost text, put together by analyzing later corrupted versions. That's not the case here. Is it seminal? Archetypal? Progenitive? Prototypical? All of the above? You English profs must know the right terms. It's not the first hardboiled novel, nor Hammett's first, but it's the key early work in the genre.


William Denton : Toronto, Canada : http://www.miskatonic.org/ : Caveat lector.

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