Re: RARA-AVIS: Reading The Maltese Falcon

From: William Denton (
Date: 10 Sep 2004

On 8 September 2004, Marc Seals wrote:

: I think that there are some pretty significant differences between the
: novel and the 1941 film, presumably largely caused by adherence to the
: Hays Code. I am most disturbed by Spade's strip-search of Brigid
: O'Shaunessy.

Cleaning up the language and scenes like that seem to make up most of the changes. One other different is Gutman's daughter, Rhea, who was dropped completely for the movie. In the book, just after Captain Jacobi stumbles into Spade's office, he gets a phone call, goes to Gutman's hotel, sees the daughter (who's been drugged and was sticking herself with pins to stay awake), and gets an address from her. He goes there, finds an empty house, searches it, and comes back knowing it was all misdirection. In the movie, Spade gets the phone call and is given an address, and when he goes there he finds it's an empty lot. He turns around and comes back. It's simpler, more efficient, and I think it works better. Gutman's daughter doesn't serve any purpose anywhere.

One other difference is a matter of scene construction. At Spade's first meeting with Gutman, he smashes his glass and threatens Gutman, saying he's got to decide fast if he's in or out. In the book, the chapter ends with this. By God, you think, Spade's one tough hombre. The next chapter opens with Spade getting in the elevator, sweating, his hands shaking, wired up after putting on a show. In the movie, Spade walks out in the corridor, sees how badly his hands are shaking, laughs, goes to the elevator, and the scene ends. The difference casts the threat, and Spade's moxie, in a bit of a different light.

I may have misremembered details of the movie. I haven't fired it up for another viewing yet.


William Denton : Toronto, Canada : : Caveat lector.

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This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 10 Sep 2004 EDT