Re: RARA-AVIS: Falcon -- Movie vs. Book

Date: 01 Oct 2004


Re your comments below:

> I'm not sure, but this might be a chicken or the
> egg kind of question:
> Are Hammett's characters so good because of the
> way he wrote them or because of the way they were
> portrayed in the Bogart version of the movie?
> I think Hammett made them work and in the Bogart
> version, the actors took them off the page.

I think it was Hammett who made the characters so good. FALCON was considered a ground-breaking novel long before the Huston/Bogart version was made, and the fact that the first two versions are little-remembered today (despite the fact that the first version, with Ricardo Cortez as Spade, usually run as DANGEROUS FEMALE, was actually almost as faithful to the book as the '41 version) indicates that the novel is great independent of its film versions.
> A few months ago, I saw all three versions of the
> story. Neither of the first two were as on-target
> at the Bogart vesion--or should I call it the
> John Huston version?
> In the first, Gutman was a woman.

Actually, it was in the second that the Gutman figure was a woman, Bette Davis was the Brigid figure, and the Falcon itself became a jeweled cross.

The first one was actually quite faithful to the novel. Not as faithful as the Huston/Bogart version, but still quite faithful. Dwight Frye made a good Wilbur. Cortez was no Bogart, but he didn't embarass himself as Spade and was a bit more of a ladies man(though he looked silly in those polka-dot pajamas).

Dudley Diggs, a kind of Guy Kibbee look-alike, played Gutman in the first version. Diggs was chubby, but not nearly as much of a heavyweight as Greenstreet, and he lacked Greenstreet's air of polish and posh which was so much a part of Hammett's original character.

Some of the plot surprises were telegraphed early in the movie. In the scene where Spade confronts the DA, the DA says something about Brigid being the prime suspect in Archer's murder, which vitiates the final renunciation scene.

There's also a final scene original to the movie, in which Spade visits Brigid in jail and tells her he's given up the PI business to become a cop. He's now the DA's Chief Investigator!

> In the second Brigid was Bette Davis, as I often
> say, "when she was good looking." Both were
> played for humor. In the second version Brigid
> "kind of" planned an escape from jail for her.

I've never seen this version, because everyone says it's so awful, though I've seen a couple of clips, which I found pretty unimpressive. Interstingly, in this version, SATAN MET A LADY, the Spade figure is named "Ted Shayne." I've often wondered if Brett Halliday, whose Mike Shayne closely resembled Spade, particularly in his earliest appearances, might have deliberately borrowed Shayne's name from the movie.
> Using my old argument, that Spade deduced almost
> immeditately that Brigid killed Archer, Spade in
> version two, discusses "something" with an old
> Chinese Gentleman in the alley after Archer is
> found dead.
> In retrospect, and knowing the story, it seems
> that was when Spade knew. I thought it was a
> matter of decuction.



In one of the short stories from which Hammett borrowed plot elements for use in FALCON, "Who Killed Bob Teal?," the Op, investigating the murder of his partner, rookie Continental agent Bob Teal, who's killed in circumstances paralleling those of Archer in FALCON.

At the end of the story, the Op says, "Well, FIRST OFF
(italics mine), I knew the answer to the question 'Who killed Bob Teal?' could have only one answer." Then goes on to explain that, though he was a rookie, Teal was too sharp to be caught in a remote place like that with his gun holstered, unless he was with someone he trusted. So he had to have been killed by someone he trusted. That meant the killer HAD to be the Continental Agency's client.

This indicates that Spade probably DID know, at least at some level, who the killer was right from the start.

On the other hand, in the short story, the Op doesn't have to concentrate on anything but the murder case. In the novel, Spade has a lot of distractions diverting him from the question of who killed Archer. Arguably, with the prime suspect in Archer's murder dead early in the book (and Spade a suspect in that death), Spade's not really focused on finding Archer's killer, because everyone, perhaps including Spade, ASSUME that the killer's already dead.


You can find "Who Killed Bob Teal?" in the recent Hammett short story collection NIGHTMARE TOWN.

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