Sunday, April 3, 2011

Weekend Thriller Blogging -- the Maltese Falcon

I've been chipping away at the Joe Gores catalog and I decided to check out Spade and Archer, Gores' authorized prequel to the Maltese Falcon. The idea of trying to follow up Hammett was probably not wise but if it had to be done, Gores was the only choice. Not only did he have the literary talent and standing, he also shared Hammett's background as a San Francisco P.I.

Before starting Gores' novel I decided to go back and reread the original. It's not Hammett's best book. That would either be Red Harvest* or the collected Continental Op stories, but Falcon is still very good and it offers an almost unique experience for the reader.

The Maltese Falcon and Shane are the only two cases I can think of where strong, well-written, enjoyable novels were made, with almost complete fidelity, into great, iconic films. To read these books is to be pleasantly overwhelmed by memories of the movies they inspired.**

There is almost a one-to-one mapping of page to screen. This is only possible because both are short novels. Each comes in under two hundred pages. Most otherwise faithful adaptations either have to add material (The Man Who Would Be King) or leave large parts out (The Silence of the Lambs). Almost everything you read in the Maltese Falcon is associated with some unforgettable image.

There is one deviation worth noting. As Pauline Kael pointed out, Effie's reaction to Spade at the end of the book is significant, highlighting aspects of the characters we might have tried to overlook. It is an important difference from the movie but by the time you get to it you're so immersed in the experience, it's almost like seeing a deleted scene.

*I was tempted to mention Yojimbo here but that's a fight for another post.***

** I realize some of you have another set of films to add to this list, but I never made it past Fellowship, so I'll just have to take your word for it.

*** If I do post on Red Harvest and Yojimbo, remind me to toss Savage Range into the discussion

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