Stream On: the problematic Sam Spade and a flock of Maltese Falcons, part one

By on April 20, 2023

Is Sam Spade the ne plus ultra of hardboiled detectives? Ex-Pinkerton detective Dashiell Hammett wrote, in his introduction to the 1935 edition of his 1929 novel The Maltese Falcon, “Spade has no original. He is a dream man in the sense that he is what most of the private detectives I worked with would like to have been, and, in their cockier moments, thought they approached.” Hollywood adapted the novel twice before the 1941 John Huston blockbuster, which I’ll take a look at next time.


/Amazon /Streaming /Clip /🍅71%🍿50% /1931 /Pre-code

The Maltese Falcon is the story of private detective Sam Spade and the deadly crooks he encounters who are searching for a priceless historical artifact (or MacGuffin, as Alfred Hitchcock called it—a plot device: “The MacGuffin is the thing that [everyone is] after, but the audience doesn’t care.”).

This first movie version is definitely interesting, but a victim of the 1934 Motion Picture Production Code, aka the “Hays code,” after Will Hays, the president of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America, which attempted to enforce morality in Hollywood’s movies from 1934 to 1968 when it gave up the ghost in the face of the “swinging ’sixties.” Out of circulation since 1935, Dangerous Female resurfaced then.

In the credits we recognize some names from the Marx Brothers’ early comedies!—Una Merkel and Thelma Todd, notably, but it’s a noir, all right. While it lacks the taut direction of John Huston’s film, Hammett’s novel is well represented, especially a subtext from the novel that was merely hinted at in the 1941 version.

The subtext is that Sam Spade (Ricardo Cortez) is an amoral and promiscuous skirt-chaser. Characters leer at one another and there are plenty of smoldering looks and more between Spade and pretty much every female in the movie, including his client Brigid O’Shaunessy (Bebe Daniels), his partner Miles Archer’s wife Iva, and Sam’s secretary, Effie.

(The novel ends with—not a spoiler—“The corridor-door’s knob rattled. Effie Perrine turned quickly and went into the outer office, shutting the door behind her. When she came in again she shut it behind her. She said in a small flat voice: ‘Iva is here.’ Spade nodded almost imperceptibly. ‘Yes,’ he said, and shivered. ‘Well, send her in,’” signaling perhaps a reckoning for Sam.) But Spade’s profound cynicism adds punch to his ultimate decision regarding the punishment of the guilty party in the novel and film.

In all, it’s a fine little movie: quite noirish, with solid performances (even if 1941’s cast blew them out of the water) and good direction. But because of a strange, tacked-on epilogue—and the omission of the Huston version’s famous last line (which actually wasn’t in the novel), I give it 3½ out of five TV’s. 📺📺📺.5


/Amazon /Streaming /Trailer /🍿22% /1936 /Passed

“This is no snipe hunt!” (Ted Shane)

Which brings us to Satan Met a Lady, in part a reaction to the Hays Code verdict on Dangerous Female—it was Warner Brothers’ attempt to release a family friendly version of The Maltese Falcon. As the title might suggest, Satan Met a Lady is a comedy, and a screwball one at that.

While Dangerous Female was quite good, Satan Met a Lady might have been quite bad. Star Bette Davis, upset that she was being forced to film “junk” after completing a prestige project like The Petrified Forest, failed to report to the set. “I was so distressed by the whole tone of the script and the vapidity of my part that I marched up to Mr. Warner’s office and demanded that I be given work that was commensurate with my proven ability,” she later recalled in her autobiography, The Lonely Life. “I was promised wonderful things if only I would do this film.” She was suspended on December 3, and angry and resentful but in need of her salary, she reported to work three days later.

Well, bless her heart! The movie grew on me, and in a good way—very much unlike a wart or a carbuncle. It’s what “Monty Python and the Maltese Falcon” might have been, forty years later. The screenplay was by Brown Holmes (Dangerous Female), who had a great name, by the way, and the cinematography was by Arthur Edeson (The Maltese Falcon, 1941). Porter Hall (The Thin Man) has a fun turn as the associate of the “Sam Spade” character, here named Ted Shane (a delightfully skeevy Warren William, the “king of pre-Code,” who was the first actor to play Perry Mason, in a black cowboy hat), and when Bette Davis first appeared as Valery Purvis, the “Brigid O’Shaughnessy” role, I couldn’t help thinking that she would have made a fine Brigid in a serious film. Alas and alack!

Everyone seemed to have a grand time making Satan Met a Lady. Marie Wilson is deliriously good as Shane’s secretary, Miss Murgatroyd. Bette Davis even put on a brave face. So where’s the love? I’m giving it 4 out of 5 TV’s—I liked it!📺📺📺📺

Next time: John Huston’s masterpiece.

(Pete Hummers is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to earn fees by linking Amazon.com and affiliate sites. This adds nothing to Amazon’s prices.)

Click here for more Stream On: What to watch on TV columns by Pete Hummers.


Barnhill Building Group has been selected as the Construction Manager @ Risk by the College of the Albemarle and is seeking to pre-qualify construction trade contractors to submit bids for the furnishing labor, materials, equipment, and tools for the new College of The Albemarle – Allied Health Sciences Simulation Lab (COA Health Sciences) located in Elizabeth City, NC. Please note: Only subcontractors who have been prequalified by Barnhill will be able to submit a Bid.

The project consists of the new construction of a 38,000-sf, 2-story expansion to the existing Owens Health Sciences Center and will house classrooms, labs, and a simulation lab. The site is just over just over 4.5 acres and is located on an active campus. This new construction will be a steel structure with a brick and metal panel veneer, curtainwall, and storefront glazing with a PVC roof membrane.

Principal trade and specialty contractors are solicited for the following Bid Packages:

BP0100: General Trades

BP0105: Final Cleaning

BP0390: Turnkey Concrete

BP0400: Turnkey Masonry

BP0500: Structural Steel & Misc. Steel

BP0740: Roofing

BP0750: Metal Panels

BP0790: Caulking / Caulking

BP0800: Turnkey Doors/Frames/Hardware

BP0840: Glass & Glazing

BP0925: Drywall

BP0960: Resilient Flooring

BP0980: Acoustical Ceilings

BP0990: Painting & Wallcovering

BP1005: Toilet Specialties / Accessories / Division 10

BP1010: Signage

BP1098: Demountable Partitions

BP1230: Finish Carpentry and Casework

BP1250: Window Treatment

BP1400: Elevators

BP2100: Fire Protection

BP2200: Plumbing

BP2300: HVAC

BP2600: Turnkey Electrical

BP3100: Turnkey Sitework

BP3290: Landscaping

Packages may be added and/or deleted at the discretion of the Construction Manager. Historically underutilized business firms are encouraged to complete participation submittals.

HUB/MWBE OUTREACH MEETING: Barnhill Building Group will be conducting a HUB/MWBE Informational Session. You are encouraged to attend the following session to learn more about project participation opportunities available to you. These seminars will help to: Learn about project and scope; Inform and train Minority/HUB contractors in preparation for bidding this project; Assist in registration on the State of North Carolina Vendor link; Stimulate opportunities for Networking with other firms. Location and time TBD. Please visit our planroom at https://app.buildingconnected.com/public/54da832ce3edb5050017438b for more information.

Interested contractors should submit their completed prequalification submittals, by July 22, 2024, to Meredith Terrell at mterrell@barnhillcontracting.com or hardcopies can be mailed to Barnhill Contracting Company PO Box 31765 Raleigh, NC 27622 (4325 Pleasant Valley Road, NC 27612).


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