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Stream On: The return of Sam Spade—‘Monsieur Spade’

By on February 8, 2024

“Effie Perrine said in a small flat voice: ‘Iva is here.’

“Sam Spade, looking down at his desk, nodded almost imperceptibly. ‘Yes,’ he said, and shivered. ‘Well, send her in.’”

Thus ends Dashiell Hammett’s novel The Maltese Falcon (1930). Sam Spade had “got his man” and now turned his attention to a messy personal matter.

This was Sam Spade’s first and most well-known appearance in fiction; in 1944 three more stories from Hammett, originally published in The American Magazine and Colliers, were collected in A Man Called Spade.

In 2024 Tom Fontana (Homicide: Life on the Street) and Scott Frank wrote and released Monsieur Spade, a neo-noir TV series featuring a retired Sam Spade, twenty-five years after the events of The Maltese Falcon.

 

MONSIEUR SPADE

/Amazon /Streaming /🍅75%🍿76% /Trailer /2024 /TVMA

AMC’s Monsieur Spade centers around the infamous protagonist of The Maltese Falcon. The year is 1963, and the legendary Detective Sam Spade (Clive Owen, Children of Men) is enjoying his retirement in the South of France. By contrast to his days as a private eye in San Francisco, Spade’s life in Bozouls is peaceful and quiet. But the rumored return of his old adversary will change everything.

Humphrey Bogart captured the spirit of Sam Spade in John Huston’s 1941 Maltese Falcon if not his physical characteristics as described by the novel’s author: “Samuel Spade … looked rather pleasantly like a blond satan.” In Monsieur Spade, Clive Owen looks reasonably like an older, tired Humphrey Bogart, so if one is familiar with the film they aren’t taken out of the story. But a familiarity with the Falcon isn’t mandatory, even though the antagonist of the earlier movie, Brigid O’Shaughnessy, serves as a bridge to why Spade finds himself in France decades after.

In the beginning of this series, Spade is in France looking for the father of Brigid’s daughter Teresa, one Philippe Saint Andre. During his investigation he takes up with and marries the owner of a vineyard who later dies, leaving Spade essentially a retiree after installing the girl in a convent upon failing to find her father, a thief and blackmailer who left a trust fund for Teresa, payable on her eighteenth birthday.

After some years, Teresa’s birthday approaches and Saint Andre finally shows up in Bozouls. Coincidentally the monastery is struck by multiple homicides and Spade is roused to investigate. There’s no end of shady characters and a brace of red herrings to complicate Spade’s inquiries. (Most of the dialogue in The Maltese Falcon was lies, just saying.)

Monsieur Spade can’t approach Dashiell Hammett’s prose or John Huston’s direction, but not much can. (The storytelling is more like that of Hammett’s contemporary Raymond Chandler, where the forest can be lost while one admires the trees.) The critics’ consensus on Rotten Tomatoes reads “Commanding the camera’s full attention amidst the French countryside, Clive Owen makes for a mesmerizingly craggy Sam Spade even as the series around him struggles to live up to its hallowed lineage.”

It’s entertaining and suspenseful, and the series does tighten up after the first episode. Monsieur Spade addresses its comparative shortcomings by its setting in a beautiful location. It’s nicely detailed, by writers who respect Hammett; fan fiction of the highest order.

Sources include AMC Networks and Wikipedia.


(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. Columns are archived and updated when necessary on Substack.



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