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Encyclopedia > The Maltese Falcon
The Maltese Falcon
The cover of first edition of The Maltese Falcon (1930).
Author Dashiell Hammett
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Detective fiction
Publisher Alfred A. Knopf
Publication date 1930
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Followed by "A Man Called Spade"
"They Can Only Hang You Once"
"Too Many Have Lived"
Cover of the magazine "Black Mask", September 1929, featuring part 1 of its serialization of The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammett. The illustration is of detective Sam Spade by Henry C. Murphy, Jr.
Cover of the magazine "Black Mask", September 1929, featuring part 1 of its serialization of The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammett. The illustration is of detective Sam Spade by Henry C. Murphy, Jr.

The Maltese Falcon is a 1930 detective novel by Dashiell Hammett, originally serialized in the magazine "Black Mask". The story has been adapted several times for the cinema. The main character, Sam Spade, appears only in this novel and in three lesser known short stories, yet is widely cited as the crystallizing figure in the development of the hard-boiled private detective genre – Raymond Chandler's character Philip Marlowe, for instance, was strongly influenced by Hammett's Spade. Spade was a departure from Hammett's nameless and less than glamorous detective, The Continental Op. Sam Spade combined several features of previous detectives, most notably his cold detachment, keen eye for detail, and unflinching determination to achieve his own justice. He is the man who has seen the wretched, the corrupt, the tawdry side of life but still retains his "tarnished idealism". Samuel Dashiell Hammett (May 27, 1894 – January 10, 1961) was an American author of hardboiled detective novels and short stories. ... For other uses, see Country (disambiguation). ... The English language is a West Germanic language that originates in England. ... Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes Detective fiction is a branch of crime fiction that centers upon the investigation of a crime, usually murder, by a detective, either professional or amateur. ... A publisher is a person or entity which engages in the act of publishing. ... Colophon of the publisher Alfred A. Knopf. ... Hardcover books A hardcover (or hardback or hardbound) is a book bound with rigid protective covers (typically of cardboard covered with cloth, heavy paper, or sometimes leather). ... To meet Wikipedias quality standards, this article may require cleanup. ... ISBN redirects here. ... Black Mask was a pulp magazine launched in 1920 by H. L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan. ... Samuel Dashiell Hammett (May 27, 1894 – January 10, 1961) was an American author of hardboiled detective novels and short stories. ... Gumshoe redirects here. ... Poster of the 1941 Warner Brothers film version of The Maltese Falcon, directed by John Huston Sam Spade was the leading character in the novel and movie The Maltese Falcon (1931). ... Detective fiction is a branch of crime fiction that centres upon the investigation of a crime, usually murder, by a detective, either professional or amateur. ... Samuel Dashiell Hammett (May 27, 1894 – January 10, 1961) was an American author of hardboiled detective novels and short stories. ... Black Mask was a pulp magazine launched in 1920 by H. L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan. ... Poster of the 1941 Warner Brothers film version of The Maltese Falcon, directed by John Huston Sam Spade was the leading character in the novel and movie The Maltese Falcon (1931). ... Hard Boiled (Chinese: ; pinyin: ; literally: Hot-Handed God of Cops) is a 1992 action film directed by John Woo. ... For other persons named Raymond Chandler, see Raymond Chandler (disambiguation). ... Ed Bishop had the title role in BBC Radios The Adventures of Philip Marlowe. ... The Continental Op is a fictional character created by Dashiell Hammett. ...



Private eye Sam Spade and his partner Miles Archer are approached by Miss Wonderly to follow a man, Floyd Thursby, who allegedly ran off with her younger sister. The two accept the assignment because the money is good, but Spade also implies that the woman looks like trouble, though she projects wholesome innocence.

That night, Detective Tom Polhaus informs Spade that Archer has been shot and killed while tailing Thursby. Even later that night, two officers visit Spade at his apartment and inquire about Spade's whereabouts in the last few hours. Spade asks what the visit is really about. The officers say that Thursby was also killed and that Spade is a suspect, since Thursby likely killed Archer. They have no evidence against Spade at the moment, but tell him that they will be conducting an investigation into the matter.

The next day, Spade gets a visit from Archer's wife, with whom he has been having an affair. The widow asks Spade if he killed off Miles so that they could be together. Spade dismisses her and tells her to leave, and coldly orders his secretary Effie to remove all of Archer's belongings from the office. He then goes to a new address left in a note from his client, whos name he learns is Brigid O'Shaughnessy. He also finds out that Brigid never had a sister, and Thursby was her acquaintance who had betrayed her.

Later, Spade is visited by another man, Joel Cairo, who offers Spade $5000 if the private eye can retrieve a figurine of a black bird that has recently arrived. While Spade has no idea what the man is talking about, he plays along. Suddenly, Cairo pulls a gun on Spade, and declares his intention to search Spade's office. But when he approaches Spade to search his person, Spade disarms him and knocks him unconscious. After cataloguing Cairo's belongings and questioning him in return, Spade returns Cairo's firearm and allows the man to search his office. Following this, Spade is again contacted by Brigid O'Shaughnessy. She offers her sympathies for the death of his partner. Spade senses a connection between O'Shaughnessy and Cairo, and casually mentions that Cairo has contacted him. O'Shaughnessy gets extremely nervous when she hears this. She tells Spade that she must meet with Cairo, and asks Spade to arrange a meeting. Spade agrees.

When Cairo and Brigid O'Shaughnessy meet, they make references that the reader and Spade don't initially comprehend. Cairo says he is ready to pay for the black figurine. Brigid O'Shaughnessy, however, says she does not have it at the moment. They also refer to a mysterious figure, "G" ("the fat man" in the film), whom they seem to be scared of. The two then continue to talk about some events that happened overseas. Eventually, O'Shaughnessy insinuates that Cairo is a homosexual, and Cairo insinuates that O'Shaughnessy simply uses her body to get what she wants, and the two begin to fight. At this point, the police show up, coincidentally, to talk to Spade. Spade greets them at the door, but refuses to let them in. The officers say they know Spade was having an affair with Archer's wife; just as they are about to leave, they hear Cairo screaming for help. They force their way into Spade's apartment, and Spade invents a story that involves describing how Cairo and O'Shaughnessy were just play-acting. The officers seem to accept, if not believe, Spade's story, but they take Cairo with them down to the station for some "grilling". Spade sends Brigid to stay with Effie, where she will be safe.

The next morning, Spade makes his way to the hotel where Cairo is staying. Cairo shows up disheveled, saying that he was held in police custody through the night. Meanwhile, Spade notices that he's being tailed by some kid named Wilmer Cook. He confronts the gunsel[1], and tells him that both he and his boss, "G," will have to deal with him at some point. He later receives a call from Casper Gutman, who wishes to meet with him. Gutman, a huge person weighing over 300 lbs, says he will pay handsomely for the black bird. Spade implies that he can get the item (though at this point this is a bluff), but wants to know what it is first.

Gutman tells him that the figurine was a gift from the Island of Malta to the King of Spain a few hundred years ago, but was lost on ship in transit. It was covered with fine jewels, but acquired a layer of black enamel at some time, to conceal its value (estimated to be in the millions). Gutman learned of its whereabouts seventeen years ago, and has been looking for it ever since. He traced it to the home of a Russian General, then sent three of his 'agents' (Cairo, Thursby and Brigid O'Shaughnessy) to get it. The latter supposedly did retrieve the figurine, but learned of its value and decided to keep it for themselves. Spade starts to get dizzy at this point (Gutman has drugged him), and when he goes to leave, Wilmer trips him and knocks him out by kicking his temple.

Bebe Daniels in Del Ruth's 1931 film adaptation.
Bebe Daniels in Del Ruth's 1931 film adaptation.

When Spade awakens, he returns to his office and tells the story of the Maltese Falcon to Effie. Soon afterwards, an injured man, identified as Captain Jacobi of "La Paloma," shows up at the office; he drops a package on the floor and then dies of gunshot wounds. Spade opens the package, and finds the figurine falcon. Sam is called away from the office. To prevent losing the item, Spade stores the package at a bus station lost luggage counter and mails himself the collection tag. He first goes to the dock where "La Paloma" was anchored, but learns that a fire had been started on board. He then proceeds to the place Rhea Gutman said she was when she phoned earlier. There he finds a drugged-up, seventeen-year old girl, her stomach all scratched up by a pin in attempts to keep herself awake, who just manages to give him some information about the whereabouts of Brigid, which turns out to be a false lead. Image File history File links Maltesefalcon1931. ... Image File history File links Maltesefalcon1931. ... Bebe Daniels (January 14, 1901 - March 16, 1971) was an American actress. ...

When he arrives back at his apartment, he finds O'Shaughnessy in a shadowy doorway. Inside, Wilmer, Cairo, and Gutman are there waiting. Gutman hands Spade $10,000 in cash in exchange for the bird. Spade takes the money, but in addition says that they need a "fall guy" to take the blame for the murders of at least Thursby and Jacobi, if not Archer as well. Reluctantly, both Cairo and Gutman agree to make Wilmer the fall guy. Gutman proceeds to tell Spade the missing pieces of the story. The night that Thursby was killed, he was first approached by Wilmer and Gutman. The latter attempted to reason with him, but Thursby remained loyal to Brigid O'Shaughnessy and refused to cooperate. Later things escalated, then Wilmer shot Thursby. Also, Brigid O'Shaughnessy had seduced Captain Jacobi and hid the Falcon with him. Later, Brigid O'Shaughnessy instructed Jacobi to deliver the package to Spade. Once Gutman learned of this fact, he attempted to remove Spade from the situation with the spiked drink. Wilmer managed to shoot the captain, but Jacobi still got to Spade's office to deliver the figurine. After finishing his story, Gutman warns Spade to be very careful with Brigid O'Shaughnessy as she is not to be trusted.

Spade places a call to his secretary, Effie, and asks her to go the office and pick up the figurine. Effie brings it to Spade's apartment, and Spade hands the package to Gutman, who at this time is overwhelmed with excitement. He checks the figurine, but quickly learns that it is a fake. He realizes with dismay that the Russian must have discovered the true value of the falcon and made a copy. During this time, Wilmer manages to escape from Spade's apartment. Gutman quickly regains composure, and decides to go back to Europe to continue the search. Before he leaves, Gutman asks Spade for the $10,000. Spade returns $9000, saying he's keeping the remainder for his time and expenses. Then Cairo and Gutman leave Spade's apartment.

Immediately after Cairo and Gutman leave, Spade phones the police department and tells them the entire story. Wilmer killed Jacobi and Thursby. He also tells them what hotel Gutman is staying at and urges them to hurry, since Gutman and Cairo are leaving town soon. Afterwards, Spade angrily asks Brigid O'Shaughnessy why she killed Miles Archer. At first, Brigid O'Shaughnessy acts horrified at this accusation, but seeing that she cannot lie anymore, she drops the act. She wanted to get Thursby out of the picture so that she could have the Falcon for herself, so she hired Archer to scare him off. When Thursby didn't leave, she killed Archer and attempted to pin the crime on Thursby. When Thursby was later killed himself, she knew that Gutman was in town and that she needed another protector, so she came back to Spade.

However, she says that she's also in love with Spade and would have come back to him anyhow. Spade coldly replies that the penalty for murder is most likely twenty years, and he'll wait for her until she gets out. If they hang her, Spade says that he'll always remember her. He goes on to say that while he despised Miles Archer, the man was his partner, and that he's going to turn her in to the police for his murder as that was a line he could not cross in the industry of detective work. Brigid O'Shaughnessy begs him not to, but he replies that he has no choice. When the police get Gutman, Gutman will finger Sam and Brigid as accomplices. Thus the only way Spade can avoid getting charged is to say he played both sides against each other. He tells Brigid O'Shaughnessy that he has some feelings for her, but that he simply can't trust her. Just before the police arrive, Brigid O'Shaughnessy asks Spade if the Falcon had been real, and he'd gotten the entire $10,000, would it have made a difference. Spade replies that, while she shouldn't be so sure that he's crooked, more money would have been one more item on "her side."

When the police finally show up at Spade's apartment, Spade immediately turns over Brigid O'Shaughnessy as Archer's killer. They tell Spade that the kid Wilmer was waiting for Gutman at the hotel and shot him when he arrived. Spade also hands over the $1000 in bill, and the falcon to the police as evidence.

Later, when Spade arrives back at the office, he tells his secretary, Effie, the entire story. She asks Sam if he sent Brigid O'Shaughnessy to jail. He smugly replies "Your Sam's a detective." She is disgusted by his actions, and asks him not to touch her. The novel ends when Archer's widow again shows up at the office.


In this novel, Hammett redefines many of the conventions of the "hard-boiled" detective genre. Spade is a bitter, sardonic character who lets the police and the criminals think he is in with the criminals while he works singlemindedly to catch the crooks. Brigid O'Shaughnessy is the classic femme fatale. The other crooks are manipulative and self-centered (or merely self-centered) with no concern for anyone's well-being except their own. Hardboiled crime fiction is a uniquely American style pioneered by Dashiell Hammett, refined by Raymond Chandler, and endlessly imitated since by writers such as Mickey Spillane. ... Convicted spy Mata Hari made her name synonymous with femme fatale during WWI. A femme fatale (plural: femmes fatales) is an alluring and seductive woman whose charms ensnare her lovers in bonds of irresistible desire, often leading them into compromising, dangerous, and deadly situations. ...

However, unlike some other hard-boiled detectives who have a strong sense of idealism underneath the cynical shell, we are never given a clear statement of Spade's notion of morality. He attempts to explain himself to Brigid O'Shaughnessy with the Flitcraft parable, in which Hammett makes an oblique reference to the philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce, but O'Shaughnessy and most readers have no idea what he is getting at. Charles Sanders Peirce Charles Sanders Peirce (September 10, 1839 – April 19, 1914) was an American logician, philosopher, scientist, and mathematician. ...

At the time of Miles Archer's death, Spade is having an affair with Archer's wife, and while he does the "right thing" in the end, catching and turning in Archer's murderer, his reasons for doing so are somewhat ambiguous. Although he expresses a strong professional ethic ("When a man's partner is killed he's supposed to do something about it. It doesn't make any difference what you thought of him. He was your partner and you're supposed to do something about it") it also has an element of self-interest about it ("[W]hen one of your organization gets killed it's bad business to let the killer get away with it. It's bad all around - bad for that one organization, bad for every detective everywhere"). It is left unclear whether Spade might have chosen not to turn Brigid in if there was a bigger monetary gain for him ("...a lot more money would have been one more item on your side"), but certain that his emotional attachment to her (however strong that is) is not sufficient to overcome the risks involved with letting her go. Spade's blatant calculus of risk, reward and duty with which Hammett ends the novel contains remarkably little trace of morality.

Additionally, the Maltese Falcon itself is a good example of a MacGuffin,[2] in that it serves as motivation for several of the character's actions but has little other significance. This article is about the plot device. ...


The novel has been filmed three times, twice under its original title:

In addition, there have been many spoofs and sequels, including 1975's The Black Bird, a spoof featuring George Segal as Sam Spade, Jr., and Elisha Cook Jr. and Lee Patrick reprising their roles from the 1941 film. The Maltese Falcon is a 1931 film adaptation of the novel of the same name by Dashiell Hammett. ... The Production Code (also known as the Hays Code) was a set of industry guidelines governing the production of American motion pictures. ... Ricardo Cortez, born Jacob Krantz (September 18, 1899 - April 28, 1977), was a film actor from Vienna, Austria. ... Bebe Daniels (January 14, 1901 - March 16, 1971) was an American actress. ... Satan Met a Lady is a 1936 film based on the novel The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett. ... For the singer, see Betty Davis, for the meteorologist, see Betty Davis (meteorologist). ... Warren William (2 December 1894 - 24 September 1948) was a Broadway and Hollywood actor, born Warren William Krech in Aitkin, Minnesota. ... The Maltese Falcon is a 1941 Warner Brothers film written and directed by John Huston, based on the novel of the same name by Dashiell Hammett, and starring Humphrey Bogart as private investigator Sam Spade, Mary Astor as his femme fatale client, Sydney Greenstreet in his film debut, and Peter... This still from The Big Combo (1955) demonstrates the visual style of film noir at its most extreme. ... Bogart redirects here. ... Mary Astor (May 3, 1906 – September 25, 1987) was an Academy Award-winning American actress. ... Peter Lorre (June 26, 1904 – March 23, 1964), born László Löwenstein, was an Hungarian[1] - Austrian - American actor frequently typecast as a sinister foreigner. ... Sydney Hughes Greenstreet (December 27, 1879 – January 18, 1954) was an English actor. ... The Black Bird (1975) is a movie released December 25th 1975 staring George Segal and Stephane Auran. ... George Segal George Segal (born February 13, 1934) is a well-known Jewish American film and stage actor who was born in Great Neck, Long Island, New York. ... Diminutive character actor Elisha Cook Jr. ... This article does not adequately cite its references or sources. ...

  • The Maltese Falcon (2005), the first authorized stage adaptation, was produced by The Long Beach Shakespeare Company, and premiered on April 29, 2005. Hammett's book was adapted and directed by Martin Pope. The stage adaptation was authorized and approved by Julie M. Rivett, Dashiell Hammett's granddaughter. Both Jo Hammett, Dashiell Hammett's only living daughter, and Julie Rivett attended the premiere. The play follows the book closely and includes Spade's Flitcraft story. Two years later the same company mounted a second adaptation, this one by Helen Borgers, the company's Artistic Director. Three other adaptations had been attempted before 2005, but none of these saw production.


  1. ^ Erle Stanley Gardner claims that gunsel - meaning "gun-carrying hoodlum", previously meaning "young, inexperienced homosexual" - took on its new connotation because of Hammett's book.
  2. ^ Dirks, Tim. Movie Review: "The Maltese Falcon". Filmsite.org. Retrieved on 2008-02-15.

Image File history File links Question_book-3. ... The Case of the Velvet Claws (1933), 1953 U.S. paperback edition The Case of the Negligent Nymph (1956), 1958 Pan paperback edition. ... This article is being considered for deletion in accordance with Wikipedias deletion policy. ... 2008 (MMVIII) is the current year, a leap year that started on Tuesday of the Anno Domini (or common era), in accordance to the Gregorian calendar. ... is the 46th day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. ...

See also

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Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to:
The Maltese Falcon
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  Results from FactBites:
The Maltese Falcon - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (2836 words)
The Maltese Falcon (1930) is a detective novel by Dashiell Hammett that has been adapted several times for the cinema.
The main character, Sam Spade, appears only in three lesser known short stories and this novel, yet is widely cited as the crystalizing figure in the development of the hard-boiled private detective genre.
The novel has been filmed twice under the name The Maltese Falcon: once in 1931 and once in 1941; the latter version, starring Humphrey Bogart is considered a classic film noir.
The True Story of The Maltese Falcon (1084 words)
However, the Maltese falcon is not a figment of a novelist's imagination.
In 1530 Charles deeded the Maltese islands to the grand masters in return for a symbolic annual rent of one live bird, a Maltese falcon, which was to be presented yearly to the emperor's viceroy in Sicily.
In reality, the Maltese falcon was a living bird of prey which symbolized the power and prowess of the strong military arm of the Holy Roman Empire, the Knights of Malta.
  More results at FactBites »



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