Saturday, May 20, 2006

The Maltese Falcon

I had always thought of The Maltese Falcon as a movie starring Humphrey Bogart, and so it is, but the movie was preceded by the book, and both are classics of their genre. Though I haven't seen the movie (yet), I have not escaped the gazillion spoofs and cultural references, and so reading the book was a unique experience. Sam Spade is described thoroughly on the first page of the book, and so I have a vivid mental picture, but as Sam Spade plies his craft in the dark streets of San Francisco, I sometimes catch flashes of Humphrey Bogart and Peter Falk, who played Sam Diamond in Murder by Death. It is disquieting, and central to my experience of the book.

The plot twists and turns--I was not certain how it would end until the last page. The characters are crisply defined, with Sam Spade looming over all, flaws blazing and cold cynicism unabated. The setting, San Francisco, is almost a character itself, an integral part of the story--and I am glad I started reading it while I was in San Francisco. But again, because of its classic status, the story seems also to parody itself, and how do I escape this illusion? Like the Shakespeare student who complained that the Bard used too many cliches, it's hard to distinguish the freshness in a story that has been photocopied so many times.

The real question, to the newcomer to film noir and the literary genre from which it sprang, is: should you watch the movie first, or read the book? I usually spring for reading the book first, but in this case I might suggest watching the movie, which is supposed to be a faithful renditon of the book. Perhaps then the ghosts will become the characters, and Humphrey Bogart will fill your mind's eye when you read the book for the first time.

But I can't be sure. Ask me after I've seen the movie.


Post a Comment

<< Home