Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 2008


Department of English and Film Studies


Dashiell Hammett’s 1930 novel The Maltese Falcon—starring the quintessential hard-boiled private detective, Sam Spade—was adapted for the screen not once, but three times: The Maltese Falcon (also known as Dangerous Female) directed by Roy Del Ruth (US, 1931); Satan Met a Lady directed by William Dieterle (US, 1936); and The Maltese Falcon directed by John Huston (US, 1941).1 It is the last of these films, according to critics, that follows the novel most closely and is the version Hammett liked best, although he had no direct involvement with the production of any of the three films. And it is the last of these films that is remembered best, in part due to Humphrey Bogart’s iconic performance as the tough Sam Spade. The novel’s adaptation to the screen twice in the 1930s, however, attests to the dominance and popularity of a different kind of detective-hero during the Depression. While Bogart’s Spade, as the epitome of the hard-boiled detective, would become a model of American masculinity during world War II, Ricardo Cortez and Warren William’s “Spades” in 1931 and 1936, respectively, embodied different traits—ones more in keeping with what we now regard as belonging to an English tradition of heroism and the American tradition of villainy. The Spades of the Depression were more suave, cultured, self-serving, and more like the villains than the tough, working-class detective who would come to symbolize American manhood in the 1940s, and it is this shift in ideals of national masculinity that an analysis of the three film versions of Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon reveals.


This article was originally published in Framework: The Journal of Cinema and Media, 49(1):101-127. © 2008 by Philippa Gates. The article can be viewed at: