Saturday, December 28, 2013

Book & Movie Review: Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon

What can I say about Dashiell Hammett's masterpiece The Maltese Falcon that hasn't been written by professional book reviewers for the past 83 years?

Not much, other than Sam Spade set the standard for hardboiled detectives since his debut in Black Mask Magazine

The only issue I had reading the book, was having a preconceived notion on what Sam Spade looks like, thanks to the 1941 movie version, that I've seen several times.

Hammett's description of Spade looking "...rather pleasantly like a blond satan..." on page one and referenced throughout the book, is nothing like...

... the silver-screen image of Humphrey Bogart I've had in my head all these years.  

This is why nowadays, writers are advised to be sparse in describing their characters' physical features.  It serves two purposes:  First, a lack of details actually helps fuel the imagination, making the story more interactive for the reader.

Second, it makes it easier for studio execs to find an actor to play the role if a book is "optioned" as it's called, into a movie.  Although studio execs often disregard lengthy character descriptions in the source material when selecting the film's cast.  Sometimes it works as it did for the Maltese Falcon.  

But other times it doesn't.  Last year, Jack Reacher fans voiced their displeasure over the selection of Tom Cruise as the lead in the Jack Reacher film (see Casting).  

Description differences aside though, both the book and movie version of the Maltese Falcon are well-crafted and established the black statuette as the most iconic MacGuffin in literary and cinematic history.

So whether you want to curly up in your favorite comfy chair, or sprawl-out on the sofa with a bowl of popcorn, you're in store for 5-star entertainment.  And that, to borrow Bogey's line, truly is: The stuff that dreams are made of (see #14)

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