I don’t recall if Gutman said it in the movie about the Falcon being coated by lacquer to obfuscate that it’s really made of gold and jewels. I think it was implied that nothing is what they really seem to be. This is what I believe Dashiell Hammett was trying to communicate through his novel, ‘The Maltese Falcon.’ In this paper I will write about why I believe what is Hammett trying to convey through his cast of characters. These characters are unlike the image and stereotype cast upon their roles.
Sam Spade isn’t exactly the typical (stereotypical?) main character or rather a detective character (I think for any main character.) By his looks/appearance, ‘He Spade looked rather pleasantly like a blond satan’; (p. 3). Suggesting he is not angelic looking like lets say Humphrey Bogard (an indication that the movie isn’t true to the novel). The film ruined the ironic un-charming hero concept the novel have and so do I as one of my first example of the ‘things-are-not-what-they-seemed-theory-for-Hammett’s message.’; Spade is callous, avaricious, and shares a similarity with Mike from ‘The House of Games.’ Why I think Mike and Spade are similar? For one thing Brigid O’Shaughnessy gave Spade a talk/speech about him using her pretty much the same thing Ford asked Mike in the airport. Brigid’s comment (p. 211-212) ‘You’ve been playing with me? Only pretending you cared-to trap me like this? You didn’t-care at all? You didn’t-don’t-I-love-me?’; Ford’s ‘You used me…’; speech is strikingly similar to Brigid’s including the reaction from Mike/Spade. The two men both refused to show sympathy and they did both had sex with their respective victims …er women except Mike ends up dead and Brigid ends up in jail. Ford and Mike and Spade and Brigid share many similarities from the two women being used and the men conning these women. We know what Mike did already and Spade used his devilish charm to get Brigid to solve the case. He conned her into giving him money, win his trust, and played with her feelings. The comparison between Mike and Spade is to show that Spade is more of a con men than a detective which I hope are (usually) depicted as law-abiding, straight-arrow, gentlemen. Spade is a proto-badass character. I think Hammett is trying to convey that heroes aren’t always good.
Brigid O’Shaughnessy (whom I will refer as Brigid because her last name is long) is a complex character in which that she appears to be a typical damsel-in-distress but suppose to be ‘a beautiful and treacherous woman whose loyalties shift at the drop of a dime.’; (backcover) Yet Brigid is demure and gentle throughout the novel. In the movie however she seemed blunt unlike her very shy novel counterpart. She was less shy in the movie and she said why she needed Spade and Archer’s help right away wereas in the novel she said ‘Could you-? I thought-I-that is-‘; softly. I think due to the women’s movement that happened recently then they decided to make Brigid less shy. Brigid’s character is unlike the usual damsel-in-distress female role though she her mannerisms is. Brigid’s non damsel-in-distress characteristics are subtle. Brigid’s treacherous acts were mentioned but she was never shown acting it outright. These acts were also vague that it barely makes you think of Brigid any less. When I read the book I didn’t see how Brigid is treacherous. Brigid lied but that doesn’t seem treacherous at all maybe because I think it was written in a way as if she is telling a tiny white lie. Her so called treachery are obfuscated by her demure mannerism as if to soften them. In the end of the novel/film when she revealed that she killed Miles she said it in a way that it was an innocent accident and goes on with her ‘You used me…’; speech to make it look like the victim. Brigid’s lines were written in a way they it makes her look victimized and sorry that we are inclined to be sympathetic of what a tortured soul she is that we can’t help but not realize that she is a manipulative witch! I must say that Brigid is a well written character. Hammettt wrote her in a way that we the reader think she is what she is: a poor victimized girl when she is really subtly manipulating our judgment of her, making us think she’s innocent. That’s very treacherous!
Casper Gutman is very much like Santa Claus in a way that he seems jolly and calm all the time. Gutman never lost his temper once but even if he did his face always stayed jolly. In my opinion Gutman is the protagonist of the novel/film because he is the mastermind of the whole black bird caper. He has lethal underlings: Wilmer and (perhaps) Cairo. Gutman doesn’t seem like a bad guy because of the way he’s portrayed as Santa-like. It seems like he is the opposite of spade. Spade is the good guy who looks bad and Gutman is a bad guy who looked nice. I think Hammett never really established who’s good and bad. Gutman never threatened Spade with his life to get the falcon. Gutman hired Spade and Spade just didn’t agree with them that much. So Gutman is not exactly an antagonist. I don’t even think there is an antagonist who try to make the protagonist’s life hell except maybe Dundy. Dundy however isn’t the bad guy but the guy who doesn’t trust a shady character which is typical nowadays in stories with a protagonist like Spade.
In conclusion, I think Hammett wants us to realize that everything isn’t black and white, there are shades of gray or so the saying goes. Not all good things are good and not all bad things are bad. Meaning we can’t just based everything with stereotypes and appearances for they are deceiving. Through it all it’s how good or bad a person is inside that determines whether they are indeed good and bad. This however cannot be seen, you’ll have to know this person before you can find out. Spade seemed callous as I said but he has a devoted loyalty to Miles. He didn’t show he cared for Miles but he did in the
end when he put his feelings for Brigid aside to bring his partner’s killer to justice. Of course Spade also did this because he doesn’t want to be Brigid’s sap but like I said nothing is clear.