The Maltese Falcon: Book Vs. Movie

The Changing Of Characters


Many time in our lives, we have seen the transformation of novels into movies. Some of them are equal to the novel, few are superior, and most are inferior. Why is this? Why is it that a story that was surely to be one of the best written stories ever, could turn out to be Hollywood flops? One reason is that in many transformations, the main characters are changed, some the way they look, others the way they act. On top of this, scenes are cut out and plot is even changed. In this essay, I will discuss some of the changes made to the characters of the Maltese Falcon as they make their transformation to the “big screen.”

The first character that we read or see is Sam Spade. In the book he is written as being tall and lanky with blond hair, and a recurring v-motif that makes him out to be what Hammett describes as a “blond Satan.” With these descriptions, we can easily make out a powerful image of what Sam Spade must look like in our heads. When we have an image of what something is going to be like and it turns out to not at all be what we expected, we are often let down, disappointed.This is due to the casting of Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade. His hair is brown, and his, round, soft face is the farthest a face can come from having a satanic v-motif. Although Humphrey Bogart’s acting was very good, it was intruded by my perception of what Sam Spade was supposed to look like.

Brigid O’Shaunessey is the villianess of this story, the “femme fatale”
as we sometimes refer to her in class. She is always lying and scheming to get what she wants. In the book, her quest is aided very well by her gorgeous looks. The first image we get of Miss O’Shaughnessey is that of a tall redhead with long legs, red hair, and beautiful red lips. This image of her may have been influenced by the picture that is on the cover of the book, but the publishers wouldn’t have pout it there if that wasn’t the image they got of her either.

The movie does not do Miss O’Shaughnessey justice as the novel very well does. In the novel, she is portrayed as a young, voluptuous, beautiful woman. Although she is somewhat beautiful in the movie, she does not reach the standards that are set for her in the novel. The legs that Sam Spade sees as she enters his office offer an idea as to what kind of person Miss O’Shaughnessey is: someone who uses her sexuality to persuade others. This is a very important part of the story, and the movie failed to deal with it. A technological disadvantage that the movie had was the absence color. In the novel, Miss O’Shaughnessey’s hair is described as “darkly red.” Her red hair helps to develop a devilish theme that goes along very well with her intentions and her personality. This is also missed in the movie.
The character Joel Cairo is one of the most interesting in the book, and the movie as well. I thought he was perfectly cast by the production crew and they did a very good job of including the necessary details about him: the perfumed business card, the white handkerchief, and his girlish voice. I thought the portrayal of Cairo in the movie was better than that of the book largely due to the fact that he was a homosexual. We could hear his voice and see his movements much better in the movie. When we hear a voice, if it is flagrant enough, we can almost automatically tell if someone is a homosexual. The same goes for the movements that they make, or how they react to being hit or punched. These things cannot be picked up in the book and I think they are important to his character. I believe that the movie has a better portrayal of Joel Cairo than the book does.

Samuel Spades secretary, Effie Perine, is one of the most important characters in the novel. Constantly she is taking care of Sam, making sure he knows what