In the movie The Maltese Falcon is Spade good at his job?

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durbanville eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The movie The Maltese Falcon unravels and creates its own drama based on Dashiell Hammett's original novel of the same name. A complex plot with intrigue, deceit and complicated relationships which serve to darken the mood, it stands alongside other famous and timeless movies such as Casablanca, also featuring Humphrey Bogart. Bogart died in 1957 but his name still resounds in film circles. Bogart plays the indomitable Sam Spade, a private detective with his own set of rules. Sydney Greenstreet is crime boss Casper Gutman, "the Fat Man," and together they set the scene for action, intrigue and many twists and turns. 

Sam Spade finds himself in the middle of a murder mystery for which he seems to be the most likely suspect. The fact that he is "too slick for [his] own good" creates motive and opportunity; as a private investigator he has the means to commit and conceal his crimes. His matter-of-fact personality and lack of emotion only serve to implicate him more. However, it is his ability to analyze situations and people very quickly and accurately that ensure he is good at his job and is not easily shocked. He can sort fact from fiction without anyone even realizing. When Spade is first approached by a woman calling herself "Miss Wonderly," her eagerness to part with $200 so quickly (a lot of money in the 1940s) rouses his suspicions, and later he admits that Miss Wonderly (not her real name, of course) "paid us more than if you'd been telling us the truth, and enough more to make it all right." 

When he is linked to the killing of his partner Miles because he has been involved with Miles' wife, and to the murder that follows it because he may have wanted to get his revenge, he can see the logic in the police's assumptions. This ensures that he remains clear-headed and one step ahead in exposing the plot and solving the mystery of far more than the two murders. He reasons with the police and completely confuses police Lieutenant Dunby later when they use his affair with Miles' wife to conclude that he killed him. The fact that the police leave and do not arrest Spade, despite all the lies, fighting, plotting and confusion also suggests that Spade is good at his job—otherwise Dunby would have arrested him.  

Spade knows he cannot trust Brigid O'Shaughnessy (Miss Wonderly's real name). Her insincerity is obvious to him, although he is fascinated by her and clearly attracted to her for all her apparent dishonesty. Feeling manipulated by her and her reluctance to trust him completely, he almost abandons her case but instead takes her money and gives her advice. As ever he is observant, noticing every little thing about her, even where she shops, and this skill confirms his abilities. Spade recognizes the connection between Brigid and the statuette immediately and, after his run-in with Cairo, he uses both of them to help him find the truth. Spade is also aware that he is being tailed and will choose an opportune time to confront the man following him.

Spade is not afraid and even faces Gutman, the crime boss, putting on an angry display in the hope of finding answers, also supporting the claim that he is good at his job. Furthermore, Gutman develops a respect for Spade, who even appears to be corrupt himself. Everyone uses the other for their own reasons but Spade proves his worth and his dedication as he successfully manipulates the criminals for the purposes of solving the crimes and not for personal gain. 

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The Maltese Falcon

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