In John Huston’s classic film version of Dashiell Hammet’s novel The Maltese Falcon, a substantial section of Chapter 7 of the book was not filmed. This section deals with a “man named Flitcraft” who once owned a real estate office in Tacoma, Washington. Flitcraft leaves his office one day to go to lunch and never comes back. He never appears at a gold course he had planned to visit, and his wife and children never see him again. His marriage was supposed to have been good, and his financial circumstances seem to have been very comfortable. In countless ways, his sudden disappearance seemed neither preplanned nor explicable.
Sam Spade, the main figure of Hammett’s novel, recounts Flitcraft’s disappearance and recalls his own role in investigating the case. He found Flitcraft living in Spokane, Washington under an assumed name. He had remarried, had a new child, and had opened a new business – this time selling cars. Flitcraft’s conscience was untroubled. He felt that he had left his original family in a good financial situation. He tried to explain his actions to Spade and felt that they had been perfectly reasonable.
Flitcraft described how he had nearly been killed by a huge metal beam that had fallen from a construction project one day as he walked by. The beam had just missed him, but the experience had shocked him into examining his life. Until that experienced, he had lived a responsible, predictable life. However, the near-miss from the falling beam had shaken his sense of life, making him realize the role chance could play in any person’s life or death. He determined, at that point, to alter his life, reflecting as follows:
Life could be ended for him at random by a falling beam: he would change his life at random by simply going away.
Flitcraft had come to feel that his predictable, routine life and put him out of touch with the realities of true existence.
He wandered for a few years, then settled down, married, started a new family, and began living a kind of life remarkably like his first life. Spade ends the story be remarking,
“that’s the part of it I always liked. He adjusted himself to beams falling, and then he adjusted himself to them not falling.”
Flitcraft’s first wife divorced him, and nothing further is said about him in Hammett’s novel.
Spade’s story introduces one more mysterious narrative into the larger mystery of the novel, while Spade’s final comment implies his own pragmatism and flexibility.