In The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett , the murder of Spade's partner Miles Archer is not depicted. In the film version by John Huston, Archer is shown being shot in Burritt Street but the shooter is not shown. Huston may have inserted this scene in order to give good...
In The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett, the murder of Spade's partner Miles Archer is not depicted. In the film version by John Huston, Archer is shown being shot in Burritt Street but the shooter is not shown. Huston may have inserted this scene in order to give good actor Jerome Cowan a little more screen time.
Burritt Street in San Francisco actually exists. It is a blind alley one block long. There is a plaque on a building-wall near the entrance stating that this is where Miles Archer was shot by Brigid O'Shaughnessy. The entrance to the alley is easily observed from the place "where Bush roofed Stockton before slipping downhill to Chinatown," but Huston does not show that
Spade crossed the sidewalk between iron-walled hatchways that opened above bare ugly stairs, went to the parapet, and, resting his hands on the damp coping, looked down into Stockton Street.
The steep vacant lot between Burritt Street and Stockton Street where Miles Archer would have tumbled partway down after being shot no longer exists. Huston may have left the scene out, partly because that particular vacant lot had already been built on by the time he made the film in 1941.
This scene is important because Spade can see from his position at the coping overlooking Stockton Street that there is no way out of the alley except into Bush Street or down the hill through the vacant lot. Spade learns that the police have established that no one went down the hill into Stockton because there are no footprints on the wet ground.
His scrutiny of the scene is what leads him to tell Brigid in the last chapter and near the end of the movie:
"Miles hadn't many brains, but, Christ! he had too many years' experience as a detective to be caught like that by the man he was shadowing. Up a blind alley with his gun tucked away on his hip and his overcoat buttoned? Not a chance. He was as dumb as any man ought to be, but he wasn't quite that dumb. The only ways out of the alley could be watched from the edge of Bush Street over the tunnel. You'd told us Thursby was a bad actor. He couldn't have tricked Miles into the alley like that, and he couldn't have driven him in. He was dumb, but not dumb enough for that."
The sound of the shot should have attracted attention in this neighborhood of tall brick apartment buildings all set close together. But the police did not ask questions of the surrounding tenants because they took it for granted that Floyd Thursby shot Archer and then, as Lieutenant Dundy tells Spade (in both the book and the movie):
Thursby was shot down in front of his hotel just thirty-five minutes after you left Burritt Street.
At the end of the novel Spade accuses Brigid of murdering his partner in the alley with Thursby's Webley-Fosbery automatic revolver. If Brigid had continued to deny it, Spade would have turned her over to the police anyway, and they would have found witnesses in the apartment buildings who had seen a woman going into the alley with Archer and exiting right after the shot was fired. Someone might have even been able to identify that woman as Brigid. This would have added to the circumstantial evidence against her, along with her involvement with Thursby and with the Maltese falcon.