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Tom Paulhaus as Sam Spade's friend and confidant

Sam Spade used to be a policeman himself. In fact, it sounds as if he has been a private detective for only a short time, although he has had considerable experience as a cop. His firm is called Spade and Archer until Archer is killed in the alley. Spade tells Brigid towards the end of the novel:

"Miles was a son of a bitch. I found that out the first week we were in business together and I meant to kick him out as soon as the year was up. You didn't do me a damned bit of harm by killing him."

So Miles Archer and Sam Spade are both former cops who have only been in the private detective business for less than a year. Spade and Polhaus are friends and must have worked together before Spade went private. In fact, Polhaus might have been Spade's partner and Lieutenant Dundy is his new partner.

Tom Paulhaus is important to the plot because he maintains friendly relations with Spade and is willing to give him important information. Most importantly, Spade and Polhaus are having lunch at the States Hof Brau in Chapter 15 when Polhaus tells Spade practically everything the police have found out about Floyd Thursby, including the fact that the Webley-Fosbery automatic revolver found at the scene of Archer's murder belonged to Thursby and the bullet taken from the body came from the Webley-Fosbery. That seems to clear Spade of suspicion of killing Archer, although not of killing Thursby later that same night.

Polhaus also gives Spade a sketch of Thursby's arrests and convictions. This information is especially useful to Spade because it helps him trap Brigid in one of her many lies at the end. She claims that she came to Spade's office with her fabricated story about her sister in order to get a detective to follow Thursby. She wanted to be sure it was a detective she would recognize so that she could point him out to Thursby. It could have been Spade himself, but Archer volunteered because he was strongly attracted to the beautiful young client. According to her story:

"And I was afraid Gutman would find me--or find Floyd and buy him over. That's why I came to you and asked you to watch him for--"

"That's a lie," Spade said. "You had Thursby hooked and you knew it. He was a sucker for women. His record shows that--the only falls he took were over women. And once a chump, always a chump."

Spade is using the vital information he got from Tom Polhaus at the States Hof Brau. He knows Brigid wanted to get rid of Thursby so that she wouldn't have to share the proceeds from the Maltese falcon with him when she got it from Captain Jacobi. Spade tells her bluntly:

"You thought Floyd would tackle him and one or the other of them would go down. If Thursby was the one then you were rid of him. If Miles was, then you could see that Floyd was caught and you'd be rid of him. . . . And when you found that Thursby didn't mean to tackle him you borrowed the gun and did it yourself. Right?"

"Yes--though not exactly."

"But exact enough. And you had that plan up your sleeve from the first. You thought Floyd would be nailed for the killing."

Brigid's thinking was correct. The police naturally assumed that Thursby had killed Archer because the Webley-Fosbery found at the murder scene belonged to Thursby, and Spade had told Polhaus that Archer was following Thursby that night. Her scheme was ingenious, though thoroughly vicious. She didn't care whether Archer or Thursby or both of them got killed as long as she was rid of Thursby.

Spade is deeply indebted to his friend Tom Polhaus for the information he uses to clear himself of suspicion of murder and to force Brigid to confess that she not only killed Archer but was responsible for the entire affair involving the Maltese falcon, a conflict that ultimately led to the deaths of Archer, Thursby, Captain Jacobi, Caspar Gutman, and eventually Wilmer Cook, who was sure to be executed for killing Thursby, Jacobi, and Gutman. Brigid stole the statuette for Gutman but then decided not to give it to him. She had Captain Jacobi bring it to San Francisco, and her visit to Spade's office was what got him involved with the whole tangled and lethal melee. Spade had to clear himself of suspicion of two murders and avenge his partner's death, as a matter of honor, by unmasking Archer's killer.

Wilmer Cook's Motivation

Wilmer Cook is extremely loyal to Casper Gutman. He commits two murders for him in The Maltese Falcon and very likely has committed others before. He kills Floyd Thursby and Captain Jacobi. He would like very much to kill Sam Spade. Eventually we learn that he has killed Gutman because his employer agreed with Spade to turn him over to the police as the "fall guy."

Dashiell Hammett is careful to establish his characters' motivations. Spade, for example, has several motives. He wants to avenge his partner's death. He wants to clear himself of suspicion of killing Miles Archer and Floyd Thursby. He might make some money off the Maltese falcon if it exists, if it is genuine, and if he can get his hands on it. Brigid O'Shaughnessy's motive is pure greed. Gutman's is greed plus a strong desire to acquire a fabulous artifact. Joel Cairo is being paid by the Russian General Kemidov. Lieutenant Dundy and Sergeant Polhaus want to solve three murders—Archer's, Thursby's, and Jacobi's. Thursby is in love with Brigid. Archer is strongly attracted to her. Captain Jacobi must be in love with Brigid too, since he loses his life trying to help her. All the main characters have obvious motives except Wilmer Cook. Hammett inserts a minor character to explain why Wilmer is so loyal to Casper Gutman.

Gutman has a fabulously beautiful young daughter named Rhea. When Spade goes to Suite 12-C at the Alexandria Hotel in response to a phony call for help from Brigid O'Shaughnessy, he finds Rhea there alone. She pretends to have been drugged and to have been keeping herself awake while waiting for him by scratching her abdomen with a "three-inch jade-headed steel bouquet-pin."

"She . . . opened her dressing-gown. She pushed aside the cream-colored pajama-coat under it and showed him her body below her left breast—white flesh criss-crossed with thin red lines, dotted with tiny red dots, where the pin had scratched and punctured it."

This was pretty risque writing when the novel was first published in 1929. Later, when Spade finds that he has walked into a trap at his own apartment, he tells Gutman, "That daughter of yours has a nice belly . . . too nice to be scratched up with pins."

Wilmer's reaction to this explains his motivation for staying with Gutman and doing his dirty work.

"The boy in the doorway took a short step forward, raising his pistol as far as his hip. Everybody in the room looked at him. In the dissimilar eyes with which Brigid O'Shaughnessy and Joel Cairo looked at him there was, oddly, something identically reproving. The boy blushed, drew back his advanced foot, straightened his legs, lowered the pistol and stood as he had stood before, looking under lashes that hid his eyes at Spade's chest. The blush was pale enough and lasted for only an instant, but it was startling on his face that habitually was so cold and composed."

Sam Spade is deliberately provoking Wilmer. Spade has guessed that the boy is in love with Rhea Gutman and may have been receiving encouragement from her father that he might have a chance to win her. The main reason for Rhea's existence as a character in the novel is to provide visible evidence of Wilmer's motivation. Since Rhea is obviously controlled by her father, she may have been ordered to show a modest amount of interest in Wilmer—although in the long run he wouldn't stand a chance.

Sam Spade's Clothes

In Chapter Two, "Death in the Fog," Sam Spade gets a phone call in the middle of the night telling him his partner Miles Archer has been shot dead. Spade gets out of bed and takes his time about dressing. Naturally he is disturbed by the news, but he is always in control of his emotions. Dashiell Hammett describes his clothing in detail. Several items of his apparel now seem old-fashioned.

"He put on a thin white union-suit, grey socks, black garters, and dark brown shoes. When he had fastened his shoes he picked up the telephone, called Graystone 4500, and ordered a taxicab. He put on a green-striped white shirt, a soft white collar, a green necktie, the grey suit he had worn that day, a loose tweed overcoat, and a dark grey hat."

Many readers today might not know what a union suit even was—a combination undershirt and underpants. The upper part had short sleeves. The whole union suit buttoned in front. Few men wear garters anymore, but they were necessary in those days to hold up the socks, which were usually made of wool. There was hardly any synthetic clothing material. Men's and women's clothes were made of wool, cotton, or silk. Men had detachable collars for their shirts. They could change the collars but wear the same shirt for several days. All men who lived in cities wore hats. Spade's trousers probably were held up by suspenders, although Hammett does not include this information. The grey suit almost certainly includes a vest, another item that has virtually disappeared in men's apparel.

Sam Spade

Probably Sam Spade's chief characteristic is skepticism. He never quite believes in the genuineness of the fabulous black bird, so he is not really surprised or disappointed when the one he gets from Captain Jabobi turns out to be a fake. Spade is a realist. He has an extremely cynical attitude about people. He demonstrates this characteristic in Chapter 12 when he goes to see his lawyer Sid Wise. Spade had sent Iva Archer to him in order to find out what she had been doing on the night of her husband Miles' murder. Spade expected Wise to reveal everything she told him in confidence, and Wise told him everything Iva had told him about her night. 

Sam's face was expressionless. He asked: "You believe her?"

"Don't you?" Wise replied.

"How do I know? How do I know it isn't something you fixed up between you to tell me?"

Wise smiled. "You don't cash many checks for strangers, do you, Sammy?"

"Not basketfuls."

Spade can hardly trust his own lawyer when he knows that Wise will violate his ethical obligation to Iva Archer by divulging everything she told him. Both Spade and Wise believe that you can't trust anybody. It is because Spade doesn't trust anybody that he stays out of the troubles that Brigid O'Shaughnessy is trying to cause him. In the end he tells her he is going to have her sent to San Quentin for murdering his partner Miles Archer. When she pleads with him and stresses her love for him, he says:

"I should trust you? You who arranged that nice little trick for—for my predecessor, Thursby? You who knocked off Miles, a man you had nothing against, in cold blood, just like swatting a fly, for the sake of double-crossing Thursby?: You, who double-crossed Gutman, Cairo, Thursby—one, two, three? You who've never played square with me for half an hour at a stretch since I've known you? I should trust you? No, no, darling. I wouldn't do it even if I could. Why should I?"

Spade has many women in his life, including Iva Archer, but he lives alone in a San Francisco efficiency apartment and sleeps in a Murphy bed. He is likely to remain alone for the rest of his life.


At the end of Chapter 12, "Merry-Go-Round," Sam Spade takes Wilmer Cook's two guns away from him while they are on the way to Caspar Gutman's suite in the Alexandria Hotel. Then in Chapter 13, "The Emperor's Gift," Spade gives the guns to Gutman as they enter and tells him:

"Here. You shouldn't let him run around with these. He'll get himself hurt. . . . A crippled newsie took them away from him, but I made him give them back."

Dashiell Hammett's novel The Maltese Falcon was first published in 1929. In those days newspapers were not sold out of machines as they are now. Many of the daily newspapers were sold on the sidewalks, especially at big intersections. Since papers sold for only five cents each, the men, usually called "newsies," had to work hard, often in fog, wind, and rain, to earn a living. They were typically men who were mentally or physically disabled. To embarrass and antagonize him, Spade is suggesting that Wilmer couldn't even cope with a physically disabled man who couldn't get any better work than selling newspapers for pennies at a time.

The other common ways of selling newspapers were in hotel lobbies, lobbies of office buildings, cigar stores, a few restaurants, ferry landings, and train stations. In all cases newspapers had to be bought from live persons. Some boys sold afternoon newspapers on busy streets after school let out. The Call-Bulletin, in which both Cairo and Spade saw the notices of the arrival of La Paloma, was an afternoon paper.