The Tough Guys

  • Stoddard Martin


The Maltese Falcon (1930) is only superficially a detective thriller. Ross MacDonald has called it ‘a fable of modern man in quest for love and money’.1 To Hammett as he wrote, it must have unfolded as a parable of what it took to succeed in the corrupt modern city. Caspar Gutman, like the Chinaman in Brecht’s contemporary In the, Jungles of the Cities, embodies the knowledge Sam Spade must gain and the twisted romanticism he must conquer in order to progress to honourable manhood. Spade fails with Gutman in the centre of the book; later he comes back to win against him. In this the novel is also about the necessity of the Parsifalian ‘second chance’. Like Steinbeck and Chandler, Hammett took inspiration from medieval romance, and Spade is the seminal representation of the ‘knight’ required by California’s ‘mean streets’. Like von Eschenbach’s Parzival, The Maltese Falcon is a Bildungsroman in which the young hero is stymied by his aggressive self-expression and incomplete understanding of his limitations. That it is a Grail story is obvious, the Grail being the ambiguous prize of the falcon, with its elaborate history stretching back to the Crusades and mingling with the legends of the Hospitaliers and Templars which inspired Romantics from Scott to Wagner and Flaubert.


District Attorney Dead Twig Romantic Loner Femme Fatale Black Mask 
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Notes to Chapter Four: The Tough Guys

  1. 1.
    Ross MacDonald, ‘Homage to Dashiell Hammett’, in Mystery Writers of America-1964 (annual) ( New York: Harper & Row, 1964 ) p. 8.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Peter Wolfe, Beams Falling: The Art of Dashiell Hammett (Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green University Press, 1980) p. 122. This is the most valuable study of Hammett and his work to date.Google Scholar
  3. 7.
    See Lillian Hellman’s introduction to Dashiell Hammett, The Big Knockover and Other Stories ( Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1969 ) p. 18.Google Scholar
  4. 8.
    Martin Green, Children of the Sun: Narrative of ‘Decadence’ in English after 1918 ( London: Constable, 1977 ).Google Scholar
  5. 23.
    An excellent little study is William Bloodworth’s Upton Sinclair (Boston, Mass.: Twayne, 1977). I am indebted to it for this section.Google Scholar
  6. 25.
    Upton Sinclair, ‘Unity and Infinity in Art’, Metaphysical Magazine (New York) Jan 1899.Google Scholar
  7. 26.
    Upton Sinclair, The Overman (New York: Doubleday, 1907) pp. 71–4, various places.Google Scholar
  8. 27.
    See Upton Sinclair, Love’s Pilgrimage ( New York: Mitchell Kennerley, 1911 ) pp. 202–4.Google Scholar
  9. 28.
    Upton Sinclair, ‘On Bourgeois Literature’, Collier’s Magazine (New York) 8 Oct 1904, pp. 22–5.Google Scholar
  10. 29.
    The phrase is from J.B. Gilbert, Writers and Partisans ( New York: Wiley, 1968 ) p. 10.Google Scholar
  11. 30.
    In Floyd Dell, Upton Sinclair: A Study in Social Protest ( New York: G. H. Doran. 1927 ) p. 178.Google Scholar
  12. 37.
    B. Traven, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (London: Chatto & Windus, 1934) p. 97. Further references in text.Google Scholar
  13. 38.
    James N. Cain, Serenade (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1937) pp. 175–6. Further references in text.Google Scholar
  14. 39.
    See Frank McShane, The Life of Raymond Chandler (London: Cape, 1976) p. 101, quoting a letter to Alfred Knopf.Google Scholar
  15. 44.
    For this section I am indebted to Donald Madden’s James M. Cain (New York: Twayne, 1970) pp. 24–42.Google Scholar
  16. 49.
    James N. Cain, The Postman Always Rings Twice ( London: Cape, 1934 ) p. 47.Google Scholar
  17. 54.
    James N. Cain, Mildred Pierce (London: Robert Hale, 1943) p. 9. Further references in text.Google Scholar
  18. 62.
    Edmund Wilson, ‘Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?’, New Yorker, 20 Jan 1945.Google Scholar
  19. 72.
    W. H. Audens ‘phrase in The Guilty Vicarage’, Harper’s Magazine, May 1948.Google Scholar
  20. 84.
    Raymond Chandler, ‘Writers in Hollywood’, Atlantic Monthly, Nov 1945.Google Scholar

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© Stoddard Martin 1983

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  • Stoddard Martin

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