Category Archives: The Maltese Falcon

To sex or not to sex


THAT is the question: to sex or not to sex.
A lot of websites are saying no to sex.
On the first page of a Google search of mine, six websites had this exact same bait line: ‘American Playwright David Mamet explains why no play or movie he writes or directs include explicit sex scenes.’
Oh! Calcutta! you are so quaint

To a writer, the funniest thing  about  the websites all having the same sentence is they have it wrong. Re-read the sentence. It should not be “include” but “includes”.

It seems the only “ism’’ the www believes in is plagiarism and sometimes malapropism.  
I stole that plagiarism quip by the way.  While I am on a role, I will paraphrase another jest coined by someone else. Say no to promiscuous sex? We were brought up better than that. Say no, thank you, to promiscuous sex.
Mamet is a playwright and he was saying explicit sex on the stage distracts people.
I would have thought than in the bedroom or outdoors, it tends to focus the actors and even an audience if there is one. Apparently not so on the stage, but books might be a different fetish of fish.
An erotic novel without sex might not sell too well. I am no expert on an erotic literature but some writer in the genre must have come up with a novel without copulation. I wonder how it went.
I am likewise unfamiliar with the ups and downs, the ins and outs, of romance titles but they tell me intertwining bodies are all the go on certain pages.
I do know about detective novels. Sex and greed are pretty much all she wrote is those.
At least, in one Raymond Chandler, Marlowe, despite his fondness for hard liquor, did not bed the femme fatale until she had left her husband.
Dashiell Hammet’s  Sam Spade, on the other hand, tells his faithful secretary he can only relate to women through sex.  Note to author Dash: decline that invitation for a guestie at the Jane Austin Book Club.
In my novel, Iraqi Icicle (2ndedition due out shortly) I have added a funny sex scene. It made me laugh anyway. It’s the longest sex scene in the novel  unless my editor, who has the manuscript in his hot little hands ATM, decides we need some more hanky panky.
Iraqi Icicle has only a smattering of four-letter words, in contrast to J. K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy.  In all other respects our novels are eerily similar and should sell about the same number of copies.
The point is it is the writer’s call on sex, violence and four-letter words. The reader is the ultimate arbiter but some of us recalcitrant writers believe there is more to writing a novel than maximising sales.
Sing-along time, me word-loving maties!

(warning: nudie bit)


The Maltese Falcon: classic book review

The Maltese Falcon: classic book review
Falcon strikes magnificently
The large print version from GALE CENGAGE Learning which has a better cover than the other version is not listed on the publisher’s current catalogue.
MANY of those familiar with the title The Maltese Falcon may be acquainted with the 1941 film noir rather than Dashiell Hammett’s 1930 novel published by Alfred A. Knopf.
There is a remarkable synergy between novel and film, perhaps without parallel in such translations.
Writer/ director John Huston wrote the script to closely follow the order of the novel, retained much of the dialogue and then filmed it in sequence.
He even persuaded the censors to let him keep the recurring motif of hard liquor. No objection was raised to the continual prop of hand-rolled cigarettes.
Huston self-censored to remove most of the key homosexual references in the novel but the character of Joel Cairo (played by Peter Lorre) would have left sophisticated viewers to clearly see the elephant in the room.
Many readers are disconsolate when a favourite novel is translated onto the screen.
In this case, seeing the film enhances the novel as the reader can have the authentic dialogue being voiced in their mind by actors Humphrey Bogart, Sidney Greenstreet, Lorre, Mary Astor, Gladys George and Elisha Cook Jnr.
Although neither was a prolific writer, Hammett and Raymond Chandler, after him, were the fathers of the hard-boiled detective novels translated into 1940 film noir.
It may surprise some that both authors have been recognised as great writers, not just as doyens of their genre. I do not believe any of the current crop of superstars of the detective thriller will garner such recognition in the future. In1998, the Modern Library ranked The Maltese Falcon 56th on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century.
Hammett and Chandler had similar histories which could partly explain their emergence as writers of edgy fiction. As young men in World War 1, both suffered debilitating injuries, the effects of which remained with them for the rest of their lives. They reached the peaks of their writing careers during the Great Depression of the 1930s which followed the decade of post-war licence hailed as the Roaring 20s.
The plot of The Maltese Falcon evolves from the murder of private detective Miles Archer, the business partner of the novel’s protagonist Samuel Spade. The story is written in the third person with virtually no interior monologues yet the reader identifies with the subjectivity of the flawed character of Sam Spade.
What makes this novel good are the spare style and the clipped dialogue – tougher than Chandler’s though not as funny.
What makes the novel great is the extraordinary way the author uses detailed character descriptions and dialogue to render the story without any back-up of interior reflection or self-justification. Spade’s moral ambiguity is a magnificent theme and device upon which to pin suspense.
The reader learns early on that Spade has been having an emotionless sexual affair with his dead partner’s wife, Iva. The shamus grumbles to his loyal secretary, Effie Perine, ‘I never know what to do or say to women except that way.’
Don’t go retro-reading that as some kind of prescient observation by Hammett on the male inability to commit. The author is merely laying the ground to prove Gutman’s assessment of Spade that we never know what he is going to do or say next.
Homosexuality is central to the novel though it does not have as many echoes of homophobia as it often does with Chandler.
Let’s start with the least clear-cut example of secretary, Effie Perine, who lives at home with her mother. Effie appears to have a woman crush on femme fatale Brigid O’Shaughnessy, who, in the manner of the genre, has to be Spade’s love interest. As I say, the hint at lesbianism is subtle and possibly unintended, but look for the fascinating reactions of Perine in the last pages of the novel.
Joel Cairo is obviously homosexual as delightfully rendered in an exchange with the perhaps promiscuous O’Shaughnessy. (Cairo) ’Exactly, and shall we add the boy outside?’
‘Yes,’ she agreed and laughed. ‘Yes, unless he’s the one you had in Constantinople.’
Sudden blood mottled Cairo’s face. In a shrill enraged voice he cried: ’The one you couldn’t make.’…
The sinister urbane Casper Gutman has a daughter but he appears to be bi-sexual.
In the lengthy and wonderful denouement, at midnight, Spade unwillingly hosts Gutman, Cairo, O’Shaughnessy and the seemingly psychotic young gunman, Wilmer Cook, mostly referred to in the novel as “the boy”..
…’That daughter of yours (Gutman’s) has a nice belly,’ he (Spade) said, ‘too nice to be scratched up with pins.’ Gutman’s smile was affable if a bit oily
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 there was, oddly, something identically reproving. The boy blushed…
Hammett tells us, purely though actions and facial expressions, that O’Shaughnessy, Cairo and probably Gutman are jealous of the boy’s infatuation with Gutman’s daughter Rhea.
Besides killing people, that boy has been busy and mental derangement has not impaired his youthful sexual attractiveness.
If there is one flaw in this almost faultless novel it is the characterysation of Brigid O’Shaughnessy. While this has much to do with the structural imperative of mystery and suspense, O’Shaughnessy lacks the sensuality of  Vivian Sternwood in Chandler’s The Big Sleep.
That quibble aside, The Maltese Falcon dispels the ignorant snobbish and vicious myth that a genre novel cannot be counted as great literature.
-Review by Bernie Dowling
Gooseberry Lays and Gunzels
CENSORS and censorship are often good for a laugh.
The Maltese Falconfirst appeared serialised in the pulp fiction mag Black Mask.
Magazine editor Joseph Shaw was offended by vulgarity and he took exception to the term “goose-berry lay’’ in The Maltese Falcon.
…Then Spade asked (the boy) pleasantly: ‘How long have you been off the goose-berry lay, son?’
You could hardly blame puritanical editor Shaw; the phrase sounds scatological. However, it was a slang term for stealing clothes from a line to sell them with the culprit perhaps lying among gooseberry bushes before the theft.
One word Shaw had no objection to was gunzel. In fact the editor loved its use in the novel.
…’Keep that gunzel (the boy, again) away from me while you’re making up your mind. I’ll kill him. I don’t like him. He makes me nervous.’
Shaw thought gunzel meant hired gun and a host of Hammett imitators used it in that sense.
Gunzel actually meant a boy or young man paid or kept for sex, a rent boy.
Both expressions gunzel and goose-berry lay survive in the latest editions of The Maltese Falcon.
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