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Kevin Wolf

Wish I had something to add. Excellent post.

Bill Altreuter

I think you are reading things into Spade that aren't there. He's thoughtful and intelligent, and even when he is not completely in control of the situation he is working out ways to get back in control. He may be "in love" with Brigid O'Shaughnessy, but it is clear from at least the second time he sees her that he doesn't trust her. Recall that he checks the label of her hat to verify where she's been, for example. He didn't like Miles, and was having an affair with Miles' wife, but he doesn't allow either of those things to color the way he thinks about what to do. He's tough enough to take guns away from dangerous people several times. In many ways he is a better character than Marlow because he is a more complex character. I love Marlow, but he is a shade more one dimensional. Spade is more complex.


Lance, her piece lost me at "romantic socialism" so whatever she said after that was just the screechings of Mary Astor, proclaiming her innocence then trying to weedle a pardon out of Bogart.

Which brings me to a major disagreement with you: if you just Spade as weak, then by the same criterion, Rick was weak too. A strong man would have taken Ilse, gotten on the plane and fuck Lazlo. He allowed Ilse to get on the plane because of the "problems of three little people". I think you have to move the counter back over for "Falcon".

Also, DeNiro is misspelled.

El Jefe


Nice ending to that first sentence, makes a good summing-up.


I think Depp in mascara worked for the same reason that Discworld, Westeros (and the eastern lands, never forget our unlikely Khaleesa and her companions), and anything by Hammett are richer and more engaging examinations of the human condition that most "realistic" modern fiction. You've been taken far enough outside the bounds of normal life (instead of being plunked into a version of it that you know is staged) that you have to latch on to the characters to get your bearings, and leaves you more open both to their humanity and to their potential.

Curtis did get his moments, with a sword rather than a gun at least (although of course his most famous WWII movie, or at least his best, is an examination of how hard it can be when you're labelled a hero), particularly his ethically messy Erik in "The Vikings" but also in "Taras Bulba." (I still find it fascinating that two nice Jewish boys, Yul Brynner and Curtis, anchored "Taras Bulba," since the original novel considers pogroms one of the Ukranian Cossacks' charming ethnic quirks.... Not a knock on them, but a picture of just how much Hollywood can repurpose a script.)

Interesting you have Claude Rains in that first picture, since you really have a triptych around that question you've raised wrt "Casablanca." There's Victor, who's so in the element as the larger-than-life resistance hero that he almost has to be reminded of Ilsa's significance, in his own way as flawed (failure to appreciate the "little life" underpinnings of his ideals), then Rick and his resurrection (it is a resurrection of sorts, not biblical, but of the man Rick didn't think he any longer had the strength to be), and Col. Renault, who seems amoral to the core until you delve into him and discover the steely-eyed French patriot sleeping in the cynical colonial cop. Probably the closest to this tryptich model in recent memory (say 20-30 years) is a movie worth mentioning -- "L.A. Confidential." I think it's marvelous because of how neatly they tied Ellroy's (I'll go ahead and say it) often gripping but just as often rambling novel together around the mythic Stories that anchor it. The villainous false father, the marginalized taboo-woman who turns out to be more a heroine than the "approved" woman characters, and againt the three models of struggling to be a good or heroic man. (It even gets into the tension between being heroic and being good.) But after that tangent -- Claude Rains. Notoriously fussy, even hypochondriac, and in an age of "men's men" depended visibly on the women in his life. But, like Basil Rathbone, Rains had survived nearly four full years in the trenhes of the Great War. Perhaps not an idealized model of hero or male, but he'd lived the reality of trying to survive that apocalypse.

It came up a few months ago, but you should really add another update (YouTube has the full scene) where Spencer Tracey lays the beat-down on Ernie Borgnine in "Bad Day at Black Rock" with one arm. Not one arm tied behind his back, of course, but one arm at all. And then delivers that marvelous, steely, liberal's speech to Sterling Hayden about how he can't keep relying on poor dumb rednecks like Borgnine's character to do his dirty work for him because one of them'll roll on him eventually. Tracey's astonishing calm, the lightning focus of his anger, and his level head as he talks truth to Hayden are just about an ideal type.

Of course, as a Southern liberal (even if I live in the Northwest now), my fellow travellers and I were raised on Atticus Finch ....

Totally second you on the quality of Garner's Marlowe.

Tom W.

Garner was a good include - Rockford was essentially a 70s Marlowe, with the code of human behavior included (a little more devlish and picaresque, to be sure).

Mitchum was the movie tough guy of tough guys I think, owing to the unique architecture of his face.


I'm trying to think of an actor who can play an understated tough guy.

Lance...Daniel Day-Lewis. And a far better actor (as a craft) than Bogart.

The only other one that occurs to me, you mentioned in passing: Denzel Washington.

See, I think the trouble with creating a Bogart-y character is the kind of movie he'd appear in would rely too much on special effects, gun fights, and car chases. The performance gets lost in the action. The plot gets buried in the trappings.

A good detective drama with minimal violence but with maximized tension, a far more exhilirating experience, is a rarity these days. LA Confidential works that way (Guy Pearce's best performance, too) but note the era its set in.


My favorite line in Casablanca ties nicely into your discussion. The young female (Bulgarian?) emigre asks Rick what Renault is like and he says, "Just like any other man, only more so." The line, of course, describes Rick better than Renault. It also reinforces the need for an underlying humanity in the character.

Charles J. Sperling

Raymond Chandler thought Cary Grant should have had a crack at Philip Marlowe. The closest I think he'll ever come to that is probably James Garner in "Marlowe," and Garner does acquit himself very well in the part.

(Woodrow Wong, please put me down gently. Thank you.)

Fittingly, his movie Marlowe comes between Robert Montgomery's take on him in "The Lady in the Lake" (Marlowe is a camera) and Elliott Gould's portrayal in "The Long Goodbye" (Marlowe is an anachronism).

Also fittingly: "tough without a gun" is Chandler's line on Humphrey Bogart.

I'm with Bill Altreuter on Sam Spade: the cinematic Spade doesn't get to go to "and eighth -- but that's enough" as the novelistic blond Satan does, but he does note that he's not as crooked as he's cracked up to be. As Ellery Queen noted, there's a neat line between Spade's behavior in *The Maltese Falcon* and the Continental Op's rationale for not letting a criminal go free in "The Gutting of Couffignal" five years earlier. The Op may get his code from the Continental Detective Agency's rules, which are strict, and Spade (who may not have worked for Continental, but was with "one of the big detective agencies in Seattle" prior to setting up on his own, as the Flitcraft Parable notes) may have formulated his own, but both do abide by certain standards.

Spade may have some rotten nights on account of what he does. The Op is trying to justify himself at the end of "The Gutting."

Thanks for another splendid piece. Now I'm looking forward to reading Joe Gores's take on Spade and Archer before Miss Wonderley came into their offices with a story which they didn't believe and two hundred dollars which they did.

Lance Mannion


By dangerous people do you mean Wilmer and Joel Cairo?

Bill and Charles,

What do you guys make of "When you're slapped, you'll take it and like it"?

Michael Dumas

El Jefe,

Hate to nitpick, but it's Robert Ryan, not Sterling Hayden, who's the heavy in "Bad Day at Black Rock" and who Tracy gives that speech to.

I'm not sure weakness is really the best description of what's Spade's showing when he tells Brigid he's handing her to the cops. There's some revulsion there [in the novel, and Bogart catches it], but it's not self-loathing. [Okay, maybe it is: "I'll have some rough nights, but they'll pass," is pretty self-deprecating, but the first half of the "you're taking the fall" is full of very dark, ironic one-liners. I don't think it reads like genuine self-loathing, though.]

I keep coming back to Hammett's description of Spade:

"Spade has no original. He is a dream man in the sense that he is what most of the private detectives I worked with would like to have been and in their cockier moments thought they approached. For your private detective does not — or did not ten years ago when he was my colleague — want to be an erudite solver of riddles in the Sherlock Holmes manner; he wants to be a hard and shifty fellow, able to take care of himself in any situation, able to get the best of anybody he comes in contact with, whether criminal, innocent by-stander or client."

I think Spade's final speech really is about the importance of the "getting the best of anybody he comes in contact with" motive. Spade knows exactly what he's doing, and he knows it always comes with a trade-off: Sometimes it scares him so much his hand shakes, sometimes it means almost getting hauled in when he goads a cop into slugging him [and it kills him when he can't even that score, even though he knows it would be stupid]. It even means that Cairo can't search his office while holding him at gunpoint until he says it's okay. Perverse, but always with a clear way to tell when he's winning.

When the final speech moves to the "on one side of the ledger" part, that's Spade keeping score. In the end, he figures he's "won," by the only scoring system he's willing to follow. Usually, though, winning is more fun than this.

The last line of the novel captures the same thing: Archer's widow returns to the office, probably to hound him about marriage again. He tells Effie [who's barely speaking to him, but he knows he can smooth it over later, as he did a few chapters earlier], "Send her in." But he shudders as he says the words. I love that shudder. He'll get the best of Archer's widow -- again -- but it doesn't mean it'll be pleasant.


As novel as the notion is, you might try actually reading Tough Without a Gun before killing an entire forest of trees writing about it. (You could have made the same points in half the space, okay?)

I actually read the book and will be posting my review at my blog in the next few days. Kanfer's is a terrific book that touches only briefly at the end on the man/macho thing and otherwise tells the story of Bogie's life with an insight and sensitivity that I found compelling.

This is because I did not have an ideological axe to grind unlike people who pour their own attitudes and grievances into somebody who happens to not be who they insist that he is. Oh, and is of another era.

Lance Mannion

shaun, you'll be happy to know I composed this on the computer without resorting to notebooks or scrap paper, so no trees were harmed in the writing of this post.

Bill Altreuter

Although the legend is that Huston gave the novel to his secretary and told her to type up a screenplay over the weekend I think for the purposes of this discussion it is important to distinguish the 1941 move from the book because we are really talking about the interpretation Bogart (and Huston) bring to Spade. (The two prior film versions are interesting viewing for other reasons.) If we turn to the novel I think it is pretty clear that Spade is much, much tougher than Lance is giving him credit for.

I do mean Cairo and Wilmer when I talk about dangerous people, although the description obviously also applies to O'Shaughnessy (and Gutman) as well. Bogart's Spade, unarmed, takes Cairo's gun and Wilmer's guns, and he could have taken Gutman's too, if it had suited him.

El Jefe


You're quite right. Had Hayden on the brain from another flick and dropped his name in the wrong place. Mea culpa.

Bill Nothstine,

Hammett's own words may be the best answer when it comes to Spade (they remind me a little of Tolkien's own deprecation of hobbits -- as a culture they were meant to be a criticism as much or more than an ideal -- that might surprise Michael Moorcock.) As a guy who knew the world from no less than the Pinkertons, working back from that description that sounds about right. Especially since he had the Continental Op as a hard boundary out at the edge of that personality type already.


Gable? Seriously? Don't get me wrong, I love my man Clark, but when it comes to toughness, Joseph Calleia could take him. He shows some dangerousness in "Night Nurse," but Louis B. Mayer eventually squeezed all the darkness from him.

He could throw a wisecrack better than just about anyone, but his Blackie Gallagher (in "Manahattan Melodrama" would have been eaten alive by anyone at Warners -- including Frank McHugh).

Eggs don't come any more hard-boiled than Cagney.

Sometimes, as the evening wears on, a friend and I bemoan the current crop of box office quasi-stellar objects, and more than once we've gotten to the moment when we grouse that, if 'The Great Escape' were made today, the average age of the actors would likely be about 26. Aston Kutcher would be brought in for the Attenborough part to give the film its gravitas.

[In fairness, McCallum was pretty young when he was in TGE. And note that James Garner was in it, too.]

On the other hand, this list from Lance's post gave the first glimmer of hope I've had on the topic:

>George Clooney, Liam Neeson,
>Russell Crowe, Christian Bale,
>Samuel L. Jackson, Will Smith,
>Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg, and
>Nicolas Cage

Yeah, I'd go see that remake.

Bill Hicks

Thank you for this outstanding piece of writing. I have one question--how did a crappy "scholar" like Kanfer ever ever get a job at Harvard? What the hell has happened to our best universities? Harvard isn't Oral Roberts U. The intellectual rot which is bringing us a Republican Party of lunatics has apparently metastasized further than even I had realized. It's in our brain--Harvard. Still, it's not yet reached these "pages."

Lance Mannion

Lots of Bills commenting on this post. Great name, Bill. Bill Hicks, Kanfer isn't at Harvard. He teaches at Sarah Lawrence, another very good school. I'm not in any position to pass judgment on the quality of his scholarship and as shaun points out, I really ought to read Tough Without A Gun, which isn't meant to be a scholarly biography. Kanfer is a contributing editor of City Journal, the magazine published by the conservative Manhattan Institute, so he's probably a conservative, for whatever that's worth.

Charles J. Sperling


Bill Altreuter's basically said what I would have, and said it better. I'll be thinking of you, sir, this July when I get a chance to see the 1931 version of "The Maltese Falcon" at Film Forum. (I don't know when I'll get a crack at the 1936 "Satan Met a Lady" on a big screen, but I hope it's soon.)

Somewhere I read a sketch of the lives of the Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe and Lew Archer which claimed that Iva Archer shot Spade soon after the events of *The Maltese Falcon.* Maybe that's why Hammett has him shivering as he asks Effie to send Iva in at the end of the book. He knows something is going to happen. Our Sam's a detective, but he can die as easily as Miles.

No matter what Frank Miller does with Sin City and the Spirit, some part of me will always be grateful to him for sending Daredevil from Apocalypse to Armageddon. (With David Mazzucchelli's help, of course.)


Would anyone like to chime in on Gable's ability to act? In everything I've seen, he's always Clark Gable. (Sometimes to magnificent effect, as with Rhett Butler, but nobody, even at the time, could imagine anyone else in the role when it came time to cast the film, so Butler was Gable squared.) Spencer Tracy got parts that weren't just variations on "Spencer Tracy," so we could actually tell that he could act. I've never been sure about Gable. Any thoughts?



Gable is famous for two things as an actor:

1) He was likely drunk most days (certainly after Lonbard died)

2) He once said (possibly apocryphally) "I'm no actor and I never have been. What people see on the screen is me." A variation on that, which is sourced and lends credence to his technique is "I worked like a son of a bitch to learn a few tricks and I fight like a steer to avoid getting stuck with parts I can't play."

But that was the style back then, in the studio system: you weren't expected to play a character as much as portray one, with a wink and a nod to your audience, peeking out from under the make up at them from time to time. Even Bogie did that.

The real character actors of the day like Paul Muni, created characters because they knew they'd never get the roles Gable and his like would be up for. So they had to slot in on the undercard.


All that and I forgot to chime in:

Gable was a pretty decent performer, and for the period a pretty good actor. As you point out, I never lost sight of the fact that it was Clark Gable on my screen...well, maybe in The Misfits. But he was first and foremost a face and a performer. He did fit the role of Rhett Butler nicely, to be sure, but a part of me thinks Selznick may have skewed his interpretation of the character to Gable from the get-go. Still, it's hard to imagine Gary Cooper in the role.


I once saw Don Rickles tell a story about when he was filming "Run Silent, Run Deep" with Gable and Burt Lancaster. It was Rickles' first acting job, so Lancaster would give him advice and told him to try to put himself in his character's shoes and to really think about how he would react. Gable overheard this, and said something like, "What are you crazy? Just memorize the lines!" That's just how some actors operate, especially guys from the Golden Age of Hollywood.

Leo Leahy

James Garner's Brett Maverick, as I recall, also operated more from his wits than as a gunslinger.


I have to say, I sort of lost patience with the original argument when the author invoked Depp in earrings as some sort of anti-masculine man. Has this person not seen those movies? Honestly, Depp exudes masculinity in those films - something that's repeatedly alluded to in the ways that women (and men) repeatedly find him fascinating. To read Jack Sparrow as somehow feminine or effeminate is to misread his character entirely.

It is not, however, a buttoned-down, restrained sort of masculinity. Instead, it is the masculinity of the un-neutered tom cat, who cruises the neighborhood looking for ladies, and who swaggers about with nicks and cuts in his ears, knowing that he is a badass, but who also has the survival sense to cut and run when appropriate.

Indeed, contrasted with Jack Sparrow are any number of more traditional male figures - the Commodore, the Lord, the dignified father, Will the reluctant swashbuckler - and all of them are outfaced by Sparrow. Rather than being masculine despite the earrings and make-up, Depp makes earrings and make-up masculine - something none of the other actors are able to do.

Indeed, Orlando Bloom's character Will is consistently framed as the classic swashbuckling version of masculinity, and yet Bloom is unable to convince us that he's anything more than a boy, or at best a very young man. If alpha-male masculinity was simply about image, and appropriate trappings, Bloom should dominate the screen - but he doesn't. Depp, as Jack Sparrow, does. Even in the background, he draws the eye, and sets a standard that the rest of the male actors cannot match.

Lance Mannion

Rana, I think Diski was using Depp ironically as an example of those conservative and other manly man worry warts' worst nightmare. Kanfer doesn't have anything to say himself on Depp. He only quotes, in passing, the Variety columnist Diski is making fun of. So it's the Variety columnist who's missing the point. But I agree with all your points about Captain Jack, especially the comparison between him and an unneutered tom cat.

Leo, Willie Nelson's heroes have always been cowboys; my cowboy hero has always been Bret Maverick.

Bill Wren

All this reminds me of a line from A Love Song for Bobby Long, spoken by Scarlett Johansson: "Everyone knows that books are better than life! That's why they're books!"

Read movies for books.

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