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How did they get away with that?--or: The questionable amorality of Sam Spade.


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The agents of the production code were scrupulous in their pursuit of balancing the books of justice and ethics.  No crime may go unpunished.  No lapse of morals may go unatoned.  The messages of movies must work toward upholding mainstream Judaeo-Christian values.  It's difficult to square that with the speech Sam Spade makes at the end of The Maltese Falcon (1941) to Brigid O'Shaughnessy to justify to her, and himself, his turning her over to the police for murdering Miles Archer.  We do not hear anything about the commandments, or the law's outrage, or his revulsion at the act of murder.  Not a word about  how his sense of honor or self-respect would not allow him to go on without qualms if he did not find who killed his partner.  All we get is a dispassionate, Machiavellian, even cynical assessment of how leaving Archer's murder unsolved would be bad for business--his and others.  Lead people to doubt him and all detectives.  We don't see emotional upheaval from struggling with his conscience.  Whatever outcome would be uncomfortable, but bearable and temporary.  He plays an accountant reviewing ledgers to see if what they have on each other balances against their possible love.  In this light, he could be seen as the first anti-hero.  Operating with a view toward his self-interest, not right/wrong, honor, or loyalty.

How could they get away with this?  The entire world of the movie is amoral.  Theft, murder, lying, infidelity, deceit, betrayal are talked of off-handedly as expected in the normal course of conduct.  Is it just that all the killers and criminals were delivered into the machinery of justice that made it ok?

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I think so, yes. I would have loved a sequel or a series of movies about the continuing adventures of Greenstreet and Lorre looking for the Falcon, but alas, we learn they were very quickly arrested, probably because the Code demanded it.

The only false note the ending strikes for me is Sam's odd devotion to Bridget. That he would sit around and wait for her for 20 years and then pick things right back up where they left off because he loves her so much?

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8 hours ago, sewhite2000 said:

I think so, yes. I would have loved a sequel or a series of movies about the continuing adventures of Greenstreet and Lorre looking for the Falcon, but alas, we learn they were very quickly arrested, probably because the Code demanded it.

The only false note the ending strikes for me is Sam's odd devotion to Bridget. That he would sit around and wait for her for 20 years and then pick things right back up where they left off because he loves her so much?

In the 1931 version of "The Maltese Falcon", Cairo, Guttman, and Wilmer are killed after a shootout with the cops as they were preparing to leave San Francisco and scoot off to Istanbul.

I think Sam realized he was getting 'long in the tooth', so to speak, and a hot number like Bridget might not be coming his way in the future.   To him, she was a much better catch than Iva (the widow Archer).  Although, he'd probably have to leave town with Bridget, just to get away from Iva.  We just don't know.  Some women have that mesmerizing effect on guys, and as I've come to learn over the years, too many guys' brains are lodged below their belt buckles instead of above their shoulders when it comes to rational relationships with attractive women. 

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5 hours ago, midwestan said:

In the 1931 version of "The Maltese Falcon", Cairo, Guttman, and Wilmer are killed after a shootout with the cops as they were preparing to leave San Francisco and scoot off to Istanbul.

I think Sam realized he was getting 'long in the tooth', so to speak, and a hot number like Bridget might not be coming his way in the future.   To him, she was a much better catch than Iva (the widow Archer).  Although, he'd probably have to leave town with Bridget, just to get away from Iva.  We just don't know.  Some women have that mesmerizing effect on guys, and as I've come to learn over the years, too many guys' brains are lodged below their belt buckles instead of above their shoulders when it comes to rational relationships with attractive women. 

So, in other words and in THIS case..."The stuff WET dreams are made of".

 

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14 hours ago, slaytonf said:

All we get is a dispassionate, Machiavellian, even cynical assessment of how leaving Archer's murder unsolved would be bad for business--his and others.  Lead people to doubt him and all detectives.  We don't see emotional upheaval from struggling with his conscience.  Whatever outcome would be uncomfortable, but bearable and temporary.  He plays an accountant reviewing ledgers to see if what they have on each other balances against their possible love.  In this light, he could be seen as the first anti-hero.  Operating with a view toward his self-interest, not right/wrong, honor, or loyalty.

The film complied with the code.  Writers and directors often danced around compliance, pushing the envelope.  Your interpretation of the code's application is narrow.  Your assessment of Sam Spade's character - and "dispassion" - seems blind.  

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45 minutes ago, slaytonf said:

What am I missing?

What you could be "missing" is that Spade was just playing at being immoral.     He make a few references to that;  E.g.,   Taking the 1,000 dollars.    He makes a crack that the lead detective (MacLane),  will be disappointed because Spade is giving that cash to be police as evidence against the criminals.    

I.e. you're taking what Spade says too literally.   

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1 hour ago, jamesjazzguitar said:

What you could be "missing" is that Spade was just playing at being immoral.     He make a few references to that;  E.g.,   Taking the 1,000 dollars.    He makes a crack that the lead detective (MacLane),  will be disappointed because Spade is giving that cash to be police as evidence against the criminals.    

I.e. you're taking what Spade says too literally.   

So, pretty much how a few years later Rick Blaine will say things he really doesn't believe in his heart either, eh James?!  ;)

Yeah, Bogie WAS good at this sort'a thing, wasn't he.

(...btw, I CAN'T believe I haven't yet got ONE damn laughing emoji response for my earlier "wet dreams" line up there!...hell, I thought it was GENIUS!!!)

LOL

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3 hours ago, Dargo said:

So, pretty much how a few years later Rick Blaine will say things he really doesn't believe in his heart either, eh James?!  ;)

Yeah, Bogie WAS good at this sort'a thing, wasn't he.

(...btw, I CAN'T believe I haven't yet got ONE damn laughing emoji response for my earlier "wet dreams" line up there!...hell, I thought it was GENIUS!!!)

LOL

Naw...it was a true gem!  I tend to be like a superball with my web time.  I bounce back and forth between different places based on my interests of the day and whether or not I feel I can add to the conversation.  Like the thread that Bogie 56 created, called "Hits and Misses", your posts Dargo are ones where the 'hits' are plentiful and you just keep on coming with them!  I welcome your contributions and look forward to your witty repartee.  👍🏻

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9 minutes ago, Allhallowsday said:

(Next year).

Yeah, actually you're right here, Allhallows. 1941 and then 1942, huh. Thanks.

(...guess I was thinkin' Casablanca premiered in '43, but that was the year it won the Best Picture Oscar)

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5 hours ago, jamesjazzguitar said:

What you could be "missing" is that Spade was just playing at being immoral.   

 

5 hours ago, Allhallowsday said:

Sam is complicated, a great role for an actor.  Sam may play at being "dispassionate" but it is a front, and unclear.  I see real emotion in BOGART's performance.

Reading over my op, I see how I could have put it better.  Sam certainly had strong feelings for Brigid, ambivalent as they were.  The ambivalence inspired by her constant evasiveness and falsehood.  He was even attracted to her by it.  But ultimately it was his cold accountant-like balancing of the books which he used to overcome her manipulation of his feelings to send her over.  He sits down and goes through it to her:

Listen, this won't do any good.  You'll never understand me, but I'll try it once, and then give it up.  When a man's partner is killed, he's supposed to do something about it.  It doesn't make any difference what you thought about him, he was your partner and you're supposed to do something about it.  And it happens we're in the detective business.  Well, when someone in your organization gets killed, it's--it's bad business to let the killer get away with it, bad all around, bad for every detective everywhere--

Why he bothers, it's hard to say.  He doesn't have to.  He can turn her in without convincing her to go along with it.  Maybe he does so because of his feelings for her.  Or, as I said, he's trying to reassure himself.  But it's certainly not something that speaks of high moral principles, or a refined sense of honor, or loyalty to the memory of a close friend.  He goes on:

I've no earthly reason to think I could trust you, and if I do this and get away with it, you'll have something on me that you can use whenever you want to.  Since I've got something on you, I couldn't be sure that you wouldn't put a hole in me someday.  All those are on one side.  Maybe some of them are unimportant, I won't argue about that.  But look at the number of them.  And what have we got on the other side?  All we've got is that--maybe you love me, and--maybe I love you.

Hardly the words of a man in love.  Again, maybe he's doing it to keep her from manipulating him.  But it's still the accountant the rules.  He expresses his conflict best at last:

If all I've said doesn't mean anything to you, then forget it, and we'll make it just this:  I won't because all of me wants to, regardless of consequences, and because you've counted on that with me. . . .

Here, if you want, you can see the blurring of the cynic and the lover, hurt from the discovery his feelings are being used to manipulate him.  I guess if this were a real film noir, his character flaws would lead him be manipulated and drawn into the abyss.

 

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I prefer the Lou Peckinpaugh speech on ethics: "Being a private eye may not be much, but we do have a code of honor. It's all right to fool around with your partner's wife, but once he's dead it makes it all so dirty. That's the way it is, angel. You marry yourself a nice guy, have a couple of swell kids. Once you're all set up and happy, maybe we can fool around again."

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On 12/5/2020 at 11:29 PM, sewhite2000 said:

The only false note the ending strikes for me is Sam's odd devotion to Bridget. That he would sit around and wait for her for 20 years and then pick things right back up where they left off because he loves her so much?

He was taunting her. He's not going to be waiting around for her to get out and she knows it. 

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On 12/6/2020 at 10:55 AM, midwestan said:

I've come to learn over the years, too many guys' brains are lodged below their belt buckles instead of above their shoulders when it comes to rational relationships with attractive women. 

CHAYA can correct me if he/she wishes, but I recall an old Yiddish maxim:

"When the dick gets hard, the brain gets soft."

Which has been proved over and over as years go by.  ;) 

Sepiatone

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