The Hard Boiled City: Corruption Of The City In The Maltese Falcon

Ventura, Paul
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University of Hawaii at Manoa
The human condition can be a very negative thing. George Grella, author of "The Hard-Boiled Detective Novel,” explains: "wherever human beings gather, evil results" (112). This notion can especially be true in a place like the city, where people are forced to live among each other. While the idea of the American city might be imbued with notions of opportunity and civilization, there is something very sinister about the locale as well. This concept thrives in fiction. One example is The Maltese Falcon, which takes place in San Francisco. Lieutenant Dundee, Sergeant Tom Polhaus, District Attorney Bryan, Caspar Gutman, and Brigid O'Shaughnessy represent the damaging aspects of the city in The Maltese Falcon. Lieutenant Dundee and Sergeant Tom Polhaus represent the police in the city. Cyntia S. Hamilton, author of Western and Hard-Boiled Detective Fiction in America: From High Noon to Midnight reveals a frightening aspect about the police in The Maltese Falcon: "The police are unable to deal effectively with the lawlessness [in the city]" (129). The two homicide detectives question private investigator Sam Spade on whether he murdered Floyd Thursby (who supposedly murdered Spade's partner, Miles Archer). Yet, Polhaus has known Spade for a while, and accepts the private detective's innocence. Even if Spade were guilty, Polhaus would feel awkward in arresting him. Dundee, on the other hand, thinks Spade has something to hide. But, he blunders and gives Spade potentially classified information: "he was shot four times in the back, with a forty-four or forty-five, from across the street, when he started to go in the hotel" (Hammett 22). Dundee does not even consider the minute possibility that Spade is innocent (and indeed, that is for a jury to decide). The lieutenant gives vivid description of the murder: information that would be essential in helping to protect the person who did kill Thursby, if that person took on Spade's services. Dundy even admits he made a blunder: "We've told you more than you've told us" (Hammett 22).
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