Warners has released new DVDs of The Maltese Falcon, which is probably not news to anyone who reads this blog.
It's in a 3-DVD package with the first two Hollywood versions of Hammett's classic and when I read about it I wet my pants.
This film is what got me here, presiding over A Dark Planet.
I was working for an ad agency that sent me to Cincinnati, where I lived in a hotel for a few months. I didn't have much to do except wear leather chaps and watch TV (if you've ever been to Cincinnati, you know) and for the first time in my life I saw The Maltese Falcon. I was 34.
Up until then I had considered myself a writer, someone who wrote serious stuff about serious people doing serious things (although I was writing crap to get you to eat a certain brand of chili and buy a certain brand of gas) and that mystery stuff was so far beneath my interest as to be a mere shadow on my cultural radar.
But then I saw The Maltese Falcon and it changed my life. Not instantly, not like the Road to Damascus with bright lights and typing angels, but with the realization that this was good shit, this was worthy of my attention. Here was Sam Spade, a man who was driven to solve the murder of his partner, even though he was schtupping his partner's wife. That's the kind of moral certitude that made me rethink mysteries.
I read the English dames, starting with Agatha. I read Hammett and Chandler and Cain. I read Dutch Leonard and Carl Hiaasen, modern men with modern sensibilities.
But inside was still that man who had to catch his partner's killer, even if it meant losing the girl. There was a code.
And that lead directly to John Harper, my piano-playing protagonist. He was a conscious heir to Marlowe and Spade, an existentialist who knew what was right and did it, even if it meant nothing in a larger, amoral, meaningless world.
I never would have gotten to Harper if it hadn't been for Hammett.
So here it is, a new DVD, and it's one of the few I'll own and watch over and over. Chinatown, Casablanca, the Big Lebowski and The Maltese Falcon.
Does it get any better than that? I don't think so. In fact, this is what's playing in God's Multiplex.
I'm curious. What got you started? Can you trace the beginning back to a certain book, movie, teacher, or event? How'd you get where you are today?
Talk to me.