On Maltese Falcons and Designated Heroes

As a dedicated reader of mysteries, not to mention someone who loved Casablanca, I’m going to be right up front and say something I never expected to say: The movie version of the Maltese Falcon was very well done, and clever, and the acting was excellent – and I hated it. Oh so much. I didn’t watch that movie so much as endure it, at some points literally counting down the minutes until I could escape.

And it all has to do with the main character.

If you look at the outcome of the Maltese Falcon, in the end Sam Spade does the right thing and turns over a murderer – and the Black Bird – to the law. But all the rest of it, from beginning to end? He’s slept with his partner’s wife, has the door redone the day after his partner dies to take Archer’s name off, throws around naked aggression, lies, and insults at the drop of a hat, and (it’s implied) knows damn well he’s working with (possibly even slept with) a murderer. I’ve run into worse, but usually I throw the book across the room and stalk off before I get even halfway through. Because ugh.

Sad thing is that I love mysteries, and Mickey Spillane, and the whole hardboiled detective genre. But I like my detectives to be at least trying to do the right thing most of the time. More like Jim Rockford, or Hannibal King (vampire detective before those were cool). They may have a loose relationship with the law, and a lot of friends on the wrong side of it, but they try to do something decent with their lives.

Sam Spade… doesn’t have friends. Just people he works with, and hasn’t thoroughly screwed over, yet.

When a guy makes Genjyo Sanzo look upright, the pillar of moral character, and kind, friendly, and compassionate….

Yeah. Oof.

…I’m not writing main characters like Sam Spade. No way, no how.

The only character in that movie I could identify with at all was Sam’s secretary. Oy.

Scratch that off my list of movies to watch on a deserted island!

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13 thoughts on “On Maltese Falcons and Designated Heroes

  1. Sounds like the character leaves you rooting for the villain- purely because they might just kill the asshole “Hero” off. If that’s the case, the movie is an utter failure.

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      1. For similar reason, I disliked Iron Man. The main character is a “hero” only because he’s been designated as such, not because of what he’s like. I _like_ nifty gadgets and inventing and smart characters, and all the cool stuff the movie had in it… and it’s all ruined for me by the main character being, as far as I’m concerned, a badguy.

        And while it’s not quite the same thing, the basic reason why I like Dungeon Keeper Ami, but don’t like Worm, is because of what the main characters are like. In DKA, the main character is always trying to be a hero, no matter the circumstances. Refusing to take the easy way out, refusing to set foot on the slippery slope even if there is great personal cost involved in avoiding it. In Worm, the main char races down the slippery slope, justifying every wrong done (even if there is “valid” justification, it’s still doing wrong), and just plain making the wrong choices.

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  2. May I suggest Anne Bishops “The Others” series? It’s not a mystery but all the charters are really interesting and the local police force reminds me of some of your past fics.

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  3. Ouch. I don’t usually see characters that bad ouside of books for English. (At least one of which was only in te curriculum because it was /literally/ the first book in its genre.) And I usually toss the books, too. Sorry you had to endure that!

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  4. I am very careful about what I read and watch these days because I am sick and tired of the “everyone on both sides of the law is despicable” trope or “everyone is a monster and good is naive and has to die horribly”. It’s the reason I picked up “Net of Dawn and Bones.” I don’t want perfect. I love “human here, I make mistakes.” Gives me hope actually. But I want to read about people who are trying to make things better or who go down swinging. It also matches up with my day to day life. I mean awful things happen but (thankfully) they are not the norm. I have wonderful neighbors, and good friends who bring me soup when I’m sick, and watch my cats when I travel, and stop to help someone with a flat on the road. Little stuff really. But it mounts up. Happy Easter.

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    1. Yes! Exactly! Most people may not be heroes, but they’re not actively trying to be Evil, either.

      Give me flawed heroes any day. But let us have heroes!

      Or to quote G.K. Chesterton, β€œFairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”

      Happy Easter to you as well. πŸ™‚

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    1. I read some Worm fanfics (mostly because some fanfic authors I like wrote crossovers including it, and I was bored enough to give them a try), but I just can’t stand the original. It’s too obvious that the author believed the character’s justifications to be valid. “Everyone else is bad so it’s actually _good_ to be bad too, as long as it’s not quite as bad as the other guys”. I can accept that as how a badguy manages to think of himself as “the hero in his own story”, but I can’t accept that as “how things really are”, and regardless of what may be claimed an author’s beliefs _do_ show in their writing. (which is why I like Vathara’s writing, since what shows in her writing is good)

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