TV & Movies

Monsieur Spade Reinvents A Classic Literary Detective

Sam Spade debuted in Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon.

In 'Monsieur Spade,' Clive Owen plays private detective Sam Spade, based on the character from Dashi...

In AMC’s Monsieur Spade, Clive Owen puts a new spin on legendary private detective Sam Spade. While he’s first introduced as the protagonist in Dashiell Hammett’s 1930 novel The Maltese Falcon, Owen’s character is more than 30 years removed from the book’s events.

Monsieur Spade opens in 1963 with the private eye enjoying retirement in the South of France, but his “peaceful and quiet” life is upended when six nuns are brutally murdered at a local convent. As dark secrets emerge connecting the killings to a mysterious child, Spade is quickly pulled back into the world of criminal investigation.

Though the six-episode AMC crime drama follows a brand-new storyline, The Maltese Falcon provides a starting point and is referenced in the series. So, here’s a brief refresher on the plot of Hammett’s book.

The Maltese Falcon Is Full Of Twists

Spoilers ahead for The Maltese Falcon. Set in 1928 San Francisco, The Maltese Falcon begins with the mysterious “Miss Wonderly” hiring Spade and his partner, Miles Archer, to find her sister. While pursuing a lead, Archer is murdered, as is Floyd Thursby, the sister’s supposed travel partner whom Archer was following.


Because he and Archer’s wife were having an affair, Spade is an early suspect, so he sets out to solve his partner’s murder and clear his name. After Wonderly reveals her name is actually Brigid O’Shaughnessy, she claims that Thursby was Archer’s killer. Spade remains suspicious of her, and upon returning to his office, the shadowy Joel Cairo appears, offering him $5,000 to track down a jewel-encrusted black bird.

Soon, Spade discovers that Cairo and his boss, Casper Gutman, aren’t the only ones seeking the valuable falcon statuette: O'Shaughnessy is after the elusive bird, too. Gutman had hired her and Thursby to acquire the bird, but they decided to keep it for themselves. After surviving an attack, Jacobi, the captain of the ship carrying the Maltese Falcon, appears bloodied and dying at Spade’s office and drops the bird at his feet.


O'Shaughnessy, Cairo, Gutman, and Wilmer Cook, the gunman who had been tailing Spade, show up at his apartment soon afterward demanding the falcon. They eventually strike a deal, offering Wilmer as a fall guy for Archer, Thursby, and Jacobi’s murders. But the final exchange reveals the falcon to be a fake.

Cairo, Gutman, and Wilmer take off to find the real Maltese Falcon, and leave O'Shaughnessy behind for Spade to deal with. Realizing she was the only one who could have killed Archer, Spade turns her in to the police.

A Cinematic Inspiration

Aside from Hammett’s book, Owen drew inspiration from Humphrey Bogart, who portrayed Spade in John Huston’s 1941 film adaptation, while trying to “reinvent” the character.

“I’m a huge Bogart fan, I’ve got a Maltese Falcon poster on my wall,” Owen told Screen Rant. “I feel that Sam Spade and Bogart, they're kind of iconic. I didn't want to drift too far from that, so I really drowned in Bogart, and listened to him, and watched him. That was my hook to get into it already.”


In a Boston Herald interview, Owen shared why he thinks Spade has stood the “test of time.” He said, “It’s partly to do with Dashiell Hammet’s original satisfying novel. And it’s partly, if you had to sum up, to do with Humphrey Bogart. Some characters make an impact — and we don’t forget them.”

The actor also cited his character’s actions in The Maltese Falcon’s ending. “When Spade turns Brigid Shaughnessy over to the cops and says, ‘I’m no sucker for anybody,’ it’s this blazing integrity which is going to always be, I guess, at the core of who he is.”