Alter egos 12: Sam Spade

Bogie plays Sam Spade

Bogie plays Sam Spade

Sam Spade is the fictional private detective at the heart of Dashiell Hammett’s 1930 novel The Maltese Falcon. Hammett saw him as blond, well-built and mischievous, a far cry from the dark haired, slender, crisp questioning portrayal given by Humphrey Bogart in the 1941 film.

This was actually the third film version of the novel. In 1931, Ricardo Cortez played Spade to considerable critical acclaim. However, when Warner Brothers set out to re-release the film five years later, the censors stepped, citing “lewd content” as their reason for banning it.

The production company decided on a curious approach to get round this, turning the novel into a comedy, with the names of the leading characters- and the object of their search changed. Satan Met a Lady bombed at the box office.

It took another five years before Bogart put down his performance, which in time can be seen as a defining moment in both film noir and the development of the detective story. Here was what Hammett was looking for when he described Sam Spade. “Spade has no original. He is a dream man in the sense that he is what most of the private detectives I worked with would like to have been and in their cockier moments thought they approached. For your private detective does not — or did not ten years ago when he was my colleague — want to be an erudite solver of riddles in the Sherlock Holmes manner; he wants to be a hard and shifty fellow, able to take care of himself in any situation, able to get the best of anybody he comes in contact with, whether criminal, innocent by-stander or client.”

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His equine namesake runs in the 3.50 at Kempton today. He’s a grey three-year-old colt trained by Richard Hannon. To date he’s had four runs, two last year and two this, all of them on the all-weather.

Sam Spade had his first run in a handicap at Kempton last week, and was widely expected to win. In the event, he lost out by a neck to Liam Dace’s Echo Bravo, a case of the private detective just ousted by the regular service in a round about way.

He’ll be a popular choice to match up to Hammett’s mark today, and get the best of all around him. It’s his fifth race, and Ryan Moore becomes the fifth jockey to try and solve the problem of bringing him home in front. No priceless statuette for winning, just £1941.

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