The cinetrix is an avid cinephage, constantly devouring images. So in addition to teaching film this semester, I am sitting in on a colleague's film noir class. Mostly, it's an excuse to commune with some of my favorite flinty flicks. But it's also a connection to my friend Rob, who lovingly built up an amazing collection of films noir at the video store we worked at together. It was tough watching Bogey in The Maltese Falcon yesterday without thinking of Rob, but it also was comforting to skulk around the Hotel Belvedere and find it and its shifty denizens unchanged.
If you've seen it, I don't need to tell you how outrageously enjoyable John Huston's debut picture is. [If you haven't, don't talk to me til you have.] But what I thought I might mention is the genius bit in Hammett's novel that doesn't make it onto the screen. Couldn't, really. Spade takes a moment out of the narrative to tell duplicitious Brigid the story of an orderly little man named Flitcraft, who was nearly killed by a falling beam on his way to lunch one day. His brush with death shakes him up and prompts him to disappear, simply vanish. Leaving his job and family behind, he travels for a while, only to end up recreating his life in a new city nearby, working at a job and married to a woman barely different from those he left behind. As Spade says, "He adjusted himself to beams falling, and then no more of them fell, and he adjusted himself to them not falling."
On the same day I watched The Maltese Falcon again, I came across a bit I'd cut out of some New Yorker piece who knows when that deals with this passage about our friend Flitcraft. [Such seeming coincidences are among the dangers of unpacking a house at the start of the semester.] The author of the article observes that the Flitcraft parable includes what may be the "most unexpected and beautiful phrase" in Hammett's oeuvre: "'He went like that," Spade said, "like a fist when you open your hand."
So, yeah. It's nice to have The Maltese Falcon stay the same, or a pre-Katrina New Orleans captured on film forever, when so much in life can disappear like a fist when you open your hand.