The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett, adapted by Michael Bakewell

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BBC Radio 7, 9 January 2011
How to follow Bogart and Huston, or (for those of us with longer memories) Ricardo Cortez? This was the task facing Jane Morgan and her mostly British cast. In Michael Bakewell's adaptation the story generally followed the Hammett original, even though this led to a certain degree of plot-explication at the expense of drama. Sam Spade (Tom Wilkinson) came across as a world-weary cynic, someone concerned solely with doing his job and bringing criminals to justice, even though his methods were somewhat unorthodox. Hence his decision to turn Brigid O'Shaughnessy (Jane Lapotaire) in, even though he loves her. In the amoral world of San Francisco in the 1930s, love counts for nothing; Brigid has shown how she is perfectly prepared to liquidate Spade's partner Miles Archer (William Hope) if he stands in her way. Spade understands the world he lives in, but realizes it is his duty to take a stand against it, even if it condemns him to a life of isolation. In Lapotaire's performance, Brigid was an attractive woman, full of desire, but she resembled a serpent - once bitten, never shy.
The supporting cast was an interesting combination of the familiar and the unfamiliar. Peter Vaughan's Casper Guttman was played with oleaginous relish, recalling Sydney Greenstreet's performance in the Huston film. However Nickolas Grace's Joe Cairo stood out as a unique characterization - a fawning wretch with a Greek accent.
The production took place in a series of one- or two-person confrontations linked with music from the era. It seemed a little archaic, dramatizing gender-based attitudes redolent of the time which no longer seem applicable now, with Spade as the chivalrous figure who at the same time used the detective's profession to prove his manhood. If he solved a case, he would remain top dog. At the same time Morgan's production proved that The Maltese Falcon was the work of an erudite man whose range of reference extended into the medieval period, incorporating ancient masonic rituals with an Ottoman flavour.

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