“Around here, Miles Archer, Sam Spade’s partner, was performed by Brigid O’Shaughnessy.” Thus says a sign on a building on the corner of Burritt Alley and Bush Street in downtown San Francisco. This is a fun apartment block building in a dead end – not the place to commit murder but, of course, this killing just happened on the pages of Dashiell Hammett’s “Maltese Falcon”.
As I will discover as I make my way around Sam Spade neighborhood, Saint Franciscan is happy to pretend that Sam, a hawk hunters crew, a mysterious mysterious beauty queen, a little oiled Cairo Jewell and a very terrifying Gutman have really traveled the city blocks around Union Square in their pursuit of shiny black birds.
This demonstration requires some effort so Dashiell Hammett is not given to prepare a detailed scene. The most detailed description of The Maltese Falcon consists of one sentence: Spade received the call to tell Miles to kill Miles. Contact a yellow taxi company. He was dropped by taxi “as Bush Street roofed Stockton before sliding down to Chinatown.”
San Francisco of Sp Spade ignores everything the postcards, this song, and travelers, including myself, are associated with the city. “The little cable car doesn’t go halfway up to the stars” or anywhere else in the world of Sam Spade. There is hardly a sense of the hillside that can turn even a walk on the podium for breakfast into a picnic stretch. Bush’s “roofing” on Stockton Street only indicates the way this city hangs up and down Nob Hill, Ross Hill, Telegraph Hill – the three highs that separate Sam Spade from the Blue Ocean, an orange bridge and a beautiful bay that it never looks to see.
As I stroll around the world of Sam Spade, I realize how small it is. This is the dark and crowded San Francisco, the part that turns its back on all the blue sea and sky and on all those pastel-painted Victorian homes with optimistic clinging to these harsh hills. As I drive the Hyde Street cable car from Nob to the Ross Hill at that point when it turns into a landing in the Pacific, San Francisco seems to me as if it just came out of the laundry all clear, blue and white, hanging to dry in the morning sun.
But Hammett characters do not have time to consider such love. After all, they seek more elusive beauty – “things are made of dreams,” as Boggart said in the movie (but Hammett was not in the book): black gold enameled with jeweled hawk that consumes all their ambition and energy and eventually escapes from them. .
Hammett gives his characters a very crossover. Cairo Jewel attends a performance at Jerry Theater. They are currently showing Misanthrope Moliere. Christmas Carol is announced for the holidays. It is hard to imagine Goel Cairo attending either of them. He didn’t have much walking distance from his hotel Belvedere. In her real avatar like Bellevue, she was only one block in Geary and Taylor. These days, Monaco is reborn, an elegant boutique “Fantasia” hotel where upside-down Vuitton trunks act as a front desk and hot air balloons on the lower ceilings through the gentle clouds.
There is occasional mention of the night fog in San Francisco, “thin, fluffy and permeated”, but most of the time, falcon characters move through a world of interiors: Sam’s office, his apartment, Brigid apartment and various hotel suites.
Dashiel Hammett worked for a while as an investigator in San Francisco. He moved a lot but lived for a while on 891 Post Street, where he placed Sam Speed’s apartment. When a restaurant waiter asked if it was a safe area to visit at night, he shook his shoulders, saying, “It’s a small part of the gay ghetto after dark …..”
Hammett gave Spade’s office in a magnificent building in 1926 on 111 Sutter Street. The hall, marble walls and ceiling painted with wooden beams look more like the entrance to the Medici Palace. The doorman, the maintenance man, anyone who happens to be around the hallway knows that this is where Sam Speed had his office – on the fifth floor.
In another direction, Hammett, in the braking stage, said Speed: “Ask him to take me on John’s, Ellis Street.” There, the investigator asks the waiter to speed up his order with “baked potato slices and chopped tomatoes”. In 1997, John’s Grill was announced as a national literary teacher. For $ 29, a visitor can still order these pieces. If they do, they should try to eat it in the dining room on the top floor where Hamit books and a replica of Maltese Falcon are kept in a glass case at the entrance.
But something is missing. Sam Spade might recognize the look of the place but maybe not the smell. There is no smoke. The smokers who lie in wait outside his office building go back to Sutter, so bloated during a short American lunch break, a reminder that Sam and his ill-fated women have been left behind in another century.