Follow TV Tropes


Characters / The Maltese Falcon (1941)

Go To

Here be a list of characters from The Maltese Falcon.

    open/close all folders 

    Samuel Spade 
Played by: Humphrey Bogart

  • Adaptational Dye Job: He's blonde in the novel, but is played in the film by the dark-haired Humphrey Bogart.
  • Adaptational Heroism: He's less morally ambiguous in the film than in the book. He doesn't strip Brigid to search for the missing money. In general, he's less aggressive and cruel in actions and speech.
  • Alliterative Name: Sam Spade.
  • Anti-Hero: Type I. While he's a snarky jerk and slightly morally ambiguous, Spade ultimately proves himself to be a "by the book" guy with morals, as he refuses to be bribed, and tries to find the criminal who killed Archer regardless of whether he liked his partner or not. He also gives Brigid over to the police for murdering Archer despite his feelings for her.
  • Badass in a Nice Suit: He codified the image of a typical detective by always wearing a suit underneath his trench coat. Despite his flaws, he also proves himself to be an intelligent yet morally upstanding guy especially when he (reluctantly) chooses to let his lover get arrested for murdering his partner, despite his feelings for her.
  • Deadpan Snarker: He's quick to dole out the snark in almost any given situation, especially when it involves Wilmer Cook.
  • Detective Patsy: Brigid initially went to Spade and Archer on a pretense to get Thursby into a fight, thereby either getting him killed or slapping him with murder.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Though he has fallen in love with Brigid, he turns her over to the police for murdering Archer, his partner.
  • Et Tu, Brute?: He didn't take it very well when he discovered that the woman he fell in love with murdered his partner and manipulated almost everyone he talked with.
  • Good Is Not Nice: Spade is actually a morally upstanding guy with a strong code of ethics, but he is also kind of a snarky jerk.
  • Hardboiled Detective: He's cynical but determined, has a prickly relationship with law enforcement, keeps his cards close to his chest regarding whose side he is really on in the conflict over the Falcon, and is seldom seen without a cigar or cigarette in his mouth and a drink in his hand. Notably, his performance as an abrasive, thuggish, misanthropic Anti-Hero was seen as radical at the time, since movie detectives prior to The Maltese Falcon were independently wealthy, cooperated with police, and avoided getting their hands dirty.
  • Heroic BSoD: Has this towards the end when he is forced to turn in Brigid.
  • Knight in Sour Armor: Again, despite his cynical, snarky personality and his prickly relationship with law enforcement, he's determined to adhere to the rules of his job and do the right thing.
  • Love Hurts: He fell in love with Brigid until he learns that she's the reason why his partner, Miles Archer, is dead. However, it's subverted as he mentions that while Brigid's arrest will hurt for a while, he'll eventually forget about it.
    Brigid O'Shaughnessy: You know whether you love me or not.
    Sam Spade: Maybe I do. Well, I'll have some rotten nights after I've sent you over, but that will pass. If all I've said doesn't mean anything to you, then forget it and we'll make it just this: I won't because all of me wants to, regardless of consequences, and because you counted on that with me the same as you counted on that with all the others. Don't be too sure I'm as crooked as I'm supposed to be. That sort of reputation might be good business, bringing high-priced jobs and making it easier to deal with the enemy, but a lot more money would have been one more item on your side of the scale.
  • Meaningful Name: His last name is "Spade", and he keeps digging for the truth, regardless of personal feelings.
  • Nice Hat: Often wears a fedora. It eventually became part of the image of a typical Hardboiled Detective.
  • Romancing the Widow: Subverted. He was having an affair with Iva Archer prior to Miles's murder, and both Iva and the police mistakenly conclude that Sam murdered Miles over her. However, Sam seems to have tired of her by the time Miles is killed, chastising Effie for letting her into the office and impatiently dismissing Iva when she tries to throw herself into his arms.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Spade's relationship with Miles Archer. He disliked Archer and was having an affair with Archer's wife. Nevertheless, he memorably states that his personal opinion of the man doesn't change the fact that they were partners and that as his partner he owes it to Miles to see justice done for his murder.

    Brigid O'Shaughnessy 
Played by: Mary Astor

  • Ain't Too Proud to Beg: Tries to manipulate Sam’s feelings for her to keep him from turning her into the police. It doesn’t work.
  • Consummate Liar: Really nothing she says to Sam during the film turns out to one-hundred percent the truth, which Sam comes to point out towards the end. This comes back to haunt her since he turns on her.
  • Evil All Along: Seems at least more sympathetic than the other people involved in the conspiracy for most of the film. Then Sam confronts her about murdering his partner. She’s ultimately just another psychopath like Gutman.
  • Femme Fatale: It doesn't work on Spade, though.
  • Frame-Up: She murdered Archer, Spade's partner, so she could implicate her accomplice, Thursby, for his death.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Spade decides to turn Brigid in to the police after he discovers that she was responsible for Archer's death, because lover or not, she's still a criminal. Brigid's shocked, heartbroken expression becomes very profound when Spade informs her that she's "taking the fall", after personally manipulating and killing everyone for ulterior motives.
  • Manipulative Bastard: As Sam Spade says at the end of the film, he wants more than anything else to believe her version of events, and that's why he doesn't.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Spade calls it her "schoolgirl act." She plays the part of an innocent Damsel in Distress out of her depth; in fact she engineered much of what happens in the film and personally murdered Miles Archer.
  • Pretty in Mink: She wears at leas four furs in the movie: a silver fox wrap, a Persian lamb coat, a stole of sables, and a mink coat.
  • Walking Spoiler: She was involved with a trio of criminals (Gutman, Cairo and Wilmer), and she's the one who killed Spade's partner, Miles Archer.

    Joel Cairo 
Played by: Peter Lorre

  • Affably Evil: Though he's a villain, he's unfailingly polite. He even says "please" when asking Sam to put his hands over his head and let Cairo search the office, despite having Sam at gunpoint.
  • Agent Peacock: For a strongly implied gay man in a pre-gay age and a central antagonist, he is quite fabulous.
  • Alas, Poor Villain: The Falcon's a fake, and Spade calls the police on him. The former leads to a Villainous Breakdown.
  • Ambiguously Gay: It's rather less ambiguous in the original novel and in the pre-Hays Code film adaptation (in the 1941 version, you could tell he was gay because he wore white gloves and smelled of gardenia, not to mention Hammett's references to Wilmer as the 'gunsel', which is not slang for a gun-toting criminal).
  • Butt-Monkey: Poor Joel doesn't catch a break in this movie. Being beaten by Spade is only the start of his troubles.
  • Gayngster: Downplayed in the movie, pretty blatant in the novel.
  • Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain: His Establishing Character Moment has him attempting to interrogate Spade by holding him at gunpoint. It falls completely flat and results in him getting knocked out cold by Spade. You eventually end up feel pretty terrible for what he has to go through.
  • Jerkass: Then again, he's pretty callous and nasty for a good amount of the time.
  • Meaningful Name: His name is Cairo and he comes from abroad.
  • Non-Action Guy: Subverted, Cairo tries to intimidate Spade three times, but fails miserably.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Cairo's outburst upon finding out the statue is fake counts as one:
    Cairo: (to Gutman) You... you bungled it! You and your stupid attempt to buy it! Kemedov found out how valuable it was! No wonder we had such an easy time stealing it! YOU...YOU IMBECILE! YOU BLOATED IDIOT!! YOU STUPID FAT-HEAD YOU!!! (collapses into a chair and cries)

    Kasper Gutman a.k.a. The Fat Man 
Played by: Sydney Greenstreet

  • Affably Evil: Gutman is a ruthless sociopath who's willing to pile up bodies in his search for the Maltese Falcon and is even willing to sacrifice his own loyal minions to his cause, but part of his screen presence (aside from the literal presence) is how effortlessly and sincerely charming he is, with every sentence pronounced by an amiable chuckle talking to Sam Spade like an old friend the whole while he's got his life in his hands.
  • Alas, Poor Villain: The Falcon is a fake, but alas! The real one's still out there! On with the search! Spade calls the police shortly after.
  • Bald of Evil: Well, he's balding, but that doesn't change the fact that he's a ruthless sociopath that's willing to kill in order to get the Maltese faction.
  • Big Bad: He's the one leading the search for the Falcon, and all the murders therein.
  • Determinator: Searching for the Falcon for seventeen years and discovering it's a fake, Gutman is still ready to continue the search for the Falcon in Istanbul after a brief moment's pause to collect himself.
  • Fat Bastard: Quite rotund, and is willing to kill and sacrifice his minions when it's convenient.
  • Graceful Loser: In compared to the disgraceful breakdowns of Cairo and O'Shaughnessy when the Falcon turns to be a "dingus," Gutman cheerfully laughs it off and proclaims his intent to go to Istanbul to continue a search that's already lasted seventeen years, inviting Cairo and even Spade to come join him on the expedition with no hard feelings about being outplayed.
  • Meaningful Name: His last name is "Gutman" and he's fat.
  • Like a Son to Me: How he claims to feel about Wilmer. It is eventually subverted with the coldest line in movie history.
    (to Wilmer) "I couldn't be fonder of you if you were my own son. But, well, if you lose a son, it's possible to get another. There's only one Maltese Falcon."
  • Non-Action Guy: Has Wilmer do all of his dirty work for him.
  • Slipping a Mickey: Does this to Spade during their second meeting.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: His book counterpart is killed by Wilmer for offering to sell Wilmer out. Gutman still ends the movie under arrest and facing capital charges, though.
  • Worthy Opponent: Clearly considers Spade this in the end, as though while he's forced to draw a gun on Spade to get the remaining $10,000 from him in the end, he nevertheless extends an invitation for Spade to join him on his further expedition to find the Falcon and even remarks he would have sincerely liked to have a man of Spade's character along for the ride when Spade declines.

    Wilmer Cook 
Played by: Elisha Cook Jr.

  • Alas, Poor Villain: You can't help but feel sorry for Wilmer when his so-called "partners" decide to frame him.
  • Asshole Victim: He's set to be the fall guy by the other crooks. He was a Jerkass the entire time.
  • Berserk Button: Spade hits Wilmer's several times whenever he insults him.
  • The Dog Bites Back: In the novel, Wilmer kills Gutman shortly after they resume the search for the Falcon. He really didn't appreciate being made the fall guy.
  • The Dutiful Son: Seems to be something like this to Gutman.
  • Fall Guy: Sam Spade turns the criminals against each other by only agreeing to hand over the Falcon if Wilmer takes the fall for the murder of Sam's partner.
  • Gayngster: Not so much in the movie, except for the use of the term "gunsel", but in the novel it's strongly implied that he's Cairo's boyfriend.
  • Guns Akimbo: He has two guns and occasionally has one in each hand.
  • Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain: Despite the fact that Wilmer is a multiple murderer, Spade never takes him seriously, even going as far as to call him a "pocket edition desperado" and humiliates him every time Wilmer tries to stand up to Spade, bringing Wilmer to tears at one point.
  • Like a Son to Me: Subverted. On the outside, Gutman sees him like a son, but ultimately treats him like a disposable pawn that he can always replace.
  • Sudden Sequel Death Syndrome: In the 1975 comedy sequel, The Black Bird, Wilmer (Cook, reprising his role) is killed while hunting for the elusive Falcon yet again.

    Iva Archer 
Played by: Gladys George

  • Pretty in Mink: She wears a black fox muff and a black fox hat with a veil, as part of her mourning clothes.

    Miles Archer 
Played by: Jermoe Cowan

  • Dead Partner: Spade notes that one has to avenge one's dead partner, regardless of one's personal feelings towards the partner.
  • Dirty Old Man: Tries to hit on Brigid and even offers to watch her for Spade.

    Effie Perine 
Played by: Lee Patrick

    Sergeant Detective Tom Polahus 
Played by: Ward Bond

    Lieutenant Dundy 
Played by: Barton MacLane

    Captain Jacobi 
Played by: Walter Huston

  • Almost Dead Guy: He comes staggering into Spade's office with the Falcon before expiring.
  • Dying Moment of Awesome: Jacobi survived a ship fire, was shot several times by Wilmer, managed to knock Wilmer down as he made his escape, and somehow still limped to Spade's office before dying. All of this is except the last one is shown off-screen, although considering how far he got is quite a feat.
  • Harbinger of Impending Doom: Captain Jacobi shows up at Spade's office, having been shot multiple times but still carrying the Falcon, and he is only able to mumble a vague explanation before dying. It isn't long before his killer and the men for whom he is working catch up with Spade.


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: