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Sam Spade is a fictional character who is the protagonist of Dashiell Hammett's novel The Maltese Falcon (1930) and the various films and adaptations based on it, as well as in three lesser known books by Hammett.

The novel, first published as a serial in the pulp magazine Black Mask, is the only one that Spade appears in, yet the character is widely cited as the crystallizing figure in the development of the hard-boiled private detective genre – Raymond Chandler's character Philip Marlowe, for instance, was strongly influenced by Hammett's Spade.

Spade was a departure from Hammett's nameless and less than glamorous book, The Continental Op. Sam Spade combined several features of previous detectives, most notably his cold detachment, keen eye for detail, and unflinching determination to achieve his own justice. He is the man who has seen the wretched, the corrupt, the tawdry side of life but still retains his "tarnished idealism".


Sam Spade was a new character created specifically by Hammett for The Maltese Falcon; he had not appeared in any of Hammett's previous short stories. Hammett says about him:

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.

For most people, the character is most closely associated with actor Humphrey Bogart, who played Spade in the third and most famous film version of The Maltese Falcon. Although Bogart's hair was not dyed blond as called for in the novel, and was considered too small and dark for the role (and was even slighted for not playing the character as enough of a lecher), his portrayal of Spade turned out to be the archetypal private detective. His characterization has influenced film noir ever since.

Spade was played by Ricardo Cortez in the pre-Code first film version (1931). Despite being a critical and commercial success, an attempt to re-release the film in 1936 was denied approval by the Production Code Office due to the film's "lewd" content. Since Warner Bros. could not re-release the film, a second version was made. In Satan Met a Lady (1936), a light comedy, the central character was renamed Ted Shane and was played by Warren William. The film was a notable flop.

On the radio, Sam Spade was played by Bogart in a 1943 Screen Guild Theater production and a 1946 Academy Award Theater production. He was also played by Edward G. Robinson in a 1943 Lux Radio Theatre production. A 1946-1951 radio show called the The Adventures of Sam Spade (on ABC, CBS, and NBC) starred Howard Duff (and later Steve Dunne) as "Sam Spade" and Lurene Tuttle as Spade's devoted secretary "Effie Perrine", and took a considerably more tongue-in-cheek approach to the character.

George Segal played Sam Spade, Jr., son of the original, in the film spoof, The Black Bird (1975). The Black Bird was panned by both critics and audiences alike. Peter Falk delivered a critically more successful spoof the following year as "Sam Diamond" in Neil Simon's Murder by Death."

In 2009, with the approval of the estate of Dashiell Hammett, the veteran detective-story writer Joe Gores published Spade & Archer: The Prequel to Dashiell Hammett's THE MALTESE FALCON with Alfred A. Knopf, the original publisher of Hammett's The Maltese Falcon.


  • The Maltese Falcon (1930)
    • Serialized in 5 parts, in the September 1929 to January 1930 issues of Black Mask
  • "The Radio Adventures of Sam Spade" (2007) by Martin Grams, Jr., OTR Publishing, Churchville, Marylandmarker. ISBN 978-0-9703310-7-6

Short stories

  • "A Man Called Spade" (July, 1932, The American Magazine; also collected in A Man Named Spade and Other Stories)
  • "Too Many Have Lived" (October, 1932, The American Magazine; also collected in A Man Named Spade and Other Stories)
  • "They Can Only Hang You Once" (November 19, 1932, Colliers; also in A Man Named Spade and Other Stories)


  • A Man Named Spade and Other Stories (1944) (contains three Sam Spade stories from The American Magazine and Colliers -- listed above)



  • Screen Guild Theater: "The Maltese Falcon" (1943, CBS — 30-minute version of the story, starring Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Sidney Greenstreet, and Peter Lorre
  • Lux Radio Theatre: "The Maltese Falcon" (1943, CBS) — a 60 minute version of the novel, starring Edward G. Robinson as Sam Spade and Laird Cregar as Casper Gutman
  • Academy Award Theatre: "The Maltese Falcon" (1946, CBS) — 30-minute version of the story, starring Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, and Sidney Greenstreet
  • Suspense: "The House in Cypress Canyon" (December 5, 1946, CBS) — 30 minutes, starring Howard Duff
  • Suspense: "The Kandy Tooth Caper" (January 10, 1948, CBS) — 60 minutes, starring Howard Duff
  • The Adventures of Sam Spade (1946, ABC) — 13 30-minute episodes, starring Howard Duff
  • The Adventures of Sam Spade (1946–1949, CBS) — 157 30-minute episodes, starring Howard Duff
  • The Adventures of Sam Spade (1949–1950, NBC) — 51 30-minute episodes, starring Howard Duff
  • The Adventures of Sam Spade (1950–1951, NBC) — 24 30-minute episodes, starring Steve Dunne
  • The Adventures of Babe Lincoln (circa 1950, CBS) — unaired, starring Howard Duff
  • Charlie Wild, Private Eye (September 24, 1950, NBC) — premiere broadcast only, guest appearance Howard Duff
  • BBC Radio 4: "The Maltese Falcon" (2001) — starring Tom Wilkinson, Jane Lapotaire, and Nickolas Grace


  • The Maltese Falcon (1946, Feature Books #48, David McKay Publications) Artist: Rodlow Willard
  • Sam Spade Wildroot Hair Tonic Ads (1950's)
    • Single page comic strips, appeared in newspapers, magazines, comic books. Tie-in with radio show The Adventures of Sam Spade, which Wildroot also sponsored. Artist: Lou Fine.
  • Volume 21 of the manga Detective Conan contains a profile summary of Sam Spade in Gosho Aoyama Mystery LIbrary.

References in popular culture


  1. Introduction to The Maltese Falcon (1934 edition)

External links

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