Is Monsieur Spade Based on a Book or a True Story?

‘Monsieur Spade,’ a daring 6-episode TV series created by Scott Frank and Tom Fontana, ventures into perilous terrain by reimagining the iconic Detective Sam Spade. In this rendition, Sam Spade, now 60, resides in Bozouls in 1963, having married a vineyard owner. After her demise, he inherits her estate and starts adjusting to retirement. However, his past resurfaces when someone from eight years ago unexpectedly reenters his life.

In 1955, Spade assisted a girl named Teresa in traveling from Istanbul to Bozoul, fulfilling her mother’s wish for her to be with her father. Fast forward to 1963, Teresa now resides in a convent and has lost contact with her father. When a massacre occurs at the convent, Teresa becomes entangled in a crime and so does a suspicious-looking Algerian boy. Spade finds himself rallying for justice and fitting the pieces of the puzzle to help the innocent.

What Inspired Monsieur Spade?

‘Monsieur Spade’ is an adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s 1930 novel “The Maltese Falcon,” a classic in the detective thriller genre that has seen numerous cinematic reinterpretations. Hammett, the author, led a fascinating life, engaging in various occupations before becoming an operative at the Pinkerton National Detective Agency’s Baltimore office from 1915 to 1918 and again from 1920 to 1922. Choosing to pursue a writing career in 1921 to provide for his family, he subsequently authored several influential detective novels. In a rare interview in 1929, when asked about his writing style, Hammett replied, “What I try to do is write a story about a detective rather than a detective story. Keeping the reader fooled until the last, possible moment is a good trick and I usually try to play it, but I can’t attach more than secondary importance to it. The puzzle isn’t so interesting to me as the behavior of the detective attacking it.”

The creators took a unique approach by aging the character 20 years from his original depiction, presenting a Sam Spade in his 60s—settled, comfortable, and uninterested in proving himself. Tom Fontana’s suggestion to Sam Smith about setting the story towards the end of the Algerian War added historical depth, providing a compelling backdrop for the series. The Algerian War, fought from 1954 to 1962, marked Algeria’s struggle for independence from French colonial rule, making it a significant historical context for ‘Monsieur Spade.’

The series distinguishes itself by featuring Clive Owen in the role of Sam Spade. When talking about his excitement for the role, Clive said that he had been a fan of Humphrey Bogart, who played the character in its third rendition in the 1940s in the movie ‘The Maltese Falcon’ and has become an icon synonymous with Spade. Sharing his adoration for Bogart, Owen said, “I have an original poster from ‘The Maltese Falcon.’ When Scott called me, I sent him a picture of my poster and said, ‘You’ve come to the right guy.’”

Owen dedicated extensive effort to his preparation, focusing particularly on perfecting his accent. He aimed to draw inspiration from Humphrey Bogart’s dialogue delivery without mimicking it, carefully treading the fine line. To capture the cadence of Bogart’s speech, Owen had his assistant send voice memos of various dialogues from the movies, listening to them repeatedly each morning and during practice. Additionally, Owen undertook the task of learning French and adopting an American accent for authenticity in his portrayal. The result of his diligence is evident in the scenes, bringing the character of Sam Spade vividly to life.

The creators also meticulously aimed for realism, choosing to film extensively in the south of France, near Montpellier. This decision to capture authentic locales contributes significantly to the universe-building of the series. Filming in situ enhances the visual authenticity of the narrative, immersing the audience in the genuine surroundings where the story progresses from.

‘Detective Monsieur’ does not draw inspiration from any true story, but the characters and the universe they inhabit have left a lasting imprint on the public’s memory, making them feel like integral parts of the real world. Portraying such widely remembered characters presents the challenge of meeting audience expectations and navigating the preconceived notions associated with iconic figures. However, the creators and the entire team have successfully overcome these challenges, skillfully crafting a believable universe that elevates the series to great heights. Their dedication ensures that the essence of the characters remains intact while offering a fresh experience for the viewers.

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