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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Noir Thoughts Part IV: Sam's Supporting Cast

            I looked at Sam Spade last time, but now it’s time to turn to the characters he deals with.
Miles Archer
            Miles, though only seen briefly, seems to fulfill Otto Penzler’s definition of a noir protagonist. Immediately he flirts with Brigid O’Shaughnessy (still going by Miss Wonderly at this point), and it is only after his death that readers and audience learn that he was married.
He steps on Sam’s toes by insisting on being the one to handle Brigid, and this is the action that gets him killed. As Otto predicted, Miles Archer meets his end and is doomed by his own immoral choice. Had he acted as a professional, keeping a cool detachment from the client instead of flirting with her, he very well might still be alive. Sam pointed out that Miles was “just dumb enough” to let Brigid get close. She played him for the sap.

Brigid O’Shaugnessey
            Her greed to get the falcon governs her every move, and she readily engages in lying and playing the damsel in distress to get what she wants. There are no limits to the web of lies she spreads out for Sam even after Miles’s death. The fear of discovery is what caused her to murder Miles, and she would have had no difficulty in killing anyone else to get what she wanted. It is only Sam’s desire not to be the sap that makes her one of these loser characters, elsewise she would have gotten away with the entire affair.

Joel Cairo
            The effete and immediately hostile Joel Cairo is quite the comic loser character when immediately punched out by Sam, when he screams under assault from Brigid, and by becoming subservient to Kasper Gutman. He is a character who never had the ability to prosper, and while he likely does not have the stomach to pull the trigger on Sam, he doesn’t hesitate to offer bribes or participate in the cover-up of Thursby’s and Archer’s murder.

            Wilmer comes across as a tough-as-nails gunsel, but he is completely dependent on Gutman. He is not so much a real character as a tool to be pointed at others. He kills Floyd Thursby with no hesitation, and has little problem in throwing his attitude and gun around despite not having the size to back it up. He is a magnet for trouble and not careful in his actions. Clearly his choice to put his trust and faith in Gutman is ill-thought out. He’s doomed from the beginning.

Kasper Gutman
            Gutman comes across as a larger-than-life character (pun intended). He can’t rely on flirtation and seduction the way Brigid does, but that doesn’t stop him from trying to charm spade with lengthy double-talk, a genial attitude, and the promise of wealth. Clearly he is a man without morals, simply doing whatever it takes to achieve his goal of the falcon, even giving up his associate, whom he loves like a son, with no difficulty.

            I think I’m going to save my wrap up on this for later. Probably after my next post, even. I want to take a look at the other great detective novelist, Raymond Chandler, in his great book, The Big Sleep. After that I might come to some kind of wrap up.
            This topic is more complicated than I initially thought. Stay tuned.

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