The Maltese Falcon:
A subtle and wicked tale


The Maltese Falcon is amazing in film and in print. It speaks to many levels--violence, mystery, romance, cynicism. There is a subtle but deeper theme---Sexuality. Gay sex. Straight sex.

An article is
Wikipedia reveals the key--the gunsel. Joe Cairo was obviously gay, but the gayness goes beyond Cairo. Sam Spade repeatedly refers to Wilmer as "gunsel." I thought the term related to gun. Since the Maltese Falcon was filmed, the term has come to mean a petty crook and gunman. It turns out that an older meaning of the word is a young gay man who takes care of (or services) an older gay man. That term explains a lot. In the movie, Sam Spade abuses and demeans Wilmer. Sam Spade takes pleasure in beating up Joel Cairo. In the movie, Sam Spade shows an evil grin while hassling Wilmer and speaking to Joel Cairo. It originally occurred to me that Caspar Gutman may have been gay, but primarily he was a wealthy collector and probably a lawyer. Now it all comes together. Wilmer was the gunsel for Gutman. Even if the relationship was not sexual, Wilmer was more than a body guard. The relationship of Wilmer to Gutman is about bonding.
I viewed the movie for the third time last night. I am re-reading the book and I am up to the first time Sam Spade beats up Joel Cairo. The homosexual subtext is all over the place.

The story is full of sexual tension. The promiscuously heterosexual Sam Spade beating up the gay Wilmer and Joel Cairo. The competition for the Black Bird between the flaming heterosexual Brigid O'Shaughnessay and the gay Caspar Gutman. The straight team of Sam Spade and Brigid O'Shaughnessy versus the gay team of Joel Cairo, Caspar Gutman and Wilmer.

Caspar Gutman is the most interesting character. I like his laugh and how he avoids answering questions. Imagine him on a witness stand. Maybe Wilmer and Cairo follow him for the money--but maybe for more.


Then, there is the sexual tension around Sam Spade. Sam Spade is unfaithful to a succession of women--- Effie, Iva and Brigid (who he sells out to the cops)---all in 90 minutes of film.
No matter what one thinks of the morality and politics of homosexuality, beating up gays because they are gay is evil. Sam Spade is evil. Unlike most Bogart characters, there is nothing heroic about him.

The Maltese Falcon is a wicked tale.