Dashiell Hammett’s legendary private eye Sam Spade occupies a special place in the detective fiction pantheon. Between Hammett’s 1930 novel The Maltese Falcon and Humphrey Bogart’s iconic 1941 film portrayal, the trenchcoat-clad gumshoe is etched in pop culture history. With his seen-it-all cynicism and cold calculation, Spade became the archetypal hardboiled dick.
So the idea of dusting off the character for a prestige miniseries sequel seems intriguing on paper. Monsieur Spade fast-forwards to 1963 and whisks a past-his-prime Spade to the idyllic French countryside, where his retirement reverie is inevitably interrupted by a local murder. With Clive Owen suitably grizzled as Spade, the premise promises to inject new life into the iconic investigator.
For the first few episodes, it looks like the gamble might pay off. Owen effortlessly channels Bogart’s swagger while adding his own weary gravitas. And the fish-out-of-water setup offers plenty of opportunities to explore how time has changed the smug sleuth. But sadly, Monsieur Spade quickly buckles under the weight of an overwrought plot stuffed with too many disparate threads. What begins as a nuanced character study ends up a convoluted mess. Still, Owen delivers a strong turn even when the script dissolves into chaos.
Owen Channels Bogart’s Cool While Adding HIS Own World-Weariness
In the iconic 1941 film adaptation of The Maltese Falcon, Humphrey Bogart immortalized Sam Spade as the quintessential hardboiled private eye. With his trenchcoat, fedora and ever-present cigarette, Bogart’s Spade became ingrained in the cultural zeitgeist.
So Clive Owen had huge shoes to fill as an aging Spade in Monsieur Spade. But the gritty British actor proves to be pitch-perfect casting. With his steely gaze and gravelly voice, Owen channels the detached cool that defined Bogart’s performance. Yet he also adds his own spin, portraying Spade as slower, wearier and more vulnerable than the cocksure sleuth of the 1940s.
Throughout the series, Owen balances old-school machismo with new depths of disillusionment. His Spade is still as quick with a wry comeback as he is with his fists. But having left his hardboiled heyday behind, he approaches each case with more caution than outright confidence.
In an early highlight, Owen sells this duality when Spade violently interrogates a suspect while the jaunty Dean Martin classic “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head” incongruously plays. He assaults the man with calculated brutality between casually humming along to the song.
Owen also generates crackling chemistry with his female co-stars like Chiara Mastroianni, who plays Spade’s late wife Gabrielle. Their wine-country courtship offers a glimpse at the softer side beneath the detective’s stony facade.
And the actor seems to relish opportunities to subvert Spade’s unflappable image. Whether swimming naked in his vineyard’s pool or struggling through conversations in broken French, Owen portrays Spade as a fish out of water who is past pretending that he has all the answers.
By finding new dimensions in the legendary investigator while paying homage to Bogart’s definitive portrayal, Owen makes the case that there’s still unfinished business for the aging private eye. It’s an anchoring performance that almost makes up for the show’s shortcomings elsewhere.
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Supporting Stars Add Depth But Can’t Overcome Muddled Script
While Clive Owen anchors Monsieur Spade, the show’s supporting cast provides memorable turns even when the script lets them down.
As police chief Patrice Michaud, Denis Ménochet is Owen’s ideal foil. The two share crackling chemistry as Spade continually encroaches on Michaud’s jurisdiction. Their back-and-forth bickering injects bursts of energy into otherwise sluggish scenes.
As Spade’s late wife Gabrielle, Chiara Mastroianni radiates warmth and vivacity in flashbacks. She and Owen have an easy rapport that makes you wish their courtship was more central to the plot.
Jonathan Zaccaï oozes smarmy menace as Philippe Saint-Andre, a ruthless criminal who becomes Spade’s prime suspect. After being built up over several episodes, his villainous star turn mostly delivers.
Young actress Cara Bossom also shines as Philippe’s long-lost daughter Teresa. Bossom and Owen develop an endearing rapport, with the teen often outwitting her jaded guardian.
Some supporting players fare less well, hampered by broadly comedic roles. As Spade’s wacky neighbors, Matthew Beard and Rebecca Root feel jarringly out of step with the show’s otherwise serious tone.
Conversely, Stanley Weber brings real pathos to his portrayal of mentally scarred war veteran Jean-Pierre. His scenes sensitively exploring the horrors of combat provide affecting but often disconnected detours from the central mystery.
While these characters enrich the tapestry, Monsieur Spade too frequently sidelines Spade to focus on tangential subplots. When the show sticks to Owen verbally sparring with his co-stars, it captures some of that classic Hammett magic. But the overstuffed plot submerges the supporting talent.
Stunning French Vistas and Jazz Rhythms Complement Owen’s Cool
Although Monsieur Spade unravels in the back half, the show maintains visual flair throughout its run. The gorgeous French countryside provides an evocative backdrop that director Scott Frank utilizes to full effect.
The rolling hills and vineyards of Southern France make a perfect setting for Spade’s retirement idyll. Cinematographer Darius Khondji bathes the landscape in warm, dappled light that reflects the detective’s initial sense of peace. But when darkness descends, both literal and figurative, Khondji adopts a shadowy aesthetic straight out of noir classics like The Third Man.
Frank’s direction is surprisingly understated given his bold style in past work like Logan. But he frames the beauty around Spade to echo the juxtaposition of tranquility and chaos in his protagonist’s mind. And he nails the dreamy quality of frequent flashbacks to Spade’s courtship with Gabrielle.
The jazz-inflected score by Stuart Staples also evokes Spade’s dislocation in time and place. As the detective’s past encroaches on his present, mournful saxophones and muted trumpets crescendo. Their smoky melodies compliment Owen’s world-weary cool while conjuring the French cafe culture.
Though the meandering plot often fizzles, Monsieur Spade remains a visual treat. Frank and his collaborators succeed in bringing a slice of postwar France to moody life. And the stunning tableaus only reinforce the gravitas of Owen’s central turn. Spade looks at home against the backdrop even as he remains torn between past and present.
Promising Premise Undermined By Messy, Meandering Plot
On paper, Monsieur Spade’s central conceit seems rife with potential. Transporting the legendary Sam Spade from his prime in 1940s San Francisco to a quiet village in 1960s France provides opportunities for fish-out-of-water humor and poignant introspection.
And at first, creators Scott Frank and Tom Fontana deliver. Their script pulses with crackling dialogue reminiscent of Dashiell Hammett’s slick vernacular. Spade’s witty sparring with the local police chief and barbed commentary on postwar French society ably bring the icon into a new era.
The strong character work and world building of the initial episodes suggest Frank and Fontana have a firm grasp on their premise. But sadly, the show soon loses its way in a muddled mess of undeveloped threads and clashing tones.
As the central mystery expands to involve Algerian immigrants, Catholic conspiracies, and other disparate elements, any semblance of coherence collapses. Spade is relegated to the sidelines of his own story, with supporting players doing the heavy lifting.
And the show schizophrenically vacillates between straightforward thriller, broad comedy, and wartime drama without integrating any mode successfully. An absurd detour into Dan Brown-esque religious symbology feels especially jarring.
By the final episodes, the accumulation of red herrings and loose ends becomes beyond tangled. A guest star cameo all but admits defeat, coming in at the last moment to explain the plot to both the characters and viewers.
For a brief stretch, Monsieur Spade promises intelligent reinvention of a classic character. But the series devolves into exactly the type of convoluted caper Sam Spade built his reputation untangling. The lead performance deserves better.
How to Improve on the Concept
While Monsieur Spade fumbles the execution, the core idea still offers rich territory for reinventing a legendary detective. With some adjustments, a follow-up could fulfill the premise’s potential.
The show would benefit from more focus on Spade’s struggles adjusting to retirement. Extended flashbacks of his early days in France bonding with Gabrielle could provide rewarding character development.
Similarly, the PTSD arc of the Algerian War vet could be better integrated to parallel Spade’s own self-doubts about his declining skills. Leaning into that natural thematic alignment would keep the plot streamlined.
In general, the mystery needs to be simplified. A conventionally valuable MacGuffin like the original Maltese Falcon beats the convoluted religious symbology chosen here. And the byzantine machinations require too many new characters in the final episodes.
Ideally, Spade should take a more active investigative role while coming to terms with obstacles to his old approach like age and environment. The guest star exposition dump should be replaced with Spade himself piecing together the clues into an earned deductive breakthrough in the climax.
Owen clearly relishes playing the iconic role. With a more coherent follow-up case to solve, his Spade could rediscover the fiery agency that made the character so compelling. The potential is there to do right by the brilliant source material. Future efforts just need to minimize disjointed subplots and re-center Spade as the magnetic, smooth-talking sleuth we know and love. If done right, the foundation is there for a worthy update of the hardboiled icon.
Missed Potential For Reinventing A Legend
Clive Owen brings his A-game to Monsieur Spade, effortlessly inheriting the spirit of Humphrey Bogart’s portrayal while adding his own world-weary spin. His scenes of verbal jousting and physical intimidation stand out as highlights. But not even Owen’s stellar performance can fully overcome the show’s glaring issues.
Though a promising premise and strong early episodes show the potential for updating the classic sleuth, the final product buckles under the weight of an absurdly convoluted plot. Supporting stars like Denis Ménochet shine when given room, but they are often relegated to disconnected subplots.
And the series suffers from an identity crisis regarding its relationship to Sam Spade’s hardboiled history. Sometimes it offers clever winks for fans, other times it strains too hard for the iconoclastic. The tonal inconsistency only exacerbates the messy writing.
With its gorgeous cinematography and jazz-club soundtrack, Monsieur Spade nails the atmosphere. One wishes the storytelling were as meticulous. Instead, the show wastes its potential on a rambling adventure unworthy of its legendary detective protagonist.
Monsieur Spade remains a passable diversion thanks to Owen’s star power. But it’s too cluttered and uneven to justify its overseas sequel concept. This reinvention fails to recapture the magic that made Sam Spade an enduring icon. The character deserves another shot, just with a more focused mystery.
Monsieur Spade shows flashes of promise in its efforts to reimagine a legendary literary icon for the modern era. But despite a commanding lead performance from Clive Owen, the series is ultimately done in by an overly convoluted plot that buries both Spade and the audience in unnecessary tangents and thinly developed characters. While the concept offers rich potential, the execution fails to capture the crisp style and intricate yet coherent mysteries that defined Dashiell Hammett's seminal detective stories.
- Strong lead performance by Clive Owen
- Solid supporting cast
- Gorgeous cinematography and music
- Witty dialogue
- Promising concept of aging icon detective
- Messy, convoluted plot
- Unfocused tone and inconsistent style
- Underserves lead character
- Overstuffed with tangents and new characters
- Fails to capture spirit of source material