Oscar History

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« Release Date Shuffle: Oscar Players, Musical Wars, Franchise Heroes | Main | "Where were you in '62?" »

Great Moments in Gayness: Smells Like "Gardenia"

Team Experience is celebrating Gay Pride with their favorite moments in gay cinema... although since it's the cinema sometimes it's Gay Shame! Here's Michael going wayback for some devious fey villanry in a noir classic..Happy Gay Pride Week Everyone!

Sam Spade’s secretary tells him there is a Joel Cairo to see him. She hands Spade a business card. He sniffs it and shoots Effie a look.

“Gardenia,” she says, identifying the scent. [more...]

Wilmer, Gutman and Joel in "The Maltese Falcon"

One can’t help but wonder how audiences of the time could be so blind as to miss the various ways John Huston suggests the homosexuality of The Maltese Falcon’s villains. To modern audiences the code Huston used to skirt the censors is so blatant it seems like no code at all. On the other hand, the story’s trio of crooks are such strange creatures that their very presence disguises the glaring truth, which is that The Maltese Falcon can be accurately described as the story of a group of gay men who went on an antiquing trip that got out of hand.

The pre-code 1931 version of Hammett’s novel was much less shy about the story’s gayness. In one of its scenes the Wilmer character (Elisha Cook Jr)  is actually referred to as the boyfriend of Kasper Gutman (Sydney Greenstreet in an Oscar nominated role). It is ironic then, that the morality code that prevented Huston from directly addressing these elements may have caused the film to age better as a result. The subtext is so plain to modern audiences that the film has gone full circle to where it now plays like Falcon is being matter-of-fact about the character’s homosexuality. They are not defined by their sexuality as much as by their eccentricities. Their gayness doesn’t really enter it, except to explain why Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) takes a special sadistic pleasure in beating up on poor Peter Lorre's Joel Cairo (Sam Spade is nothing if not a huge asshole).

Peter Lorre in "The Maltese Falcon"

John Huston even went so far as to include Dashiell Hammett’s use of the word “gunsel” to describe the character Wilmer Cook. Because of the word’s similarity to “gunman” moral watchdogs of the time paid no attention, assuming it to be slang word for “hoodlum”. The sneaky truth is that the word is from a Yiddish slur for a young gay man. How amusing is it then, that subsequent crime fiction influenced by Falcon also made that false assumption with such frequency that dictionaries now acknowledge gunsel’s dual definitions.

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Reader Comments (7)

Daniel, the basic fact of economics dictates that only a certain number of films are greenlit. So the vile and disgusting glut of superhero flicks is a valid ongoing complaint.

June 29, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

Sorry this should be on the last topic lol

June 29, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

"On the other hand, the story’s trio of crooks are such strange creatures that their very presence disguises the glaring truth, which is that The Maltese Falcon can be accurately described as the story of a group of gay men who went on an antiquing trip that got out of hand."

And I will never again see this classic the same way, lol.

June 29, 2013 | Unregistered Commentereurocheese

The idea of The Maltese Falcon being about the fallout of an antiquing trip gone horribly wrong is GOLD. Brilliant, Michael!

Peter Lorre's Joel Cairo is probably my favorite "coded" gay character in all cinema, along with Edward Everett Horton in every Astaire/Rogers film and Martin Landau in North by Northwest. I was thinking of the gardenia-scented business card recently and for God knows what reason connected it to (of all things) Legally Blonde. "It gives it a little something extra, don't you think?"

June 29, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

"An antiquing trip that got out of hand" is now and will forever be my favorite description on THE MALTESE FALCON. Have you seen KISS ME DEADLY? I always think of the dandy in that film as a kindred closeted spirit to Peter Lorre in this.

June 30, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAnne Marie

denny: And Doctor Pretorious?

June 30, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

There is also the scene where Brigid O'Shaunessy taunts Cairo about a "young man" in his past and he shoots back: "You mean the one you couldn't get to--" and is cut off. It's one of those exchanges you can't believe they got away back with.
Another movie LOADED with coded with gay references is "Gilda."

July 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterScottGS

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