MONSIEUR SPADE (2024)
Aired On: AMC+.
Release Date: 01/14/24.
Crime. Drama. Thriller.
"The famous detective Sam Spade is now 60 and living as an expat in the south of France in 1963."
A decade-and-a-half after parting ways with a particular bird from Malta, San Francisco PI Sam Spade finds himself in the French countryside. He has a new case: locate a girl’s family. But Sam is going through the motions. He needs a reset. He decides to stay. So he falls in love, learns the language, and half-heartedly tries to quit smoking. At least, so goes the opening premise of the Scott Frank/Tom Fontana crime drama, Monsieur Spade.
Although not quite as hip as HBO’s Perry Mason, at least initially, Monsieur Spade possesses its own unique charm. There is some crafty, quick dialogue, a brutally-clever murder mystery, and a threat from the past. Equally mysterious is Clive Owen’s unique American accent – but the French countryside more than satisfies whatever might be lacking.
Set in 1961, Sam Spade (Clive Owen) finds himself a widower and semi-retired, spending his time at a villa in Bozouls, France. Sam keeps a lookout on his ward Teresa (Cara Bossom), opens his land to an artist (Matthew Beard), and tries to stay on the good side of the local gendarme (Denis Menochet). But Sam, true to form, can’t keep his mouth shut and runs afoul of both a tavern owner’s drunk husband, and the criminal father of Teresa.
Scott Frank (Logan, Queen’s Gambit) and Tom Fontana (Oz) smoothly capture Sam’s cadence. Those quick Dashiell Hammett one-liners are rat-a-tat fresh that beautifully throw in a distinctly American feel to an otherwise European production. Leading the charge is British stalwart Clive Owen. Owen has the swagger, and even one-ups the role established by Humphrey Bogart in the height department. However, his smoky British tongue simply cannot keep the beat set by Bogie in The Maltese Falcon. Yes, this is an older Sam Spade, one whose weariness with the world is evident in those sleepy eyes of Owen’s, but it always feels like his dialogue is off pace with the scene.
Episode 1 is directed by Frank. He sets up the plot, introduces the characters, and gets to the killings. When Sam isn’t blabbing, Frank allows the character to be introspective - about his life; dealing with Teresa and her true lineage; how he truly wants a cigarette. Obviously there is more to the “missing” years of Sam Spade’s life that will painfully intrude into the present. How cool would it be if those flashbacks were all John Huston-style black-and-white?
Monsieur Spade is a clever drama totally made to scratch that neo-noir itch. The show has the potential to truly take flight. Spade simply needs to spread those wings. Be they from Bozouls or Malta.