Sam Spade, Junior

Created by Don M. Mankiewicz and Gordon Cotler
With a heavy debt to Dashiell Hammett

Why is everyone after George Segal’s bird?
–tagline for the film

IThe Black Bird (1975, Columbia), an occasionally entertaining tribute/spoof of the classic John-Huston directed, Bogie-starring gumshoe classic flick from 1941, The Maltese Falcon (based, of course, on Dashiell Hammett’s equally classic novel), George Segal plays SAM SPADE,  JUNIOR.

Sam Jr. has inherited his dad’s detective agency, much to his dismay (“I hate my job.”). He’s also inherited the hunt for that damned elusive rara-avis. Helping him out, at least for a while, in something of a casting coup, are two of the members of the original cast: Lee Patrick and Elisha Cook Jr., reprising their roles as perpetually ticked off secretary Effie Perrine (she’s still hanging around because she hasn’t been paid in years) and the hapless gunsel Wilmer. There’s also a good — if peculiar — performance by Stephane Audran in the Brigid role, as a femme fatale who has trouble with the English language. Naturally, everybody wants the black bird, including a Nazi midget and an Hawaiian gang biding their time (in their outrigger canoes in San Francisco Bay) waiting to pounce.

It’s not exactly Blazing Saddles — it’s not even Murder By Death — but the affection for the original comes through loud and clear. Your enjoyment of this film probably leans heavily on how much you enjoyed the original — but if you didn’t enjoy the original, what the hell are you doing here?

* * * * *

By the way, George Segal has had a long, and fruitful connection with detective fiction. He’s also been in the film version of Donald Westlake’s The Hot Rock, and starred in Murphy’s Law, a TV show about a freelance insurance investigator.


  • Segal tries to sell the fake bird to a pawnbroker, whose name is Kerkorian, but is only offered a few bucks. The joke is that Kirk Kerkorian was the MGM executive who was criticized for selling off many of the studio’s famous props, including (allegedly) the original Maltese Falcon.


  • “…the general tenor of the film shows a sentimental empathy for the original material with no heartless put-downs marring the work. There are lots of smiles, many chuckles, and a few strong laughs…. ”
    — The Maltese Falcon FAQ


  • THE BLACK BIRD | Buy this video
    (1975, Columbia)
    98 minutes
    Based on characters created in The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
    Screenplay by David Glier
    Story by Don M. Mankiewicz and Gordon Cotler
    Directed by David Giler
    Music by Jerry Fielding
    Art Director: Harry Horner
    Producers: Michael Levee and Louis Lombardo
    Executive Producer: George Segal
    A Rastar Pictures Production
    Starring George Segal as SAM SPADE JR.
    with Lee Patrick as Effie Perrine
    and Elisha Cook Jr. as Wilmer
    Also starring Stephane Andran, Lionel Stander, Felix Silla, Howard Jeffrey
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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