Honors Capstone Project
Date of Submission
Steven Cohan, Professor
Jolynn Parker, Professor
Arts and Science
Capstone Prize Winner
Won Capstone Funding
English Language and Literature | Film and Media Studies
Based on Annette Kuhn’s theory that censorship does not merely repress a text but produces one as well, this thesis examines the ways in which The Maltese Falcon (1941) and The Big Sleep (1946) bear the mark of their industrial and cultural contexts. Censorship of violence and the transformation of actor Humphrey Bogart produce symptomatic representations of violence in the films The Big Sleep (1946) and The Maltese Falcon (1941).
The Maltese Falcon stars Humphrey Bogart in the early years of his film career. Until The Maltese Falcon, Bogart was known purely for his onscreen roles as a gangster and his off-screen battles with his alcoholic wife. The film was censored throughout production for open displays of sexuality between Spade and Brigid. These constraints contribute to the final text of the film, causing the focus to remain not on the heterosexual couple Spade and Brigid, but instead on the violent interactions that occur homosocially between the men of the film. Conversely, at the time of The Big Sleep’s release, Bogart had recently starred in the romantic classic, Casablanca, and even more recently married his costar in The Big Sleep, Lauren Bacall. Further contributing to the film’s context, the PCA censorship of The Big Sleep focused on violence. Throughout The Big Sleep, restrictions of violence and Bogart’s image influence the onscreen creation of Marlowe and position him as a romantic hero who adheres to knightly codes of conduct. These limitations also cause sexuality to become a symbolic representation for female aggression. The constraints of the film shift focus from the homosocial to the heterosexual and sublimate problems with violence onto sexuality.
Ultimately, for the two pictures, censorship and the controlling factor of Bogart’s changing image contribute to the film’s text. In The Maltese Falcon, Bogart’s reputation as a violent character and off-screen machismo enable Spade to become a violent hero who cares more about his partner than he does the female. The censorship of the film’s sexuality further contributes to its focus on violence and shifts its importance away from the heterosexual couple. In The Big Sleep, Bogart’s romantization in Casablanca and popular marriage to Bacall make Marlowe a gentler, knightly hero. The censorship of the film’s violence causes symptomatic representations of that violence to occur through sexuality, which furthers the emphasis of the heterosexual couple. In either case, the films’ constraints produce meaning in the text; they bear the marks of the contexts.
Nascone, Julie, "A Kiss with a Fist is Better Than None: Violence and Sexuality in The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep" (2012). Syracuse University Honors Program Capstone Projects. 130.
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