If you’re active on social media, you’re likely aware that an early version of Mickey Mouse entered the public domain on January 1, sparking the usual memes placing the beloved character in adult situations. However, amidst this trend, there’s a unique and more tranquil twist to fan fiction with the Dashiell Hammett Estate’s approval—enter the six-episode limited series “Monsieur Spade,” set to premiere on AMC, AMC+, and Acorn TV.
Crafted by the acclaimed duo of Scott Frank (“The Queen’s Gambit”) and Tom Fontana (“Oz”), and featuring a wittily dry performance by Clive Owen, “Monsieur Spade” takes Hammett’s iconic detective Sam Spade and relocates him to a serene retirement in the South of France. Rather than reinventing the protagonist for a sardonic journey into darkness, Frank and Fontana explore the repercussions when an irritated and irritable character, having found peace, is thrust into the midst of escalating crime and unrest.
The narrative commences in 1955, with Spade (Owen) escorting a young girl named Teresa from Istanbul to Bozouls. Teresa, the daughter of the late Brigid O’Shaughnessy and local miscreant Philippe Saint Andre (Jonathan Zaccaï), is entrusted to Spade’s care. Eight years later, Spade, now settled in Bozouls, grapples with his past promises and a tranquil routine after the passing of his vineyard owner wife. The plot unfolds against the backdrop of a convent massacre involving Teresa and a mysterious Algerian boy coveted by various interests for disparate reasons.
“Monsieur Spade” delves into Spade’s evolution from a competitive and smug chess player of justice, familiar to readers of Hammett’s works, to a domesticated figure navigating a case where the MacGuffin is a human, not an object. However, the series, while intriguing for Owen’s performance and the picturesque setting, sometimes lacks clarity on why Frank and Fontana chose to reinterpret Sam Spade, and the approach may not consistently captivate.
The decision to leap eight years forward early in the series, while injecting smaller mysteries related to the intervening time, somewhat diminishes the fish-out-of-water evolution of the character. Viewers unfamiliar with any prior incarnation of Spade may find the central question of Spade’s transformation less meaningful. The series is generally accommodating to audiences unaware of Spade’s history, allowing references to be optional rather than essential for engagement.
“Monsieur Spade” often feels like a series of escalating red herrings leading to a chaotic finale. The narrative leans into chaos, necessitating a cameo from an Emmy-winning actress who delivers a swift and engaging performance, injecting life into the resolution. Owen, steering clear of a Humphrey Bogart imitation, delivers a nuanced portrayal, blending throwback machismo with an awareness of aging. The character’s iconic elements are stripped away, revealing Spade’s poignant realization that smug superiority doesn’t always prevail against younger, tougher adversaries.
The series excels in verbal sparring scenes, particularly between Owen and co-star Denis Ménochet. Owen’s chemistry with the cast, including banter about omelet condiments, enhances the viewing experience. Teresa’s character could have been more developed, but Bossom and Owen find appealing comic undertones in their interactions in the later episodes. The series is weakened by Bourgoin, Mastroianni, Weber, and Zaccaï playing characters with untapped potential who serve as interlopers in Spade’s thwarted retirement.