Satan Met a Lady (1936)

“I’m supposed to be a detective solving a crime case, and everybody thinks I committed the crime!”

Satan Lady Poster

Synopsis:
While investigating the mysterious death of his partner (Porter Hall), detective Ted Shane (Warren William) becomes embroiled in a competitive search for the infamous Horn of Roland, desired by a femme fatale (Bette Davis), an Englishman (Anthony Travers), and an old woman (Alison Skipworth) with a pudgy son (Maynard Holmes).

Genres:

Review:
William Dieterle’s lighthearted adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s detective novel has suffered a most ignoble fate: that of being constantly compared with its more illustrious remake, The Maltese Falcon (1941). Indeed, critic Jonathan Rosenbaum dismisses it as simply an “inferior and unacknowledged adaptation”, while TCM’s reviewer refers to it as a “cinematic train wreck” (!), and Bette Davis reportedly deemed it one of the worst films of her career. Yet, as noted in Time Out’s review, while Satan Met a Lady can’t hold a candle to Huston’s classic version, it’s “nevertheless enjoyably and quirkily funny”, and certainly not a complete waste of cinematic space. Several key changes have been made — most notably in the (inexplicable) exchange of a jewel-filled ram’s horn for the falcon, the alteration of most supporting characters’ names, and the casting of a woman (Skipworth) in what would later become Sydney Greenstreet’s signature role as the Fat Man. The most significant change, however, is one of tone, given that there’s a lot more overt humor (particularly in the character of Shane’s secretary Miss Murgratroyd, nicely played by Marie Wilson), and Warren William portrays “Sam Spade” (actually Ted Shane) as a debonair, wisecracking ladies’ man (not necessarily a bad choice — he’s simply not as memorable or enigmatic as Bogart’s more cynical Spade). Despite its somewhat dense plot — which requires some hasty explanation near the end of the film — Satan Met a Lady is worth a look at least once for its cast of fine performances and for its infamous reputation.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Fine comedic performances by the entire cast
    Satan Lady Performances

Must See?
No, but most film fanatics will likely be curious to check it out, given its historical relevance.

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One Response to “Satan Met a Lady (1936)”

  1. Not a must.

    I was looking for the right words to describe this myself but the assessment already holds them. I’m in complete agreement with the TCM reviewer who labels ‘SMAL’ a “cinematic train wreck”. This is just plain awful, without a redeeming quality in sight.

    Seems that Warner Bros. decided to use the rights they had to Hammett’s novel and milk them. They had already released a very impressive pre-Code version in 1931 – with a rather sexy turn by Ricardo Cortez as Sam Spade. And, of course, the definitive version (if a bit less faithful to the book than that of 1931) would arrive later courtesy of Bogart and Huston.

    What one guesses happened is this: the film version of Hammett’s novel ‘The Thin Man’ was released by M-G-M in 1934 and was quite a success. Naturally, studios love success – and love to cash in on the success of other studios. Judging by what’s on-screen, Warner Bros. decided to re-do their 1931 film in the more sophisticated style of Hammett’s ‘Thin Man’. Thus, Sam Spade (re-named slightly as Shane) appears for us more along the lines of William Powell and the remake is given more of a comedic tone.

    None of it works. None of it.

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