Mister Spade: what is the series with Clive Owen worth on Canal +?

Mister Spade: what is the series with Clive Owen worth on Canal +?

The creators of Oz and Queen’s Gambit imagine the improbable meeting between The Maltese Falcon and A French Village.

It’s the return of the great figures of noir. Perry Mason on HBO, Philip Marlowe resurrected by Liam Neeson, soon a new Ripley on Netflix with Andrew Scott… And here is Sam Spade, the private imagined by Dashiell Hammett, immortalized by Humphrey Bogart in the legendary Maltese Falcon, who is reborn in the guise of Clive Owen. Not in San Francisco – where we saw him working in John Huston’s 1941 classic – but in Aveyron, in Bozouls, at the beginning of the 60s. A funny idea, yes, coming from the joint imaginations of Scott Frank (The Queen’s Game) and Tom Fontana (OZ), who clearly wanted to give fresh air to their neo-noir fantasies.

No dark alleys here, nor rain-soaked pavement: Sam Spade, in sunny pre-retirement, tries to quit smoking, regularly swaps whiskey for red wine, and tries to spend peaceful, albeit grieving, days ( his French wife recently died) in his house with a swimming pool hidden in the middle of the vineyards. A criminal intrigue will of course not take long to get underway, when the massacre of the nuns of the local convent sets the population of Bozouls in turmoil. The event will awaken many barely healed wounds in the community, mixing dirty secrets dating from the Second World War and echoes of the Algerian War rumbling in the distance. Spade begins an investigation which will lead him to come across a rather chic French cast, typical of a Canal series: Denis Ménochet, Louise Bourgoin, Chiara Mastroianni, Jonathan Zaccaï… The sixties reconstruction is well on point, opulent, what we expect quality French production. Funny vision: the specter of Bogart wandering in A French Village.

Mister Spade is probably not appreciated in the same way depending on the side of the Atlantic from which it is viewed. When it was broadcast in the United States at the start of the year, this AMC / Canal+ co-production was also called Mister Spade, in the French style, to emphasize its postcard dimension sent from France during the Trente Glorieuses. An exotic character that perhaps appeals to an American audience that we imagine to be quite old, but which inevitably gets lost in translation. We are nevertheless grateful to Frank and Fontana for having really studied their political and cultural history textbook: we do not see every day a series written by two Americans focusing so precisely on the repercussions of the Algerian war in the French province of the sixties. And the pop winks are quite sharp – who could have imagined that Sam Spade would one day mention in a line the Discorama by Denise Glaser?

It is steeped in its ORTF references that Mister Spade assumes its old-fashioned charm, its languid tempo and its twists and turns in dribs and drabs. The melancholy nonchalance of Clive Owen fortunately cements everything together: the sixty-year-old actor wears handsomely (Spade regularly takes off his shirt, or even the rest when he wants to crawl naked in his swimming pool) and, rather than trying a risky postmodern variation on the character, elaborates quite finely around Bogart’s characteristic mix of cool and anger. The Englishman recalls in passing that he spent a good part of his film exploring all the nuances of black (neo in Dealerpost in Sin City…) to finally return here to the essence, tracking down the founding myth of the genre like one pursues a chimera. Resurrect Bogart? It is a mirage, by definition inaccessible. But we can take pleasure in watching it shimmer in the sun.

Mister Spadecreated by Scott Frank and Tom Fontana, directed by Scott Frank, with Clive Owen, Cara Bossom, Denis Ménochet… On Canal +

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