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Crime in San Francisco


San Francisco is a leading financial hub in the US, with one of the highest populations in California. The city and county’s economy is based on diverse professional services that include financial services, high technology and tourism. However, the city’s reputation is not all rosy considering the high crime rates that come with being a densely populated and relatively wealthy city. In popular culture, the filmsThe Maltese Falcon and Vertigo represent a San Francisco that is not just about the glitz and glamour but also the crooked world of unscrupulous business ventures laced with greed and conspiracies. These movies are about the detective profession, and both are some of the most intriguing tales of crime and deception in this city. The characters are mostly deceitful and self serving, with greed and self gratification being the greatest motivator of them all. This paper will discuss three main characters in each movie and how they show a dark side to this otherwise glorious Californian city. The traits of these characters present a fictitious and yet representative perspective of the city’s crime world.

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Sam Spade

This is the main character in the film, a supposed confidential investigator who should be on the right side of the law. In the movie, he starts out as a good man or something like that. He is portrayed as a sly and cunning personality who even has an affair with his partner’s wife right under his nose (Wallis&Huston, 1941). Right from the beginning of the story it is clear that the concept of trust is a very elusive one in this big city. In addition, each time Sam Spade indulges himself during the movie, the motives were self serving. He agreed to help Brigid because he was attracted to her in the first place, and he then agrees to help Gutman because he wants a cut of the profits. Generally, Sam Spade is a false advertising in the context of fighting crime. He indulges in it as much as he purports to help in solving and deterring it by catching the bad guys. His motivation in apprehending a ‘fall guy’ is also not to get justice for his partner’s killing but to clear his name and get the police off his back. Spade’s character represents the underground policing environment in this city where those that one would run to are rather more dangerous once the balance is tilted, with money or the promise of it.

Brigid O’Shaughnessy

This character is presented as a cunning pathological liar who is irresistible and quick witted enough to manipulate even the best of them all. In the story, she fits the description of many city girls who have had to adjust into a life of acting after being victims of one too many crooks. This particulardelicate beauty is actually hard enough to kill for her own interests seeing as she kills Archer in order to frame Thursby and get rid of him. Brigid is a real criminal who fits into the city of San Francisco as an innocent beauty from the high society, and the fact that she uses this to her advantage in every stance implies that the city is structured to accommodate people like her.The Maltese Falcon is in essence a story of successful crime except that the Russian owner of the statuette beat the entire gang in cunningness and left them with a fake.

Miles Archer

Miles Archer is the infamous partner who gets killed right after taking on a job that paid exorbitantly. When Brigid came to the detectives’ office with that story about her sister being abducted, the two detectives were too willing to take on her case but Archer literally haggled with his partner for it. He was not just interested in the money, but also the client who was a professional liar and witty enough to manipulate a good detective. Archer may have been interested in finding Miss ‘Wonderly’s’ supposed sister but his end game was in ‘hooking up’ with the client as hinted when he tells Sam Spade that he spoke out first and he thus owns her somehow. The self centered nature of the people to whom civilians are expected to go for help is herein threatening. This makes Miles Archer a criminal in his own way, and although his thoughts and actions arenot illegal, they cost him his life in the end.

Gavin Elster

This is the man who kills his wife and cunningly sets up a charade for her look alike to commit suicide and cover up his deeds. He even calls up his supposed friend to witness the suicide by asking to tail his supposedly ‘possessed’ wife out of his concern for her. This man portrays San Francisco as a society in which husbands kill their wives in cold blood and go ahead to cover it up like it means nothing at all. His representation of crime in the Vertigo film is vivid and scary given his audacity and cold blooded nature.

Judy Barton

She is the woman paid by Gavin Elster to impersonate Madeleine Elster as Gavin’s wife in order to cover up the poor woman’s murder by performing a suicide charade. This woman manages to convince Scottie of her death to the point that he is driven to madness. Her representation of crime is seen in her role as an enabler of the murder and cover up of Mrs. Elster and the ease with which she does it implies s high level of moral decadence in the society within which she lives.

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John Scottie Ferguson

John Scottie Ferguson is the private detective in Vertigo who is hired to tail the boss’ wife. He instead ends up falling in love with her and as time passes, he doesn’t really tail her as much as he spends time with her (Hitchcock, 1985). He also fails to report his interactions with her to her husband, who is also supposed to be his friend. At the end of this movie, Scottie even asks Judy, the woman he had known and fallen in love with as Madeleine, to reenact the events that had led to his madness. This is yet another self serving altercation that reveals the detective’s personality in detail.


The Maltese Falcon is a story about criminals who enlist the services of a greedy detective to help them in their criminal endeavors. They however end up being duped and eventually turned in after the statuette they are fighting for amongst themselves turns out to be a fake. This story is notexactly representative of the city of San Francisco but considering the clarity with which it portrays crime, it can be related to this big rich Californian city.Vertigo also brings out the dark side of San Francisco’s peaceful front given the kind of story it has. Safe cities don’t have people who collaborate with husbands to kill and cover up the murder of their wives by staging a suicide. The very idea that this movie represents in terms of spousal murder and conspiracy in covering up is simply worrying to say the least. Both movies show how the detectives are lured into the world of criminals to the point that they too play an active role in crime.