Satan Met a Lady (1936): Dieterle’s (Second) Version of Dashiell Hammett Novel, Starring Bette Davis and Warren William

William Dieterle directed Satan Met a Lady, a mystery private eye tale, starring Bette Davis (top billing) and Warren William.

Brown Holmes’ scenario is a loose adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s 1929 novel “The Maltese Falcon,” which had been shot in 1931 by Roy Del Ruth under its original title.

It was released on July 22, 1936 as Satan Met a Lady, the title deriving from a line in the book describing Sam Spade as looking “rather pleasantly like a blonde Satan.”

Private detective Ted Shane returns to work with his former partner Ames, who is not particularly happy about the situation because his wife Astrid dated Ted before they were wed.

Valerie Purvis hires the detectives to locate a man called Farrow. When both Ames and Farrow are found dead, Shane is suspected of both murders.

Shane’s office and apartment are ransacked and his secretary Miss Murgatroyd is locked in a closet by Anthony Travers, who is in search of an ancient ram’s horn rumored to be filled with jewels.

Madame Barabbas is also searching for the treasure and sends a gunman to bring Shane to her.

Shane makes deals with each party to find the horn, and winds up possessing a package allegedly containing it, but it turns out to be full of sand instead of jewels.

The police round up the suspects, but Shane and Valerie escape. He baits her into confessing to Ames’s murder and tries to apprehend her for the $10,000 reward.  But Valerie thwarts him by letting a washroom attendant turn her into the police.

Writer Holmes converted the original object of a jewel-encrusted statuette of a falcon into a ram’s horn filled with gems. He also changed character names (Sam Spade became Ted Shane), and the sex of a criminal mastermind from male to female.

Hammett’s novel would get its best screen version in 1941, when it was directed by John Huston, featuring Humphrey Bogart as detective Sam Spade and Mary Astor as the femme fatale.


Bette Davis as Valerie Purvis
Warren William as Ted Shane
Alison Skipworth as Madame Barabas
Arthur Treacher as Anthony Travers
Winifred Shaw as Astrid Ames
Marie Wilson as Miss Murgatroyd
Porter Hall as Milton Ames
Olin Howland as Detective Dunhill
Charles C. Wilson as Detective Pollock


Warner Bros.

Directed by William Dieterle
Produced by Henry Blanke
Script by Brown Holmes, based on The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
Cinematography: Arthur Edeson
Edited by Warren Low
Release date: July 22, 1936
Running time: 74 minutes


TCM showed the film as part of a tribute to Bette Davis in November 2019.