Memories of the oft-viewed Bogart version of the story linger for about three seconds as Dashiell Hammett's "The Maltese Falcon" comes to life on the Butterfield 8 stage.

The theatrical version is based more on the book than the movie was -- it's rougher, grittier and, in many ways, more realistic than the film. And the characters are nothing like you've seen in "The Maltese Falcon." There's an excellent cast here, and it has done its job and created new characterizations of these familiar people -- Sam Spade, Effie Perine, Brigid O'Shaughnessy and, of course, sweet-scented Joel Cairo and the fat man (not so fat here), Kasper Gutman.

"Damn," as Spade might say, this is the genuine article, rare as a crisp C-note in your handkerchief pocket and comforting as a fully loaded heater in your shoulder holster.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I am a big fan: I've seen at least two versions of the movie, I've read the book, I've read a lot about Hammett. So, just walking into the theater for this telling of the story, I was thrilled.

I was even more thrilled upon hearing Hammett's sparkling dialogue come to life. It's something of a challenge for the actors, given that the original is nearly 90 years old.

But the cast takes to the task well, starting with Spade's receptionist Effie Perine (Maureen-Theresa Williams), telling her boss (Chad Clevenger) that Brigid O'Shaughnessy (Kerry Gudjohnsen), wanted help finding her sister, Corinne, who had run away with bad guy Floyd Thursby.

That premise was, of course, a lie, one of so many dead ends and deceptions filling the tangled story, but what's really important is the journey and the characters encountered along the way.

Spade, described by Hammett as someone who "looked rather pleasantly like a blond satan," is well-played by Clevenger, who looks little like the devil but has a captivating air of having everything under control, despite evidence to the contrary. His Spade is macho, romantic and bemused -- quite willing to use fists and firearms, and susceptible to falling for dames like Brigid O'Shaughnessy.

Gudjohnsen brings Brigid beautifully to life, spinning lies convincingly. She has mastered the Hammett dialogue beautifully, delivering long and often convoluted passages in a stunningly realistic style.

Then there are all the wonderful supporting actors. Ron Pickett is perfect as tough cop Lt. Dundy. And there is Melynda Kiring, remarkable as Iva, widow of Spade's late partner Miles Archer. Blonde and hungry for many things, Iva chases Sam with an Olympic intensity, strongly suggesting she is both willing and eager to partner with him. She is simply remarkable in the role.

Williams, as Effie Perine, takes full advantage of her meaty role as office wife and confidant. And Jeremy Cole creates a memorable Joel Cairo, the fey bad guy who turns extreme politeness into malevolence.

Contact Pat Craig at pjcraig495@yahoo.com.

'THE MALTESE FALCON'
Adapted by Helen Borgers from the novel by Dashiell Hammett, presented by
Butterfield 8 Theatre
Company
Through: March 9
Where: Cue Productions Live, 1835 Colfax Ave.,
Concord
Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes, two intermissions
Tickets: $15-$20,
www.b8company.com