Character Witness: Humphrey Bogart: Rick Blaine vs. Sam Spade

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in April of 2012.

CHARACTER WITNESS BOGART 2One actor. Two film roles. You tell us which portrayal was the best. The most memorable. Or iconic. Or simply your favorite.

But before you pass judgment, a few words defending the “character” of each…


The Case for Sam Spade

A year before Humphrey Bogart was Rick Blaine, he essayed Dashiell Hammet’s PI Sam Spade in 1941’s The Maltese Falcon. Some may be surprised to learn that in the novel Spade was a blonde! Now who can think of Spade other than the dark, flinty gumshoe that Bogart played. Indeed, this film, and Bogart’s performance, in particular, was the prototype for virtually all film noirs to follow. Think of it, a completely new genre of movies created because of Bogart’s performance as Sam Spade. Can you beat that?

The Case for Rick Blaine

Bar owner. Renegade. Ladies’ man. Nurses a broken heart (“Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine”), but still has a backbone. And despite the tough guy talk of looking out for number one (“I’m the only cause I’m interested in… I stick my neck out for nobody!”) his actions in Casablanca continually prove otherwise. Guys want to be him…hell, gals want to be him! Smart. Suave. Resourceful. Honorable. There’s a reason everybody comes to Rick’s!

Now that you’ve heard the arguments for both, it’s time to render your verdict!

  • Stacy

    No contest-Rick Blaine! Handsome, intelligent, gruff with a tender heart.

  • Robert

    No contest: It’s Sam in spades! From rolling his own smokes to bedding his partner’s needy wife Sam is always three steps ahead of his adversaries including, in the end, the seductive Miss O’Shaughnessy.
    Rick Blaine is a poster child for ‘If you booze it you lose it.’ How about that gobbledy-gook at the end about the lives of two little people not making a difference where lets the piece of his life walk away with her husband as if his single life will? Pour me another, Sam.

    • Bruce Reber

      Sam was the piano player, Sacha was the bartender at Cafe Americain.

  • Wayne

    Theyre both so good its really hard to choose, because theyre also such different roles…so will flip a coin and itll probably land on an edge! Itd be nice to imagine others in those roles, such as Clark Gable or Spencer Tracy, who couldve pulled them off maybe as well. It should also be noted that the supporting casts in the Golden Age had much to do with a pictures success.

  • Rick Crump

    Besides Rick having a great name (lol) he also had a heart. He shows his vulerability, rather than just being the tough guy all the time.

  • Johanna G

    Rick – for sure – hard shelled marshmallow. Not that Sam spade wasn’t cool – but Rick wins for me.

  • ANH

    Rick Blaine.

  • Martin Stumacher

    Rick Blaine, that says it all.

  • Blair Kramer.

    Bogart was larger than life and everyone he portrayed on screen was a fascinating character. But consider this… Men and women both enjoy “Casablanca.” But “The Maltese Falcon” is a film that primarily appeals to men. Rick was a tough guy with a soft side. Sam was a tough guy who didn’t really have a soft side (he claimed to love the girl at the end of the film, and then… Well… I’m no spoiler!). So, strictly for the fact that he was more of a romantic than Sam, Rick gets my nod.

  • Bryan R

    For me, Sam Spade! In the novels, he over 6′ tall, Bogie was no where near that tall, and yet when he was on screen, everyone else just shrank from sight!

  • Doghousereilly1

    While Rick was the Bogart protagonist- tough guy who does the right thing in the end- Sam Spade was a pure noir character. Spade really did stick his neck out for nobody.

  • Tom H.

    If you want to compare roles for Bogart- it would more like Rick Blaine and Philip Marlowe from the Big Sleep. In my opinion, the Marlowe role is more iconic than Sam Spade. He was human- try sweating in a hot, humid greenhouse- or posing as a rare book buyer.

  • Csnine

    I know it’s Rick vs. Sam but throw in Fred C. Dobbs, Charlie Allnut, Duke Mantee, and Harry Morgan (Steve). Any true Bogart fan could make a case for any of these great characters.

  • Gordon S. Jackson

    To paraphrase, you have to of course say the lines they brung yu – to play the character they gave yu.  So as much as anything else, it depends upon which character you like the best OR which character you find the most believable.  I like Rick and Sam for a vareity of reasons, but Sam gets my vote because he comes across to me as a man rivitted in his principles, ethics and personal moral code.  I have no doubt he wanted the woman – but there was something greater at play that made her untouchable.  Yeah, it’s the part, so I suppose you could say my vote for Sam goes hand-in-glove with a vote for the way the character was written and played.

  • Dragonfly

    What can I say, Casablanca is my favorite film. So it has to be Rick.

  • Gary Vidmar

    Sam Spade –  A cynical smartass who could play Rick Blaine for a dupe anytime, any place.

  • Gjefferson

    The characters in those early movies were molded by the director that saw the potential in the actors personality Bogart played tough criminals in his old movies that had soft sides like in High Sierra to bad the dog was his down fall, one of my favorites before he played the good guy parts. Sam Spade fell along those same lines.I dont believe there is a fine line between good and bad, dirty and clean water can’t be in the same glass, one will contaminate the other, Characterzation is the same.
    Spade and Blaine both hold back the dark side doesnt let the bad take over. I guess they are equal.
    They both have the same case.
    I vote both. 

  • Gwen

    i guess rick blaine. .
    the movie was faithful to the book, but for me, sam spade will always be howard duff–also not blonde

  • Fbusch

    Bogart had a much broader range than these 2 roles. Fred C. Dobbs, Charlie Alnut, and his part in were no angels, reflect his abilities more than these 2 roles. That said, I’ll watch Casablanca often, but the Falcon doesn’t keep my attention as well.

  • Joe

    Both are great roles, but Rick in “Casablanca” is an all-time classic role on an all-time classic movie.

  • Pczak

    Rick had some of the best  and unforgettable lines in  all of moviedom.  Beside its my favorite movie. Here’s looking at you kid!

  • Roger9

    Of the two , it has to be Rick Blaine,a  soldier of fortune, a romantic “We’ll always have Paris”,  a softie “Boss, you did a beautiful thing” and a closet patriot ” Ilsa, I’m not good at being noble, etc, etc” and one liners you can’t beat :”” Rick, why did you come to Casablanca?”  “I came for the waters.”  “But this is the desert.”  With a shrug:  ” I was misinformed!” Pure genius.

  • the other Rick

    I’ll be shocked, shocked, if it isn’t Rick Blaine.

    • wbausert .

      Your winnings, sir.

  • JackJones

    MovieFanFare: I don’t like your new format. Would prefer the old one.

  • oc

    spade by a mile!!

  • Arch

    This is like having to decide whether during sex you are on your back or on top.

  • Chad D.

    Humphrey’s better performance was of Rick Blaine.  He was great as Sam too.  That being said, if Maltese had stuck to the book, I think their could be an argument that Alan Ladd could have played Mr. Spade.  Blond, mysterious, dripping with detective coolness.  Bogart was great in both.  Just greater as Rick Blaine. 

  • Kingpong

    Although his performance was perfect in both movies, I decided to vote for his Rick Blaine portrayal.
    Sam Spade was a hero of his city but Rick Blaine was a hero of the world!

  • Rick

    Well I guess I’m kind of biased ! Seems I came along not long after my Mum had been to see Casablanca. So no cigar, she called me Rick. 

  • Geministardancer

    Sam Spade… without a doubt!!!

  • Eccolima54

    Without any doubts : Rick Blaine. He is a more realistic character than Spade.

  • Maggie

    I love Bogie in all his movies, but the character of Rick Blaine is my favorite!

  • Michael S. Novak

    I like both Bogart made both characters  memorable

  • Sherefe

    Rick Blaine is the quintessential WW II era American.  Spade is great but Rick is truly iconic.

  • Sheltonstill

    No contest- Rick Blaine!!!

  • Captain Midnight

    Like some of the others, I liked both characters portrayed by Bogart but I especially liked Rick Blaine just a little bit more than Sam Spade. However,on a dark stormy night, I’ll watch either movie! Yeah, Bogart is just that good!

  • rick h

    Rick Blaine, perhaps one the most eniigmatic chacters on the scrren takes the best with lines like “of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.”

  • Bill Ward

    I like Sam Spade, because the character transformed Bogart from a gangster heavy to more iconic roles like Rick Blaine.

  • Robert0320

    I’m an incurable romantic guy so I gotta go with Rick

  • Razrfrog

    Sam Spade because without him we might not have had Roy Earle, Rick Blaine, Fred C. Dobbs, Charlie Allnut or Captain Queeg.

    • wbausert .

      Excellent point!

  • Santasc

    Sam Spade is my man. He is get-go from the beginning, is quick on his feet, cagey, tough as nails, no fool to anyone, outricks everybody, and hands to the various crooks and a lying women what they deserve. Typical Bogey with an accent. 
    Rick Blaine, spotlessly dressed in white jacket, chain-smokes, drinks, signs checks, and plays chess to himself waiting for things to happen. When the lady comes in, he plays catch-up, drinks gin, gets weepy, and only when he shoots Strasser the real bogey. Romantic, yes, tough, no? It’s Claude Rains that cracks the good jokes in Casa… which I still ove despite that.  

  • Tim

    sam the man, rick don’t even know what he is, try to be a man rick

  • appleblossom

    Bogie never fails!! However he finally got to put it to Hollywood and became a leading man as Rick Blaine. 

  • Les

    Just about impossible to choose but I am a romantic so I will go with Rick Blaine over the rough edged Sam Spade. Two great portrayals though……….

  • Ed Herrmann

    Both are the creations of shrewd, thoughtful writers but there is no real contest.  Sam Spade has my vote because he is closer to an actual human being in the real world.  That Rick Blaine would wear a nicely cut summer suit and an American fedora in the middle of a hot Moroccan bazaar is simply bizarre.  Clearly “Casablanca” is a brilliant bit of wartime propaganda, wonderfully entertaining but with hardly  any sense of life in a Vichy administered colony.  Pity.  John Huston and Dashel Hammet win easily.

    • williamsommerwerck

      The “hard-boiled PI” is a creation of writers, only slightly closer to plausibility than the American owner of a Moroccan watering hole.

  • James Howard

    Sam Spade was a tough guy  Rich Blane was a tougher guy and did not have to prove it.  He had a woman who loved him and he loved her.  Nowhere did she ever say she loved her husband.  She respected him, but she loved Rick.  Only a special kind of man would let a woman go with another man because he knew she would be better off.  That is love and that is a man.  Here’s looking at you kid.

  • jumbybird

    I’ve never managed to sit through the entire Maltese Falcon without falling asleep, on the other hand, I’ve seen Casablanca about 20 times… nuff said.

    • Kl4col

      Neither puts me to sleep, but Maltese Falcon has me on the edge of my seat–no matter how many times I have seen it.

  • Kl4col

    I prefer Maltese Falcon and Sam Spade. The characters in that movie are all so quirky and unique.

  • Dsucharski

    Tough to pick between the two.  If I have to choose I’d go with Sam Spade.  The way he handles Peter Lorre/Joel Cairo in the film and the young punk who works for Sydney Greenstreet’s character is just classic.  I could watch Maltese Falcon 100 times and still not be tired of it.  But then again the same can be said of Casablanca.

    • Bruce Reber

      I just love the way Spade slaps Cairo and Cook around, and gives as good as he gets with Gutmann and O’Shaughessy in TMF!

  • Susanjohnston

    I have to go with Rick Blaine every time.  I loved Bogey in almost everything he did, but Rick is a well-spoken, empathetic character..he does the right thing because it is the right thing to do.  Spade was neither.

  • Frank1168

    Regardless of whom he portrayed, Bogie will always be Sam Spade, Rick Blaine, Sgt. Joe Gunn, his character in the “African Queen.” etc. No one, but no one can come close to him as a actor with no equals.

  • Magman

    Now look here Schweetheart. Bogey’s role as Rick Blaine takes the prize over Sam Spade any day.Not only is he tough but tough enough to show and deal with a broken heart, a situation usually reserved just for dames in the movies.Don’t agree with me? Well, we’ll always have Paris.

    • dreemeagle

      the way a real man is SUPPOSED to deal with a broken heart, regardless of this era of absurdity where men strive to be emotionally equal to women and women strive to be physically equal to men;

  • williamsommerwerck

    How about the case for Captain Queeg?
    I’d never really made up my mind about whether Humphrey Bogart was a good actor. He tended to race through his lines, without much subtlety or inflection. But when I watched “The Caine Mutiny” a few months back, I decided he /was/ a good actor. It’s a fine performance, fully worthy of the Oscar Nomination he received, and arguably the award itself. (He lost, and received a consolation Oscar for his not-as-good performance in “The African Queen”.)

  • Daves57Cad

    When I was a kid and the theaters played two features, my Brother and I had gone to see a Western. When the second feature started I looked at the credits and saw Humphrey Bogart and asked my Brother if we could leave. Back then Bogart scared me. Years later I discovered the feature I walked out on was “Sabrina”.

  • joescarp

    Casablanca: best movie ever. Bogart: enjoyable in almost every role.

  • MRD

    Casablanca is the better film, arguably the best Hollywood picture of all time. An incredible story and ensemble.

    That being said, The Maltese Falcon is a classic in its own right and Bogey’s Sam Spade is the perfect combination of actor and character. The quintessential hard boiled detective. The coolest noir anti-hero. If it is a contest of simply Sam vs. Rick then I have to go with Sam Spade for the win. Rick is too kind and sentimental. Sam goes for the jugular!

  • FrankS

    I love Sam Spade, but Rick is one of the great movie characters in movie history! And Casablanca is arguably the best movie ever produced (Neck and neck with Notorious IMHO – I obviously love Ingrid Bergman). So in my opinion it’s a no-brainer: Rick all the way!

  • fbusch

    The writers and directors decide what the actors say. But, the actor decides how he will say it. (with a bit of advice from the director). Bogart had the ability to put himself into the part and show his audience how he would picture the character in his own mind. And that’s the way most of us would like it to be. Bogart’s talent was his ability to picture in his own mind how the part should appear and become that person. compare Fred C. Dobbs and Charlie Allnut. or Capt. Queeg. All totally different personalities played as they would appear to the actor. We are comparing Apples and Oranges when we should just be thankful that he was a kid at heart who could visualize what we wanted to see. ( I’ve never seen a film with Bogart, that I didn’t like!)

  • dreameagle

    really, you are kidding…Rick Blaine is a dog in heat, baseball bat, apple-pie-in-the-face Corvette knowing just when to put the rubber to the road, in the quintessential Hollywood movie machine era picture;

  • Don Hall

    Both films were great but I’ll pick Spade. There can never be another Bogart.

  • wbausert .

    Rick Blaine…or Richard as Ilsa Lund called him. And I prefer Bogie’s Marlowe (The Big Sleep) to Sam Spade, too. That’s not to detract from Bogie’s Sam Spade, just to hold up Rick Blaine and Phillip Marlowe as the best of the best from a character portrayal perspective!

  • TrippyTrellis

    Sam Spade. As much as I worship Ingrid Bergman, I actually prefer “The Maltese Falcon” to “Casablanca”.

  • Larry

    Sam Spade “such a character you are!” Bogie at his best

  • Wes

    I think all the comments below are on target. Bogart was great in both roles. How about a discussion on his leading ladies in these two flicks. In Casablanca Ingrid Bergman was great opposite Bogey, but in The Maltese Falcon I always feel that Mary Astor is completely miscast. I’m sure she was a fine actress,but here she’s too upper class, too refined, too reserved to be the “bad girl” who tries to cheat the others out of the Falcon’s treasure. Bette Davis would have been great too. She could curl her upper lip and snarl with the best of them. And, of course Lauren Bacall would have been great , but this was before her time and she hadn’t been discovered yet.

    • Bob

      Couldn’t agree more Wes. You nailed it!!!

    • Antone

      I liked Astor’s performance. Her character was a consummate con artist, who relied on her apparent refinement, reserve & helplessness to outwit her opponents.