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Dashiell Hammett and the Movies

Dashiell Hammett and the Movies

Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Dashiell Hammett and the Movies
    Book Description:

    As the father of the hardboiled detective genre, Dashiell Hammett had a huge influence on Hollywood. Yet, it is easy to forget how adaptable Hammett's work was, fitting into a variety of genres and inspiring generations of filmmakers.

    Dashiell Hammett and the Moviesoffers the first comprehensive look at Hammett's broad oeuvre and how it was adapted into films from the 1930s all the way into the 1990s. Film scholar William H. Mooney reveals the wide range of films crafted from the same Hammett novels, as whenThe Maltese Falconwas filmed first as a pre-Code sexploitation movie, then as a Bette Davis screwball comedy, and finally as the Humphrey Bogart classic. He also considers how Hammett rose to Hollywood fame not through the genre most associated with him, but through a much fizzier concoction, the witty murder mysteryThe Thin Man. To demonstrate the hold Hammett still has over contemporary filmmakers, the book culminates in an examination of the Coen brothers' pasticheMiller's Crossing.

    Mooney not only provides us with an in-depth analysis of Hammett adaptations, he also chronicles how Hollywood enabled the author's own rise to stardom, complete with a celebrity romance and a carefully crafted public persona. Giving us a behind-the-scenes look at the complex power relationships, cultural contexts, and production concerns involved in bringing Hammett's work from the page to the screen,Dashiell Hammett and the Moviesoffers a fresh take on a literary titan.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-6254-4
    Subjects: Film Studies, Language & Literature, Performing Arts

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction: Inferior Hammett or Exemplary Hollywood?
    (pp. 1-8)

    Dashiell Hammett is remembered, first and foremost, for his part in creating the hard-boiled detective story. With Carroll John Daly at the pulp-fiction magazineBlack Mask,he was the writer whose groundbreaking work and reputation made him the emblematic figure of the new genre. First as the Continental Op, who appeared in numerous stories and two novels—most importantlyRed Harvest—then as Sam Spade inThe Maltese Falcon,Hammett’s detective was the model of an investigator who, in the Op’s words, “stirs things up” and by tough persistence as much as intelligence follows the evidence wherever it leads, with...

  5. 1 Three Early Films: Roadhouse Nights (1930), City Streets (1931), and Mister Dynamite (1935)
    (pp. 9-25)

    Dashiell Hammett’s introduction to Hollywood came during his most productive period as a writer. He submittedPoisonvilleto Alfred A. Knopf in February 1928,¹ and it was published asRed Harvesta year later. In the meantime, between August and November 1928, Hammett was exchanging ideas about revisions ofThe Dain Cursewith Knopf editor Harry C. Block.² By thenThe Maltese Falconhad already been submitted in June, so that Block left it to Hammett to decide which book would be published first.³The Dain Cursecame out in June 1929 andThe Maltese Falconin February 1930, the...

  6. 2 Celebrity: The Thin Man (1934)
    (pp. 26-49)

    No film is as important to Dashiell Hammett’s movie career asThe Thin Man, not only because it remains—along withThe Maltese Falcon(1941)—his best known, but because the rest of Hammett’s movie success grew out of the celebrity he acquired as the creator of Nick and Nora Charles. As rarely occurs in Hollywood, the filmmakers at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer set out to make their movie as much as possible like the book. Several circumstances aligned their project with Hammett’s novel. For one thing, after praise forThe Maltese Falcon—some reviewers had called it the best American detective novel...

  7. 3 After The Thin Man: From Sequel to Series
    (pp. 50-80)

    The success ofThe Thin Manwas such that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer immediately planned to exploit it by creating a sequel and by developing additional vehicles for Myrna Loy and William Powell. WhenAfter the Thin Man(1936) generated even more revenue than the original film, the sequel became the second film in a series that included four additional pictures. Reducing risk through an emphasis on “pretested” or “presold” products was a fundamental strategy of the industry in the classical Hollywood era, manifest in imitating all aspects of successful movies, a practice that spawned cycles of films, fostered the genre system, and...

  8. 4 Lillian Hellman: Woman in the Dark (1934) and Watch on the Rhine (1943)
    (pp. 81-95)

    Hammett wrote the seventy-six-page novellaWoman in the Darkshortly beforeThe Thin Man, and it too reflects his relationship with Lillian Hellman. While not the only woman in his life in the early 1930s, Hellman was the person with whom he had the deepest and most enduring relationship. In the fall of 1930, as Diane Johnson writes, “they began an affair, which escalated into a love affair.”¹ Hellman was married to Arthur Kober at the time; they would divorce early in 1932. In the meantime, Hammett, who had been separated from his wife, Josephine, for a number of years,...

  9. 5 Sexual Politics: The Maltese Falcon (1931), Satan Met a Lady (1936), and The Maltese Falcon (1941)
    (pp. 96-127)

    The three films based onThe Maltese Falconspan the most vital years of the cinematic response to Dashiell Hammett’s writing. The novel was pivotal in his publishing career—after good reviews ofRed Harvestand modest enthusiasm forThe Dain Curse,its reception established him as the very best American writer in the genre. This new level of celebrity in turn encouraged further Hollywood interest in his novels and writing for hire.The Maltese Falcon(1931)—which to avoid confusion I refer to here by an alternative title,Dangerous Female—was one of the earliest of Hammett’s eleven films...

  10. 6 Ethnic Politics: The Glass Key (1935 and 1942)
    (pp. 128-153)

    The films based onThe Glass Keybear the imprint of industry censorship at least as much as those fromThe Maltese Falcon, though the objectionable content in this novel was political rather than sexual. The direction theGlass Keyfilms would take was set from early on—in March 1931, almost a year before U.S. publication—when the book was reviewed by Jason Joy for the Studio Reslations Committee (SRC). Joy identified the principal challenge ofThe Glass Keyas having a story too “mixed up with the politics and administration of municipal and State government,”¹ and in a...

  11. 7 Hammett in Retrospect: Miller’s Crossing (1990)
    (pp. 154-171)

    Half a century after the second film version ofThe Glass Keythere would be a third,Miller’s Crossing(1990). The passage of time, however, ensured that this adaptation, not only of Hammett’s novel but also of the two earlier films as well as other sources, would produce a categorically different kind of work—different because it was made for a changed world, and different by the very fact of its retrospectivity. Hammett’s stories and novels were set in the present. As they were remembered or sought out rather than newly popular, they triggered a sense of the past, at...

  12. Conclusion: Dashiell Hammett and the Movies
    (pp. 172-178)

    Hammett’s most recognizable impact on the film industry began withThe Thin Man’ssuccess, making Myrna Loy a star and reinvigorating William Powell’s career. The film spawned not only the series ofThin Manfilms and helped to pair the actors in a half-dozen other pictures, it also contributed, along withIt Happened One Night(Frank Capra, 1934), to establishing screwball comedy as a popular sub-genre, while creating a precedent for films featuring married couples lovingly at war with one another.The Maltese Falcon(1941) had a similar effect, augmenting Humphrey Bogart’s success on his way to the triumph of...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 179-196)
    (pp. 197-202)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 203-214)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 215-216)