Mystery Net Community Mystery Greats Dashiell Hammett
A former Pinkerton Detective, Dashiell Hammett's gritty novels are classic hard-boiled detective stories.
Samuel Dashiell Hammett (1894-1961) is recognized as the first master of hard-boiled detective fiction. His lean writing style, cynical characters and complex plots brought a new energy to pulp magazines then went on to define the genre in movies, radio and television where the private eye series became an entertainment staple.
(17 previous messages)
Ah, Elizabeth! I admire yr faith in Hammett's gifts. I even envy it. But when it comes to the idea of whether Sam would've "gotten better" at the mainstream form had he lived longer, you shd remember that "The Thin Man" was published in 1934. Hammett died in 1961. In the interim, he wrote a comic strip (Secret Agent X-9), edited several anthologies and saw much of his Black Mask work repackaged in book form. He was also hired and fired regularly by various Hollywood studios and turned out a few story treatments which were later made into films in the "Thin Man" series/cottage industry. The fragment of "Tulip" is all we have of his "serious" literary ambitions. How much longer would he have had to live to make a go of the mainstream form?
Elizabeth--I think the color in the title is about like waving a red flag before a bull: it simply gets our attention. We are, after all, a visually-oriented species, and I think the hard-boiled (agree with the term "naturalistic") writers were (and are; witness Walter Mosley) honest enough to play to that particular foible of humanity in order to possibly sell their works. I also think "The Thin Man" was a composition based on Hammett's (probably booze-induced) idealization of the lifestyle he led while co-habiting with Lillian Hellman (Ms. Hellman attests to this in her introduction to "The Big Knockover"), and, as such, just a little hackneyed. That it became at all popular in novel form was probably due to the name Hammett had carved via his more naturalistic works, and the gullibility of the American public; that it was successful as a movie was most definitely due to Hollywood's innate ability to capitalize on our (not-so-secret) love of schmaltz and the considerable talents of Mr. Powell & Ms. Loy. And that martini-swiilling dog...what's that about?
Did Asta drink? It's been so long since I read the book or watched any of the movies that I've forgotten. The only movie booze hound (pun intended) that I remember was Neil, the alcoholic (and ghostly) St. Bernard, pet of the equally ghostly George and Marian Kirby, who made Cosmo Topper's life so, um, interesting. This has got nothing at all to do with Hammett, of course, but Stuart's post jogged my memory and brought a smile to my lips.
Hello Paul and Stuart (et al.)
I am humbled before the vastness of your Hammet knowledge -- I did not know that it took Dash that long to die! Really, I thought, for some scatterbrained reason, that he penned "Thin" and shortly thereafter croaked. I guess I do have a lot of rather misplaced faith -- it is just there are so few authors who repeatedly produce stuff I enjoy/respect, that when they are a little off their game, I make excuses for them. (I remember trying to justify "Corialanus" to an ex-boyfriend of mine who thought he was some kind of Shakespeare scholar. I agree that it wasn't the Bard's best, but a bad day at the office for old Will was nine times better than anyone else's best, etc.) To defend my unworthy self further, I think of Nick and Nora as how boozing college students wish they could grow up to be -- and since I've not been out of college for long, I guess that's somewhat of a holdover for me. Ah well... Stuart, thanx for the input on the colors. I'm sure that the visual thing has something to do with it, but I also wonder if it's something to do with the black/white harshness of the society, and the characters -- there are shades of grey in each hero, so to alleviate the greyness they (the naturalistic writers) throw in color to shock us, like blood on snow. Okay, I'm babbling.
I also do not remember Asta taking a drink. Was that from a sequal to the original Thin Man movie?
I seem to remember a sequence which had Asta emulating the rather hung-over Nick after a night of debauchery (you know: Nick wobbles in, collapses on divan, followed by Asta, who collapses on the floor in front of him, paws to the sky; both burp wantonly to indicate extreme intoxication), to be admonished by Nora for not bringing "Daddy" home safe, whereupon Nick informs Nora that the dog had one more martini than he did. But, come to think of it, it was probably from one of the later movie sequels, when the Hollywood powers were milking the formula for whatever they could to put fannies in the seats. However, Paul, thanks for the remembrance to "Topper" and Neil...I'd forgotten how much fun they were. I haven't seen them in years! Elizabeth, interesting insight! Hadn't thought of it in that way, but the "blood on the snow" certainly affects me powerfully, and, I must admit, I am more likely to at least look more closely at "colorful" titles than at others...perhaps because of that expectation. I dunno if the authors themselves thought (or think) in that fashion...might be an interesting question to ask one of the contemporaries.
You want colorful titles? I got.
Any of John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee novels, all of which had a color in the title. Trav is phony as hell, of course; no one could ever live like that, but it's a lot of fun suspending disbelief long enough to pretend that someone could.
Two other noteworthy "color" titles are "Blue Lonesome" by Bill Pronzini, a phenomenal novel by a vastly underrated writer. (And I would feel that way even if he weren't a friend.) And "The Burnt Orange Heresey" by Charles Willeford. CW was best known for the Hoke Moseley series of Miami thrillers, but BOH is without doubt his masterpiece. It's a crime novel, but unlike any you've read before.
Mystery Net Community Mystery Greats Dashiell Hammett