Thursday, May 27, 2010

In Memoriam: Dashiell Hammett

Although he only published five novels in his writing career, they are five of the best detective novels in the American canon, and Dashiell Hammett - born on this day in 1894 - is rightly a legend for writing them.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket Despite that, his novels are probably better known these days for the movie versions made of them: The Thin Man (1934) starring William Powell and Myrna Loy who played Nick and Nora Charles to giddy perfection, The Glass Key, made twice (first in 1935 with George Raft and again in 1942 starring Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake) as well as The Maltese Falcon - also made twice - first in 1931 starring Ricardo Cortez, and in a more famous version in 1941 starring Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade.

The movies are today considered classics of film noir and the novels are even grittier. They are written with a bracing verve that reading them actually got my heart pounding, especially Red Harvest. Only Red Harvest and The Dain Curse have never received the Hollywood treatment, although the latter was made into a mini-series for American TV in 1978, starring James Coburn.

Hammett's reputation today owes as much to his 30-year relationship to Lillian Hellman as his talent. She out-lived him by 32 years, and in that time worked as hard at burnishing his reputation as she did at perfecting her own myth. A 1999 TV movie made by A&E entitled Dash & Lilly memorably starred Sam Shepard and Judy Davis as the literary lovers.
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1 comment:

michael sean morris said...

Interesting Footnote: As Hammett was a veteran of both WWI and WWII he was buried accordingly in Arlington National Cemetery, a place where many Americans go to observe Memorial Day.