Dash’s Crib – Where modern crime fiction was born

A look at where it all started.

EatDrinkFilms.com

by Eddie Muller

[John Huston’s film version of Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon celebrates its 75th anniversary this year. Turner Classic Movies presents screenings Feb. 21 and 24 at theaters around the country. For more, click here and for the line-up of TCM Big Screen Classics.  And, as is our policy, look for extras after the article-ed.]

The first time I walked into Sam Spade’s apartment I thought my head would explode.

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Article: Separating fact from fiction in Dashiell Hammett’s life and work

Dashiell Hammett maybe the first author of noir and he is one of the greatest. I have found his personal life fascinating. I’ve seen a few documentaries and have read many articles about his history with the Pinkerton Detective Agency, The Anaconda Company and his time in Butte, Montana. I live in this area and if you read Red Harvest and know Butte, you will recognize that the fictional Poisonville is Butte. Anyway, here is a an article in The Washington Post by Art Taylor about what maybe legend and myth and what is fact about Hammett. It also talks about the Nathan Ward book about Hammett. Check out the full article here:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/separating-fact-from-fiction-in-dashiell-hammetts-life-and-work/2015/09/09/f69f30a2-477c-11e5-8ab4-c73967a143d3_story.html

Review: The Glass Key

The Glass Key is an early classic film noir from 1942 directed by Stuart Heisler. This film is based on one of the greatest noir and hard-boiled authors ever, Dashiell Hammett.

I have not read this book yet, but it is on my long “to read” list. I have read a few things from Hammett and loved everything I’ve read so far.

This film is a very complex film, with many characters important to the story, as they all effect each other until we get to the bottom of the main crime. So I’m going to approach this a little different then I usually do. We are going to look at most of the characters and a brief description of what drives them.

Ed Beaumont played by Alan Ladd: Ed is loyal to his friend, Paul Madvig, even though he knows sometimes this is not the best thing to be. He is also fascinated by our femme fatale for this tale Janet Henry. Ed is a smart man with many connections in the political world as well as the criminal world and bonces from one to the other with ease.

Paul Madvig played by Brian Donlevy: Paul is a political powerhouse, but is well known to be crooked. He often answers questions with his fists instead of with his wits. He is a feared man in our city and plans on marrying Janet Henry. He also is helping Janet’s father get elected as governor. He is also overprotective of his little sister, who happens to be dating Janet’s brother Taylor. Paul does not like Taylor and thinks he is a bad influence on his young sister.

Janet Henry played by Veronica Lake: Janet is our femme fatale, she is dating Paul, but plans on dumping him as soon as her dad is elected governor. She seems to Like Ed, but can do nothing about it until after the election. She is smart and beautiful and knows how to use both attributes to get what she wants for her and her family.

Opal ‘Snip’ Madvig played by Bonita Granville: Opal is Paul’s little sister and is madly in love with Taylor. When Taylor ends up murdered, she believes her brother did it.

Taylor Henry played by Richard Denning: Taylor has a gambling problem and owes some bad men some money. He uses Opal to help her get some cash after his family has decided to not help him anymore. Taylor ends up murdered and finding out who did it is the driving force of this story.

Nick Varna played by Joseph Calleia: Varna owns a number of illegal gambling operations in the city. When Paul decides to crack down on crime in the city to help Henry get elected governor, Varna is his first victim. This happens even though Varna has been paying protection to Paul. “business is business and politics is politics.” Taylor Henry also owes Varna his gambling debts.

Jeff played by William Bendix: Jeff is Varna’s top muscle. He likes to beat people up, but he has a hard time keeping his mouth shut.

As most of my readers know I don’t like spoilers and don’t write any in my reviews. Hopefully this array of characters is enough to get you excited to see this film. Everybody is great in this, especially Ladd, Lake and Bendix. The story is very complicated but easy to follow. Hammett’s storytelling is some of the best ever.

It is interesting seeing this after watching Miller’s Crossing. Miller’s Crossing is loosely based on this book and Red Harvest by Hammett and you can see the similarities. This would make a great double feature seeing this version from 1942 and comparing it to the version from 1990. I loved both of these films and reviewed Miller’s Crossing earlier here:

https://everythingnoir.com/2015/02/15/re-watching-the-classics-a-fresh-look-at-millers-crossing/

This is also the second Ladd and Lake film I’ve seen, the other is The Blue Dahlia, which also starred Bendix as well. I really loved that film as well and reviewed it here:

https://everythingnoir.com/2015/03/07/review-the-blue-dahlia/

I really look forward to seeing more films with Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake soon and think they made a great pair.

This is a must see for any noir fan, especially those of Ladd, Lake, and Bendix. It is also a must see for fans of Hammett’s books and work.

Re-watching the Classics: The Maltese Falcon

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The Maltese Falcon has a lot of firsts, firsts that would change film, film-noir, fiction and popular culture forever.  The Maltese Falcon is considered by some as the first true film-noir movie.  It is the first movie John Huston ever directed who went on to direct 46 more movies, many of them considered classics and he is considered one of the best directors in history.  This is Sydney Greenstreet’s first film, at 62 years old, he was a stage actor for 40 years before this film.  Greenstreet went on to make 24 more movies in his career, 9 more with co-star Peter Lorre.  This book on which it is based is written by Dashiell Hammett, who some consider the first writer of noir fiction, if he isn’t he certainly is one of the earliest influential writers and a master of the genre.  His work has not only influenced the noir genre greatly, but has popped up in western and samurai movies and films from all over the globe.  I read the book many years ago, and may re-read it and give it, its own review later.  I can tell you that the book is amazing as well.

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This movie has one glaring non-first, this is the third time this book has been adapted to the screen, the other two where rather lack luster attempts(I have not seen either of them).  The reason this one worked so well is John Huston wrote the script just as the book was written.  The previous attempts all had a happy ending, Huston left the original book ending in his version.

The Falcon itself may be the most famous MacGuffin in film history, it is definitely the most valuable.  There are 4 know Falcons and 2 are made of lead.  These lead versions have gone to auction and sold for well over a million dollars.  That is 3x what the original film cost to make.

We have a bunch of the common themes we will find in noir movies for the next 20 years to even today’s neo noir films.  We have the hardboiled private detective with the overcoat and fedora hat, has anybody done this better than Humphrey Bogart?  We have the femme fatale in Mary Astor.  We have an unhappy ending that maybe not what the audience wanted. We have twists and turns, sometimes us as a viewer are not sure what is going on, does our hero know what is going on?  Most of the film is from our hero’s prospective, we are learning as our hero learns. We also have some underling moral issues that are there but not spoken, do to the movie code of the time.  Is our hero having an affair with his partners wife?  Is one of our thugs actually a gay man?  Is our femme fatale using sex and lies to get what she wants?

Our story starts at Spade and Archer’s office.  Spade and Archer are partners and private detectives.  They take on a case where a man needs to be followed because he has taken our clients younger sister and will not let them see her.  When Archer is on the job, he is shot and killed.  This is where are hero Sam Spade takes over trying to find out who killed his partner and why.  Our adventure is with Spade, he is in every scene of this film, except the scene where his partner is murdered.  We don’t know who to believe and who to trust, just like Sam Spade.  If you haven’t seen The Maltese Falcon yet, do it right now!

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In film noir and noir fiction for that matter we have two writers, that are considered the best of the era.  Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett.  The debt about who is best will live forever.  I’ve read both of them and can’t pick a winner myself.  I think the winner is us, as readers of this classic fiction.  One thing they have in common is Humphrey Bogart, the iconic star that played both Hammett’s Sam Spade and Chandler’s Marlowe.  Who is your favorite Bogie detective, Spade or Marlowe?

Review of a Forgotten Classic: They Don’t Dance Much by James Ross

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James Ross was a writer from North Carolina, he wrote some short stories and wrote for newspapers in the south.  This book intrigued me when I heard about it.  James Ross wrote this country noir book before country noir was a thing.  Daniel Woodrell cites this as an influence in his work.  They Don’t Dance Much was published in 1940 and received praise from his contemporaries, people like  Raymond Chandler, William Gay, and Flannery O’Connor loved the book.  Reviewers of this book often compared him to Chandler and even Dashiell Hammett.  You would think we had a noir literary pioneer on our hands!  And we should have, but Ross didn’t like the comparisons and wished he was in the same company of William Faulkner instead.  Even with the great reviews in its time and praise from other great authors, the book never found a big audience and was in and out of print since. Ross was so disappointed in the sales that he stopped writing novels.  Ross was one and out, but what a one.  It is a shame that he didn’t write more, I really enjoyed this book and can’t imagine what he would have written after this.  This takes a poor man who has lost his farm and takes up a job at a roadhouse.  There is a lot of troubling things that happen here, gambling, adultery, drinking, theft and eventually murder.  The writing is very good and even holds up today.  This book is now being printed by the Mysterious Press so it should be fairly easy to find a copy.

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If you want to read a cool book that is getting another chance, check it out.  This book still isn’t very widely read.  It only has 140 ratings on goodreads right now, but is well liked by the ones that have read it.  I hope you give this book a chance and find it as good as I did.

Re-watching the Classics: A Fresh Look at Miller’s Crossing

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Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, the Coen Brothers, neo noir legends that have made so many classic modern noir films it’s hard to pick a favorite.  This is not me picking my favorite of Coen Brothers film, this is me reviewing the one I think is the most underrated.  After their debut Blood Simple and before the Oscar-winning Fargo, both classics, they made a small movie called Miller’s Crossing.  The Coen’s used a mishmash of noir legend Dashiell Hammett books to write this story.

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Gabriel Byrne plays our hero, a gangster with a gambling problem.  He’s the right hand man of the boss played by Albert Finney.  Both of them are in love with our femme fatale Verna, played by Marcia Gay Harden.  The plot is further complicated by Verna’s brother, played by John Turturro, who is always in trouble and Verna is using anybody and everybody to protect him.  A boxing match is being fixed by competing gangster Johnny Casper played by Joe Polito, but somebody is leaking the information.  We see cameo’s by Steve Buscemi and Frances McDormand, Coen Brother favorites, and a cool cameo from director Sam Raimi.  J.E. Freeman as the Dane and Mike Starr as Frankie play great heavies.

This story is full of plot twists you don’t see coming in classic noir style.  It takes place in the late 1920’s maybe early 1930’s, we have corrupt cops, back stabbing gangsters, gamblers, murder, great dialog, and sets.  If you like the Coen Brothers and have not seen this movie it, do it!  Great film worth a viewing.