THE THIN MAN (1934) – Mystery writer Dashiell Hammett’s final novel, The Thin Man, introduced former private detective Nick Charles and his wealthy socialite wife Nora. After marrying Nora, Nick left detective work in order to manage her business interests.
When a former client of Nick’s – eccentric inventor and title character Clyde Wynant – is suspected of murdering his female assistant/ mistress Julia Wolf, Nick is told that Clyde wants him to prove his innocence. Though retired, Nick is unwillingly drawn deeper into the investigation by circumstances beyond his control.
The Thin Man is set in New York City from Christmas Day of 1932 through the following few days, making it ideal Christmas into New Year’s reading material. Unlike Hammett’s Sam Spade and Continental Op characters, Nick and Nora Charles live it up among the wealthy and famous, traveling at will, dining at the best restaurants and gleefully downing as much booze as they can despite Prohibition still being in effect.
The Charles’ schnauzer Asta is along for the ride but she doesn’t become cloyingly cutesy like the dog would sometimes do in the Thin Man movie series.
The “lovable lushes” aspect of Nick and Nora’s characters is a huge part of their charm, along with their sparkling, witty banter. Readers get to feel as brilliant and sexy as the two leads as they fend off unwanted advances, sling snappy dialogue and interact with shady criminal types plus assorted New York entertainers and Old Money families. Continue reading
HAMMETT (1982) – Directed by Wim Wenders and produced by Francis Ford Coppola’s Zoetrope Studios, Hammett is a criminally neglected valentine to Hard-Boiled Detective Stories and Film Noir. The flick is based on the novel by Joe Gores.
The stories about the behind the scenes chaos and conflicts surrounding the production of this movie are legion. Pre-production work began in 1975 and by the time it was released in 1982 multiple cast and story changes had taken place and Coppola himself re-shot more than a third of the film.
In the way that Time After Time presented a whimsical “what if” adventure featuring H.G. Wells having a real time machine, Hammett serves up iconic detective novelist Dashiell Hammett getting caught up in solving a real-life mystery.
The timing is excellent, with the story being set in the late 1920s, after Hammett was no longer working for the Pinkerton Detective Agency but before he became a successful author. The tale begins with our hero – played by Frederic Forrest – typing out one of his penny-a-word Pulp stories for Black Mask Magazine, which was to detective fiction what Weird Tales was to horror and sci-fi.
Booze and coughing fits figure prominently in the movie, as you would expect given a protagonist who was an alcoholic with tuberculosis. For the sake of convenience the story that Hammett just finished before blacking out was one featuring his character the Continental Op (as in an operative for the fictional Continental Detective Agency).
Hammett awakens to find his most recent work being read by Jimmy Ryan (Peter Boyle), his old mentor from his Pinkerton days. Ryan jokes with “Sam” (Samuel Dashiell Hammett was his full name if you’re new to all things Hammett) that the “man with no name” in the story seems to be based on him (Ryan) and the way he operates.
Eventually Jimmy gets to the point: he saved Hammett’s life when our hero was new at detective work, and Ryan is finally calling in the debt that Sam owes him for that. The former colleague thus lures Hammett back into detective work for one last case. Continue reading