wed 24/07/2019

DVD: Hammett | reviews, news & interviews

DVD: Hammett

DVD: Hammett

A hard-boiled egg or a neo-noir classic?

Red harvest: Frederic Forrest as Dashiell Hammett and Marilu Henner as his squeezeStudio Canal

Wim Wenders’ fictionalised Dashiell Hammett biopic, the first of his six American films, was a critical and box-office failure, which, along with Francis Ford Coppola’s equally damned Vegas musical One From the Heart, brought down Coppola’s Zoetrope Studio. It almost goes without saying that both films - they starred the unstarry Frederic Forrest - are jewels: bracing, dream-like homages to old-fashioned sound-stage artifice. Where One From the Heart is a neon-crazy confection, however, Hammett is a dankly claustrophobic neo-noir.

Seven years in gestation, it premiered at Cannes in 1982 after it had been rewritten 11 times, the original production had been shut down and the second shoot had been completed in a fraction of the time and with a fraction of the budget that had absorbed the first effort. Wenders, hired after Nicolas Roeg had dropped out and François Truffaut had balked, found himself in thrall to a meddling boss, a wife, Ronee Blakley, who wanted her part built up (it was duly cut), and, apparently, his own indecision. It’s rumoured Coppola shot some of the film, but the tone seems truly Wenders-ish to me - humorous but existential, as fond as it is sorrowful, ultimately melancholy.

The plot sends Hammett on the trail of a missing teenage Chinese prostitute, who's got the Frisco city fathers' balls in her hand

The plot, as labyrinthine as Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep and similarly involving porn and blackmail, has an ex-Pinkerton detective (Peter Boyle) sending tubercular Black Mask pulp writer Hammett, his former protégé, on the trail of a missing teenage Chinese prostitute (Lydia Lei), who’s got the Frisco city fathers’ balls in her hand circa 1928. As Hammett figures out the mystery, sort of, the seeds for The Maltese Falcon are sewn in his mind - Roy Kinnear’s loquacious go-between delightfully channelling Sydney Greenstreet’s Gutman. Marilu Henner is Hammett’s red-headed gal pal, Elisha Cook (who played Greenstreet’s gunsel) plays a taxi driver, and there are bits, too, for Sam Fuller, Hank Worden, Royal Dano, Jack (Eraserhead) Nance, and other indispensables. One From the Heart also arrives on DVD this week.

Watch a clip from Hammett

The tone seems truly Wenders-ish - humorous but existential, as fond as it is sorrowful, ultimately melancholy


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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