Sunday, December 05, 2010

Don't worry; Hammett's funny, too

Just because I cited Dashiell Hammett in a post that has existentialism in its title doesn't mean he was incapable of funny bits. Here's one. Like yesterday's citation, it's from The Maltese Falcon, as serialized in Black Mask in 1929 and 1930:

"The girl blushed and said in confusion:

"`He has a wife and three children in England. Corinne wrote me that, to explain why she'd gone with him.'

"`They usually do,' Spade said, `though not always in England.'"
© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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14 Comments:

Anonymous kathy d. said...

Although I have only read "The Maltese Falcon," by Hammett, there was much acerbic wit.

December 06, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Delightfully so, and probably more acerbic than Chandler's.

OK, I should refrain from excessive, easy Chandler-Hammett comparisons, for they can lead to lazy reading.

It had been some time since I'd read Hammett's novels, and I'd forgotten how witty they could be.

December 06, 2010  
Blogger R/T said...

I recall having plenty to smile about in _Red Harvest_. The first chapter alone is wonderful. After all, just consider the changed name of the town: "Poisonville"? The narrator's wry descriptions of the town and the people set the tone for all that follows. And now that I think more about it, I am provoked to read again _Red Harvest_(6th or 7th time?).

December 06, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I read "Red Harvest" last week, and I'll repeat the heresy that its famous opening is a bit of a distraction. Someone who has trouble with his r's would pronounce the town's name POI-sun-ville. not POI-z'n-ville. As an experiment, I imagined the story without that first paragraph. The second parapgraph would make a terrific, exciting in media res opening.

Maybe the opening paragraph should be separated freom the body of the story and printed in italics. I did enjoy alternating use of Personville and Poisonville throughout the story.

I liked the hard-edged dialogue, some of which was funny in a chilling way -- the refereces to "fat Noonan" and "your fat chief," for example. It's a hell of a book, and I may read it again when my Library of America edition of Hammett's novels arrives next week.

December 06, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

Peter, I've always liked that line; 'although not always in England.'

The Thin Man has many more expamles of that kind of dry wit.

I watched the movie version of The Thin Man recently and it was much funnier than I remembered. I don't usually find drunks funny but William Powell's drunk Nick Charles is a riot.

The second Thin Man movie has a joke where a lame, decrepit butler says 'Walk this way' and the so-instruced guest (William Powell) says 'I'll try'. I first saw that joke in the Mel Brooks film Young Frankenstein with Marty Feldman. In my innocence I thought it was original.

December 06, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yep, The Thin Man is an exception in the yuk-it-up department in Hammett's oeuvre, though it is not without dark undertones played downin or absent from the movie.

In re drunks on film, the world is fortunate that William Powell and Myrna Loy got the roles, which might easily have been unwatchable filled by others.

December 06, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

Peter, I liked Wikipedia's description of Hammett's career:

Hammett turned to drinking, advertising, and, eventually, writing.

Now, there's a downward spiral, if I ever heard one.

December 06, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Hmm, I think that echoes a comment Mark Twain once made. Let's get to work on this.

December 06, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Well, I guess I must read "The Thin Man"; sounds too witty to miss.

December 07, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Witty, but a bit darker than the movie.

December 07, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

The dialog in The Thin Man is extraordinary. Few writers can pull off what Hammett does, that is, have a conversation going between 6 characters, none of whom, after the first "so-and-so said" is identified again, yet the reader has no trouble distinguishing the separate and distinct "voice" of each of the characters.

December 07, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisbeth, I have an old Vintage paperback of The Thin Man, showing its age after well over twenty years. But I will have a brand new copy in the Library of America edition of Hammett's novels in a day or two.

December 07, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Those LOA eds are very nice to have. Esp for Hammett--all 5 novels in one handy volume. Did you read the aborted first version of The Thin Man in the short stories, etc. volume? Wish he'd finished it...

December 07, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

No, I glanced at the aborted Thin Man, but I haven't read it yet. Interesting to note how stripped down it is.

December 07, 2010  

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