Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, April 1, 2017, 4:14 p.m.
Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. Both long dead. Both masters of a genre. They wrote about crime fiction about hard-boiled detectives. Both are known more for the movies made from their novels than the novels themselves.
I wanted to read Chandler and Hammett. I had for years. I watched many of the movies, and knew about Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade, not to mention the Thin Man. A while back, I reviewed Chandler’s The Big Sleep here, and now I’ve completed Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon.
Once I thought Larry McMurtry’s most closely matched the characters of the miniseries to the characters envisioned in my mind while reading it. While working on my book True to the Roots: Americana Music Revealed, I interviewed the author’s son James. Larry is one of my favorite novelists and James one of my favorite songwriters. James told me that his father’s view of the characters conflicted with mine. He didn’t think the characters fit. That knowledge left me astonished.
If you have ever seen the movie version of The Maltese Falcon, the fit is snug. Humphrey Bogart was a perfect Sam Spade. Everyone – Bogart, Mary Astor, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, Ward Bond, Elisha Cook Jr., et al. – is perfect. The dialogue is mostly word for word, even though the script was written by director John Huston.
Greenstreet, as Casper Gutman, is exactly as I concocted him in the novel.
“By gad, you are quite a character, sir.”
My favorite scene in the movie is when Gutman (he’s Casper in the book, Kasper in the movie credits) discovers the statue is a fake. Greenstreet really looks like a man having a heart attack, even though he isn’t.
The book does not include the most quoted line in the movie, almost the last one. Detective Tom Polhaus asks Spade what the bogus statue is, and Spade replies, “The, uh, stuff that dreams are made of.”
But the last line of the film is, “Huh?”
I guess this is more film than book review, but what impressed me most about the book was that it was as identical to a movie as a film can be. A book has incidents and details that a film cannot hold. Huston must not have really written the script. He must have edited down the novel.
Hammett is a slightly faster read than Chandler, who will stop a reader in his tracks with the mere wonder of his metaphors. The easy call is that they are both masters. The hard one is deciding which is better. In fact, it’s impossible. It’s a matter of style and preference. I think I’ll sample one more apiece. I’ve got The Long Goodbye in mind for Chandler and one of Hammett’s Continental Op tales.
And, eventually, others.
If you’d like me to mail you a signed copy of Lightning in a Bottle, or any of my other novels, you can find my address and instructions at montedutton.com. (montedutton.com/blog/merchandise)
I’ve written six novels and a collection of short stories. I’ve also written a number of books about sports, mostly about NASCAR. You can find most of them here.
The Kindle versions of my books, where available, can be found above. Links below are to print editions.
Lightning in a Bottle is the story of Barrie Jarman, the hope of stock car racing’s future. Barrie, a 18-year-old from Spartanburg, South Carolina, is both typical of his generation and a throwback to the sport’s glory days.
Cowboys Come Home is a modern western. Two World War II heroes come home from the Pacific to Texas.
I’ve written a crime novel about the corrosive effects of patronage and the rise and fall of a powerful politician and his dysfunctional family, Forgive Us Our Trespasses.
I’ve written about what happens to a football coach when he loses everything, Crazy of Natural Causes. It’s a fable of life’s absurdity.
I’ve written a tale of the Sixties in the South, centered on school integration and a high school football team, The Intangibles.
I’ve written a rollicking yarn about the feds trying to track down and manipulate a national hero who just happens to be a pot-smoking songwriter, The Audacity of Dope.
I’ve written a collection of 11 short stories, all derived from songs I wrote, Longer Songs.
Follow me on Twitter @montedutton, @hmdutton (about writing), and/or @wastedpilgrim (more opinionated and irreverent). I’m on Facebook (Monte.Dutton), Instagram (TUG50), and Google-Plus (MonteDuttonWriter).