A fictionalized account of Dashiell Hammett; while working on his writings in San Francisco during the late 1920's, Hammett gets involved in a search for a missing person & a murder. — Genre: Mystery — Rating: PG — Release Da... more »te: 1-NOV-2005
"It's a real shame that Francis Ford Coppola's Zoetrope studios went belly up. They may not have produced anything that would qualify as classic but "Hammett" is an example of the kind of care and quality in films that Zoetrope strove for. Zoetrope films are an example of the indie spirit with big budgets that ultimately bankrupted Coppola. The central storyline of "Hammett" about white slavery and blackmail in thirties San Francisco is intriguing. I won't say that this film is the equivalant of another homage to the Hammett-Chandler style, "Chinatown", but I wouldn't be remiss to say that both films would make a terrific double-bill. "Hammett" has style to burn with fantastic cinematography but the real star is art director Dean Tavoularis' jaw dropping art direction. It is a crime that Tavoularis wasn't nominated for an Oscar for his work here. Frederic Forrest is outstanding as the boozing but relentless Dashiell Hammett who'll get to the bottom of the film's labyrinthian mystery at the cost of life and limb. Great supporting cast that includes Peter Boyle, veterans R.G. Armstrong and Richard Bradford, and old pros Sylvia Sidney, Elisha Cook, and Hank Worden. David Lynch fans should note the presence of Jack Nance("Eraserhead"). Marilu Henner, on the other hand, won't make you forget her work as Elaine Nardo on TV's "Taxi"."
Film Noir from American Zoetrope...
Albert M. Bozzo | Sutter Creek, CA | 01/03/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Excellent story line and acting. Forrest is a very credible Hammett. The seemless, innovative scene transitions are worth the price of the tape all by themselves! This title needs to be on DVD!!!"
S. Jones | Chicago, IL United States | 02/13/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This 1980's attempt to recreate the world of film noir might be a little thin on story or substance, but worth its weight in style. Outstanding sets and atmosphere, along with well paced direction and smooth transition keep the film from getting too trite. It's no 'Murder My Sweet' or 'Double Indemnity' but well worth seeing anyway."
One of the hundred best films ever made.
Robert P. Beveridge | Cleveland, OH | 05/30/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Hammett (Wim Wenders, 1982)
Wim Wenders directs Frederic Forrest in a fictionalized biopic about Dashiell Hammett. What can possibly go wrong? Add in a number of other character actors equally as good as Forrest (including Elisha Cook, Jr.-- yeah, the guy who was in The Maltese Falcon as the gunsel) and a script by the late Ross Thomas, who wrote a pretty mean crime novel himself, and you're pretty much destined for cinema gold. Needless to say, the public ignored it-- the film grossed a total of forty-two thousand dollars in the theaters. In the intervening twenty-six years, the film has been criminally neglected, held up as a paragon of cinema virtue by a handful (at best) of fanatics, including myself and megacritic Jonathan Rosenbaum (who considers Hammett Wenders' most underrated film; I'd have to say that's kind of a gimme), who are, in this case at least, profoundly ignored. Well, it's time that that stops, and Hammett is brought back to the place where it belongs, as one of the best films ever made.
No one except Wim Wenders, Francis Ford Coppola, and (one assumes) a few selected folks at Zoetrope has ever actually seen Hammett. Once Zoetrope got a copy of it, they recut the film (Wenders is on record as saying the released version is very little like the film he actually shot) to Coppola's standards. That's what got released, and that's what we've all seen. Well, the eighteen or so of us who've seen it, anyway. And I have to say, with as much salt as necessary given that, say, the director's cut of Apocalypse Now is godawful compared to the original, that if Wenders is correct and Coppola basically destroyed the movie, then my god, what a masterpiece it must have been, because Coppola's cut is still just as much a spectacular screwball comedy/crime story now that I'm watching it in 2008 as it was when I first saw it in 1983 (on HBO, I think). I have a lot more film-watching experience thanks to the intervening fifteen years, and I'm relatively certain it's not just a case of nostalgia; this is a really, really great film that's just been profoundly ignored by, well, everyone. Frederic Forrest, who's long been one of America's finest character actors, plays Dashiell Hammett, who should put one in mind of Hammett's more famous characters. Peter Bole is his old pal Jimmy Ryan, who comes to him with a vague, and somewhat incomplete, tale of a missing Chinese prostitute, Crystal Ling (Lydia Lei), and asks Hammett to help him find her. We get the usual "I'm retired from detective work, blah blah blah" speech before the two head out, and quickly find that tracking down Crystal Ling will step on pretty much everyone's toes. Before long Hammett and Ryan get separated, and now it's personal, since Ryan seems to have disappeared, and Hammett is left with only the help of his gorgeous neighbor Kit (Marilu Henner), a schoolteacher who knows nothing at all about detective work, and an ex-yippie cabbie (Cook Jr.).
It would, of course, be an abomination to compare Wenders' Hammett to Huston's The Maltese Falcon, but indulge me as I draw the wrath of the film gods, for Wenders' movie has all the spit and crackle of Huston's, but without Huston's meddling with the characters (and the famously blown ending). The usually laconic Forrest hams it up in true wiseguy style, while Peter Boyle, whom I don't think I've ever seen play a tough guy before, absolutely owns his role. I could just keep on going down the list of impressive performances (David Patrick Kelly, Henner, Jack Nance, Lei, Cook Jr., Roy Kinnear, cameos from Samuel Fuller and Hank Worden, and oh so much more), or talk about Wenders' directorial style, which always shines through in a Wenders film, or the awesome script, or the many, many in-jokes to both Hammett's writing and the various film adaptations of it (and a final answer to the question of the double-meaning of "gunsel"), or any of the other things that make this movie an absolute delight to watch. But I won't, because I've already talked too much when you should be going out, right now, and renting the recent and long, long overdue DVD release of this brilliant, brilliant movie. **** ½ "
A half-decent man in a 9/10ths dishonest world
Trevor Willsmer | London, England | 11/13/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"It's tempting to see Hammett as a real life variation of The American Friend with Francis Ford Coppola as Dennis Hopper's Ripley and Wim Wenders as Bruno Ganz's picture framer who gets conned into becoming a hitman. Part of Francis Ford Coppola's ill-fated attempt to recreate the old studio system with a stock company of players and his own studio, Zoetrope, that had a troubled history to match any of his own directorial efforts, the wunderkind lured Wenders to Hollywood with the promise of artistic freedom in an artist-friendly environment with Joe Gores' fictional novel about the revolutionary crime writer and former private eye Dashiell Hammett getting involved in a semi-fictional mystery involving the cops, the crooks and the big rich while writing Red Harvest as bait. Set in 1928 San Francisco, it presents the tubercular Hammett as a half-decent man in a 9/10ths dishonest world who's given up the detective racket for short stories for pulp magazines, drinking too much and coughing his lungs up all the way until his old mentor turns up to call in a favor that leads to a web of murder, corruption and blackmail, it's easy to see the attraction. Instead things went a little haywire...
When the film was in development in 1978, Wenders had originally wanted Sam Shepherd - not only was he gaunt enough to play Hammett and was a writer himself but, more importantly for the director, he could actually type, something most actors who tested for the film had real problems with. Instead, Coppola wanted Frederic Forrest, one of his stock company of actors at Zoetrope, to play the lead: it turned out to be an inspired choice, but was indicative of how far the film would veer from his original intentions. After 40 scripts and countless legal and copyright problems with the Hammett Estate that ensured little of Gores' novel remained (and nothing of the Red Harvest connections), Wenders shot around 90% of the film before an unconvinced Coppola persuaded him not to shoot his planned ending until they had a rough cut of the film to see if it would really work, only for the director to realize they had film that was more about Hammett the writer than Hammett the detective. Cue yet another rewrite, while reshoots were delayed a year, by which time Forrest had gained so much weight for One From the Heart that they had to wait another year for him to slim down again while Wenders went off and shot The State of Things. Out went original co-stars Brian Keith and Ronee Blakely (by then the ex-Mrs Wenders) to be replaced by Peter Boyle and Marilu Henner, while Sylvia Miles part went out altogether, with only Frederic Forrest and Sam Fuller seemingly retained from the original cast. (Although there are claims that the bulk of the film was reshot by Coppola himself, Wenders is adamant that his American friend didn't shoot a single shot of it).
The result, Wenders felt, offered "More story, less soul." Damned with faint praise by the critics, audiences stayed away in droves when it finally saw light of projector in 1982. It's not a forgotten masterpiece and it's certainly no Chinatown, but it is a better one than it first appeared. While it's a film that felt slightly disappointing at first sight, on repeat viewings it's one of many pleasures for the film buff and more open-minded crime-writing fan. Forrest immersed himself in the role and is uncannily like the real Hammett, giving what's still his most effective performance (even briefly reprising it in the 1992 TV movie Citizen Cohn), while Wenders' visually inventive direction ensures that the film often feels more like the genuine Thirties item than a knowing pastiche.
Although Wenders' original version was shot on location, the finished version is possibly the last great backlot picture, rarely straying from the studio. Luckily it's a great backlot, with Dean Tavoularis' wonderful design that takes everything from the backstreets of Chinatown to the houses of the big rich complimented by the gloriously rich colors of Joseph Biroc's cinematography (just enough of the original shoot made it in the final cut for Philip Lathrop to get a credit for `other photography'). John Barry's score, all smoke, piano and clarinet, compliments the mood beautifully even if one major theme had already made an appearance in Body Heat. And the film is often beautifully cast: Elisha Cook Jr (The Maltese Falcon) and Sylvia Sidney (City Streets) provide the cinematic links to the real Hammett with David Patrick Kelly and Roy Kinnear mirroring Cook and Sydney Greenstreet's roles, Richard Bradford and R.G. Armstrong a variation on Barton MacLane and Ward Bond's good cop-bad cop duo and restaurateur Michael Chow a more sophisticated upmarket Peter Lorre, while the pool hall boasts Sam Fuller (who suggested the evocative writing shots from under the typewriter's keys) and Royal Dano with Hank Worden sittin' in the corner in a rockin' char, with Jack Nance for any David Lynch fans who walked into the wrong theatre by mistake..
The script rarely triumphs over the look and feel of the film, and one plot development is more Chandler than Hammett (although it does lead to a neat bit of business with a mirror), but it offers some nice quips ("First day on the job?" Hammett cracks when a rookie cop asks him to sign for a million dollar pay off, while Marilu Henner suggests"Shouldn't we call the police? Shouldn't we do something legal?" after finding herself held at gunpoint), has room for nice little moments like a weary Hammett finding children playing hide-and-seek outside his apartment and even offers a handy definition of the word `gunsel' (no, it doesn't mean hired gun). It's not a great film and probably never would have been had it had a smoother ride to the screen, but it is a much more enjoyable one than it has any right to be and it's strangely easy to like.
The various DVDs of the film worldwide are disappointingly extras-free - the Australian disc comes off best and that only offers the trailer (Paramount's Region 1 DVD doesn't even offer that). Wenders did try to find the deleted footage for a special edition DVD, but it seems to have all been destroyed years ago. "