Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The writer's touch

William Powell and Myrna Loy.  In 1934 they were Nick and Nora Charles, husband and wife, in a movie called The Thin Man.

Based on a novel written by Dashiell Hammett published in 1934, MGM picked up the movie rights and began immediately to produce the movie.  For MGM it turned out to be one of the soundest investment franchises it ever made.

Powell and Loy were made for each to for the big silver screen.  The moment the first scene lights up you instantly see the chemistry between the two.  Spontaneous, genuine, with a lot of bantering humor thrown in, The Thin Man became an instant success.  It established the two as being the pioneers in a kind of romantic mystery series which, frankly, both still holds up today as being the best of the lot . . . and rarely seen anymore, much less rivaled, in today's cinematic excursions.

If you haven't seen The Thin Man series you're missing something special.  Especially the first three or four in the series. They are the best.  And there is a reason for it.

Dashiell Hammett.

Goodness, Hammett was a character.  An alcoholic who loved to party from dusk to dawn.  A womanizer of the first magnitude. A social maven who could schmooze with the best.  Yet gracious when drunk . . . most of the time.  Perfectly charming and hard working when sober.  It was just getting him sober which became every one's problem.

But when off the booze, Jesus, this guy could write!  Read the novel and you can see it instantly.  Remarkably the novel was translated into movie format and carried with it the essence, the dialogue, the feel of the novel.  So successful was the first one MGM's moguls quickly tracked down Hammett and signed him to a contract to write the treatments for two more movies.

Hammett did not write the scripts.  He wrote 'treatements' for the movies.  Essentially, novellas entitled After The Thin Man and Another Thin Man.  From these treatments script writers came in and carried the novellas over into the movies.  Almost word for word.  So good in fact was Hammett's writing that, after he left the franchise, other writers were brought in and NEVER caught the wit, the humor, the wise-cracking banter that was the signature of a Hammett creation.

The original dust jacket
So that's what I'm trying to get at here.  The importance of the writer and his creations.  Find a writer who can weave mystery and humor together, and do it in such a way as it comes out so natural, so smooth  . . . well then, brother;  you've got something!  Hammett did it so well no one, in my opinion, has equaled him.

(That last line . . . does it sound like a challenge to you?  It does to me.  Hmmm . . . )

More should be said about Hammett's ability to use humor in a detective novel.  A rarity in the genre.  And always refreshing to the reader if set down properly.  But that's for another time, pilgrim.

For now, run off and get you a copy of the novel.  And then find a DVD of the movie.  You'll find yourself well entertained in both venues.

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