Thursday, December 10, 2015

Hammett (1982) A Noir Lover's Wet Dream


Director: Wim Wenders and based on Joe Gores (novel) with gorgeous, magic realism, cinematography by Joseph F. Biroc, and a haunting score by John Barry. 






















The film has quite the cast, Frederic Forrest (The Conversation (1974)), Peter Boyle (Taxi Driver (1976), Hardcore (1979)), Marilu Henner, Roy Kinnear, Elisha Cook Jr. (veteran Noir actor), Lydia Lei, Jack Nance (Blue Velvet (1986), Lost Highway (1997)),  Royal Dano (Under the Gun (1951), Sylvia Sidney (Street Scene (1931), Dead End (1937), Violent Saturday (1955)), Samuel Fuller (director Pickup on South Street (1953), House of Bamboo (1955),The Crimson Kimono (1959) Underworld U.S.A. (1961),Shock Corridor (1963) The Naked Kiss (1964) and Hank Worden (Undercurrent (1946), High Wall (1947), Crime Wave (1954).


Opening screencap partially quoting Raymond Chandler's The Simple Art of Murder





Hammett is sort of an alcoholic stupor/dream of a PI flick, fully enforced by the storybook poetic/magic realism quality of the Zoetrope Studio sets and a melancholy soundtrack. The story revolves around Dashiell "Sam" Hammett post his Pinkerton years, late 1920s, during his Pulp Fiction/Black Mask penny a word hack writer days, and the accounting of one last case or is it just another hard boiled tale?


Hammett's walkup apartment on rt.,  in Chinatown from the street

The reverse shot  alley entrance to Sam Hammett's apartment

Wim Wenders and Zoetrope Studios managed to recreate a late 1920s San Francisco crammed with amazing details and populated by what seems like hundreds of extras. Our story begins with a slow zoom into a cheap walk up apartment. Sam Hammer (Fredrick Forest) a chain smoker, a lunger, and a heavy boozer prematurely gray, is pecking out the finale to a pulp story on what looks like an Underhill. While Sam is typing we see the tale as it unfolds. A voice over narrates in true Hard Boiled Noir fashion. It's a fog bound waterfront of docks and warehouses. A operative named Sue Alabama, has just double crossed her partner Jimmy Ryan.  Ryan dopes it out, gets the drop on Sue and recovers the pearl necklace. Sue asks Ryan to give her an hour for old times sake, he agrees, she takes off, but in his narration Ryan tells us he only gave her fifteen minutes and she was picked up at the station. His last line of narration is "Back in '26 Sue Alabama and I nearly got married. I suppose it's just as well we didn't.


The Underhill
Sam types The End rolls out his last page and adds it to the stack of the manuscript. He smiles grabs up the pages and stumbles over to his bed where he passes out. 

Alcoholic stupor/lucid dream?


We fade to black then cut to Sam hacking and coughing his lungs up into the sink in his bathroom, until he collapses on the tile floor



























Lunger


Waking up in the middle of the night Sam lights up a tar bar and sees a figure sitting in his easy chair.  It turns out to be Jimmy Ryan (Boyle) his partner from his Pinkerton days, and he reading his Continental Op manuscript. Ryan says "Sam I don't know wether to be flattered or embarrassed, .. How come the guy doesn't have a name?.... this guy does all the stuff I used to do"  
Sucking a tar bar
Ryan reading the Continental Op


Ryan tells Sam that he's in San Francisco working an MP (a Missing Person Case) and that he needs Sam's help. Sam protests that he's done with all that. But Ryan tells the story about a young kid green on the job who would have got a bullet in the eye if Ryan hadn't stepped in the line of fire taking it in the shoulder. The kid tells Ryan that he owes him "saying any time any place " Well Ryan tell's Sam "the place is here, the time is now!" 
"the place is here the time is now"
Ryan informs Sam that they are looking for a Chinese girl called Crystal Ling and since San Francisco is his burg and that het knows a little Chinese, Ryan is going to use him as a go between. Sam gets dressed. A knock on the door gets Ryan jumpy, but it's Kit Conger (Henner) in a slinky nightgown, looking to "borrow a cup of booze". Henner gives off a bit of a Susan Hayward vibe. Sam tells her he's out but he'll bring her back some. 


Ryan, Kit, Sam





























Ryan and Sam head off into the bowels of Chinatown, but they are being tailed by a man in black.

Ryan & Sam head off into Chinatown, tailed by the gunsel



 Chinatown




Gambling dens



Opium Dens






























A gunshot rings out. Sam gets seperated from Ryan during a melee, but the wheels of the game have already been set in motion. While Sam is trying to hook up back with Ryan Sam gets approached by a strange man named Salt who first tells Sam that he's a photographer who's trying to break in on the writing business by trying to sell a story to a newspaper, but later recants that. Salt the next day shows up at Sam's apartment, he asks him where is Ryan and Crystal Ling. He shows Sam her semi nude photo. He leaves telling Sam that Ryan is going to get seriously hurt if he doesn't find Crystal.

Salt
Crystal Ling
Sam gets a phone call from Ryan. Ryan tells him he can't talk but he left a clue for him in his dictionary. Stuffed in the dictionary is the front page of a newspaper it has an article ripped out. Sam heads to the library and gets a duplicate paper and discovers a news item about a millionaire's suicide, how its that connected to the MP case. Coming back to his apartment Sam encounters Crystal Ling in the flesh. She tells Sam how Fong bought her at 12 years old from her parents for $5,000 to use for prostitution. She asks him for sanctuary, saying she will do "anything" he wants.


Crystal Ling at Sam's



The fortune cookie































"I'll do anything anything Mr. Hammett"






























Sam tells Crystal that she can stay in the apartment.  Sam takes off again to try and find Ryan. At Fong's he he gets waylaid, and then with the help of a small Chinese girl escapes and discovers and releases Ryan who has been held by Fong who is also looking for Crystal. Outside of Fong's Sam & Ryan get arrested, and Sam is held for the murder of Crystal Ling who was found with her head beaten in, in Sam's apartment. 


Interrogated about a murder Lt. O'Mara (R.G. Armstrong) center






























Having an airtight alibi Sam is released but his friend on the force Detective Bradford brings him to an evidence room where he shows Sam a stag film featuring Crystal Ling.

Crystal Lings' Stag Film






























Sam leaves with Bradford for the coroner's office. At the morgue Sam notices that the dead bodys ankles are too thick and that she is not Crystal. Sam again runs into Salt, a tussel ensues and Sam recovers Salts wallet from a coat he dropped. He finds a pink lottery ticket in the wallet. Getting an idea Sam gets Kit to come along with him on the hunt. Sam uses the ticket to trace the newstand where it was bought. There he shows the newsstand man Crystals photo. The man replies that he's seen here a lot going in and out of Salt's photography studio just down the street.

Sam and Kit break into the studio and discover the stag film set and a number of photographic stills of the richest men in San Francisco in various sexual encounters with Crystal Ling. Hammett the half-decent man in a 9/10ths dishonest world of the cops, the crooks and the big rich. 




The rest of the tale involves the extortion plot and the various individuals connected, the film is a Noir lover's visual wet dream with a wonderful backlots and set designed by Dean Tavoularis

Noirsville


























































Maltese falcon quote




Laura (1944) quote - Hagedorn (Roy Kinnear) in a recreation of the opening scene in Laura between Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb) in tub and Dana Andrews






























Fong (Michael Chow)















































































































Lydia Lei as Femme Fatale Crystal


Sam (Forrest) in iconic Trench Coat




























Frederic Forrest is excellent as Hammett, perfect and totally believable in the role of a hard drinking, chain smoking, lunger, ex detective. Marilu Henner is good as Kit. Crystal Ling is great as the story's femme fatale. David Patrick Kelly is good as the gunsel. 

The rest of the cast perform well the films only faults are one, Peter Boyle, I feel that he is only adequate as Jimmy Ryan, the original casting choice was supposed to be Brian Kieth, who would have brought a ton of cinematic memory with him to the role, Boyle brings the wrong kind of baggage, he's played in too many comedies, he's almost but not quite spoofing the part, too bad. 



David Patrick Kelly  the gunsel
Slyvia Sidney
R.G Armstrong & Richard Bradford
Royal Dano, Hank Worden, Frederic Forrest
Sam Fuller
Filn Noir veteran Elisha Cook





















The second fault is with the problems with the production, From a Wiki article:

 German director Wenders was hired by Francis Ford Coppola to direct this film, which was to be his American debut feature. "But," according to one source, "by the time the final version was released in 1982, only 30 percent of Wenders' footage remained, and the rest was completely reshot by Coppola, whose mere 'executive producer' credit is just a technicality."[2] Wenders made a short film called Reverse Angle documenting his disputes with Coppola surrounding the making of Hammett. As The A.V. Club review states, "A Coppola or Wenders commentary track might have sorted things out a bit—or at least settled an old score—but the bare-bones DVD release leaves viewers with a fascinating mess."[2] The reviewer, though, never says what the source of his information is, and the question of the degree and nature of Coppola's involvement in the directing of the film remains open. However, the confusion surrounding the making of the movie "would certainly explain some of the films’ oddities."

More information about the production in the review below.

Review from IMDb

"Shouldn't we call the police? Shouldn't we do something legal?"

7/10
Author:Trevor  Aclea from London, England
1 October 2007

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 hit-man. 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 favour 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 realise 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 colours 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), 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.

All along the film plays with the idea of reality and fantasy which is enhanced by the way the film was shot and it also plays with how fictional characters are created from real life people. I found visual quotes from Film Noirs Laura and The Maltese Falcon, there are probably more. A final montage also shows the characters being rewritten as the characters that populated The Maltese Falcon. Entertaining, DVD is currently out of print 8/10









3 comments:

  1. ....I was there all along and can assure you that Mr.Coppola was the producer only....no re-shoots...Wim did it all...David Patrick Kelly

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