June Highlights on TCM
DASHIELL HAMMETT (June 7, 8pm)--This month on TCM, film noir specialist Eddie Muller is hosting a series of tributes to different writers whose novels and stories inspired many of the hard-boiled pictures of the '30s and the noirs of the '40s, '50s and beyond. One of the featured writers is, of course, Dashiell Hammett. If American crime fiction starts anywhere, it starts with Hammett, who knew the lay of the land based on his experiences as a detective for the Pinkerton Agency. Hammett's output was sparse--five completed novels and several short stories--but his influence was vast. Every single one of those novels sets a template for the movies. Neither The Dain Curse, a detective novel in the tradition of earlier American fictions about cursed families like Hawthorne's House of the Seven Gables or Poe's story "The Fall of the House of Usher," nor Red Harvest, also a detective story in which gang violence and small-town politics are tightly enmeshed, was ever adapted for the big screen (there was a TV mini-series based on The Dain Curse, but it wasn't very good). However, both novels have inspired many pictures, Red Harvest in particular: it's actually quite amazing to consider the number of films that are basically "unofficial adaptations" of that novel, from Yojimbo to A Fistful of Dollars to Last Man Standing to Miller's Crossing (and Bernardo Bertolucci came close to making an official version in the '70s with Jack Nicholson). The Glass Key (also an inspiration for the Coen Brothers' movie), which is quite close to Red Harvest, was made twice, both very good films, but the 1942 version with Alan Ladd and Brian Donlevy that TCM is showing is the better of the two. The Thin Man inspired an entire series of pictures, six in all, teaming William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles, and TV shows like Hart to Hart. The second picture in the series, Another Thin Man, is included (based on Hammett's story "The Farewell Murder"). Rouben Mamoulian's early sound picture City Streets, based on Hammett's one original screenplay, is also included. And then, of course, there's The Maltese Falcon. TCM is showing all three adaptations--the first, a 1931 film with Ricardo Cortez (which is very faithful to the novel), the looser 1936 version with Warren William, and John Huston's 1941 version, one of the greatest films of its era.
ANTHONY MANN WESTERNS (June 5, 8pm)-- There is also an impressive selection of Anthony Mann's westerns this month. I've written about these pictures before, but I always feel like drawing attention to them because many people don't know them and because they're so rich and, at their best, so powerful. Winchester '73 and The Far Country were two of the very best of the eight pictures Mann and James Stewart made together throughout the '50s, most of them westerns. Devil's Doorway, with Robert Taylor, was one of the only pro-Native American westerns of its era, along with two Delmer Daves' films (Broken Arrow and Drum Beat), and Robert Aldrich's Apache. The Last Frontier, with Victor Mature and Guy Madison, isn't as well known as the Stewart westerns, but it's just as tough, and like those films it has an extraordinary, almost 3D sense of the natural world (interestingly, the action is set in a fort in Oregon but the actual shooting was on Mount Popocatépetl in Mexico). Mann was truly one of the great American directors of the '50s and early '60s.
by Martin Scorsese