Adapting Hammett

As Paul Coughlin points out in the online journal Senses of Cinema, Dashiell Hammett’s prose is thought to be “very conducive” to the screen (Coughlin, 2). In other words, Dashiell Hammett makes writing a screenplay easy. Hammett almost always narrates from an objective observer’s point of view. He establishes a detailed setting and lends enough information to make the reader feel like they’re a semi-omniscient spectator as they witness the scenes play out. The objective observer is the perspective experienced by moviegoers, which makes Hammett’s work all the more appealing for Hollywood. It’s as though Hammett writes his novels with film noir in mind.

However, Coughlin argues that casting well-known “Hollywood” actors and actresses inevitably obscures movie adaptations (3). Coughlin asserts that the 1942 film adaptation of The Glass Key, which is based on Hammett’s book of the same name, did not accurately convey the “quintessence” of Hammett’s writing style (2). Despite the close adherence to the script, characters, and narrative sequences offered by the book, the off-screen personalities and reputations of the actors and actresses in the Glass Key movie adaptation ultimately altered viewer perceptions and did not align with Hammett’s literature.

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Pamphlet. Original Herald for the Glass Key directed by Stuart Heisler. Los Angeles: Paramount Pictures Inc., 1942. From the Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University. Photograph by Allison Cox.

In order to further explore Hammett’s writing and silver screen adaptations, I will create a digital exhibition titled “Adapting Hammett”. The exhibition focuses on the 1935 and 1942 film adaptations of Dashiell Hammett’s 1931 novel, The Glass Key. My intention behind the exhibition is to create an online space where visitors can examine and compare original and adapted portrayals of The Glass Key. Portrayals can be understood through analysis of original objects, which I have found in the Special Collections Archives of the Johns Hopkins Libraries. By exhibiting images of said objects, which were once intended to convey a particular impression of The Glass Key, viewers of the digital exhibition can decide for themselves whether the film adaptations did the original book justice, missed the point, or went in an entirely new direction. Viewers will be able to test Paul Coughlin’s assertion, and determine if the cast’s reputations and personalities impede with a fresh and open look at a film adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s The Glass Key.

Dust Jacket. Dashiell Hammett. The Glass Key. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1931. From the Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University. Photograph by Allison Cox.
Dust Jacket. Dashiell Hammett. The Glass Key. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1931. From the Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University. Photograph by Allison Cox.

For example, I plan to utilize an image of the original herald for Stuart Heisler’s 1942 film adaptation of The Glass Key (Figure 1) and place it next to the 1931 book’s first edition dust jacket (Figure 2). The dust jacket of The Glass Key appears to evoke a sense of mystery and excitement as the image of the woman gives off an element of drama. Although the words at the bottom of the dust jacket read, “Dashiell Hammett: author of the Maltese Falcon,” and appear to use Hammett’s other popular novels to sell the book, it is not to he same extent as the movie herald. One caption of the movie herald exclaims, “Veronica Lake and Alan Ladd, that terrific couple from ‘This Gun For Hire’….plus ‘Wake Island’s’ Brian Donlevy, take a town apart in the hottest political murder mystery ever filmed!” Using the pre-existing reputations of the cast in order to advertise the new film adaptation certainly seems to create a pre-existing perception of the film; but I will let the viewers decide for themselves!

Sources:

Coughlin, Paul. “Miller’s Crossing, The Glass Key, and Dashiell Hammett.” Senses of Cinema. 1 Mar. 2002. Web. 1 May 2015.

Coughlin Article: http://sensesofcinema.com/2002/cteq/millers/

Displaying Conservative Propaganda

“Choosing Sides: Right-Wing Icons in the Group Research Records,” is a digital exhibition that draws from the Group Research, Inc. Records from the Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Columbia University. Nicholas Osborne from the History Department at Columbia University, the curator of the exhibition, described the items in the exhibit as ones intended to highlight the ways in which cartoonists, illustrators, and designers participated in the dissemination of conservative points of view during the formative period (early 1960’s to mid 1990’s) of modern US conservative ideology. I chose to examine this exhibition because it uses the platform Omeka, has an educational mission, and is on a topic that I found fascinating.

The exhibition is divided into four main components: the introduction, picturing partners, envisioning enemies, and portraying patriotism. The introduction serves to briefly introduce the visitor to the topic and describe the collection from which all the items were taken. The introduction gives enough information for the reader to grasp the meaning of the exhibit, but it does not overwhelm. From the introduction page, the visitor can choose what section to read next from a menu on the left side of the page, or they can simply click the “next” button in the top right hand corner. I clicked the “next” button and found a paragraph length introduction to the Picturing Partners section. The introduction lays out the theme of the section, and describes its format. On the following page there is a series of vertical images related to the section, and each image has a paragraph to describe its historical significance and relevance to the exhibition. The item information is available by clicking on the image. Each subsequent section appears to have the same layout as the aforementioned section. The consistency makes it easy for the viewer to navigate. Although the exhibition is not visually intricate, its simplicity allows the visitor to focus on the images of the objects—which is the focus of the exhibition in the first place.

An example of conservative propaganda and the use of actress Jane Fonda as icon of conservative anger.
Figure 1. Russo, Gaetano Guy, “I’m Not Fond’a Hanoi Jane, front,” Columbia University Libraries Online Exhibitions, accessed May 1, 2015, https://exhibitions.cul.columbia.edu/items/show/2846.

The exhibit displays a range of images including posters, flyers, pamphlets, book covers, bumper stickers, panels, and other forms of propaganda. The unifying theme is the right wing and often-extremist attitudes that each object expresses. For example, the yellow bumper sticker captioned, “I’m not Fond’a Hanoi Jane” reference to the famous actress Jane Fonda’s trip to Hanoi, Vietnam in 1972. While in Vietnam, Fonda condemned the United State’s involvement in the Vietnam War on radio broadcasts (Figure 1). A retired Major General and a resident of Waterbury, Connecticut named Guy Russo created the bumper sticker in 1988; long after the war had ended. The intention was to stop the filming of a movie in Waterbury that starred Jane Fonda. The attempts were unsuccessful, the movie was filmed, but the bumper sticker remained popular for years, which indicates the “durability” of Jane Fonda as an icon of conservative anger.

The exhibition is educational, and there is plenty for a viewer to explore. Although the accompanying texts are sometime lengthy, they are necessary to understand the context behind the images. “Choosing Sides: Right-Wing Icons in the Group Research Records,” is certainly catered to a specific audience, but it explains its intentions so that unfamiliar visitor will know what to look for, and there is something to learn for everyone.

Exhibition: https://exhibitions.cul.columbia.edu/exhibits/show/group_research

Stein’s People

The perspective of time in Stein’s, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas is an unreliable mode of understanding for the reader. The style takes on a narrative form of constant digression, as it never conforms to a consistent linear progression. A reader focused on time will undoubtedly feel lost as they constantly try to orient themselves in the timeline of Stein. However, there are other means to situate oneself in the disorderly account of Stein’s life. The people in Stein’s life can be used as anchors, because each important moment is inevitably linked specifically to a person or people. Stein’s life is a shared venture that can be grasped by examining the connections of people through time and space.

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Alice B. Toklas. Photograph by Carl Van Vechten. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Van Vechten Collection, Public Domain.

Before Alice B. Toklas came to Paris, she was raised in San Francisco where she met Gertrude’s sister-in-law during the San Francisco fires, after which she decided to move to Paris (1907).

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Fernande. Photograph by Jean Agelou. Courtesy of http://mywebpages.comcast.net/kb8gpo/fernande/, Public Domain. 

Alice arrives in Paris, meets Picasso and Fernande, attends an art exhibition, and visits Fernande in Montparnasse with Gertrude.

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Gertrude Stein. Photograph by Carl Van Vechten. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Van Vechten Collection, Public Domain.

Gertrude Stein is in Paris buying famous artists, becomes close friends with Alice, and they spend the summer in Fiesole (1903-1907).

William James. Photograph by Notman Studios. MS Am 1092 (1185), Houghton Library, Harvard University.
William James. Photograph by Notman Studios. MS Am 1092 (1185), Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Alice describes Gertrude Stein before Paris, as she was born in Alleghany, PA, and moved many times before settling in Paris. She went to Radcliffe and was taught by William James. She studied for her masters at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, but dropped out due to boredom.

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Henri Matisse in Paris. Photograph by Carl Van Vechten. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Van Vechten Collection, Public Domain.

Alice shares social stories about Matisse and other cubist artists, she spends the holidays in Italy with Stein, then they move to London on the eve of World War I, while Mildred Aldrich is left alone in Paris (1907-1914).

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Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. Courtesy of the Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

Stein and Alice spent the beginning of World War One in London, then left to rescue Gertrude’s writings from Paris. After the war, Paris was different.

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Ernest Hemingway’s 1923 Passport Photo. Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration, Electronic Records Archives Program.

After the war, Gertrude argues with T.S. Eliot, befriends Ernest Hemingway and Sherwood Anderson. Gertrude lectures at Oxford University, parties with other artists, and devises the idea of writing an autobiography.

An Archive of Ribaldries

H.L. Mencken, “Sage of Baltimore,” stylist, editor, newspaperman, and unapologetic critic who would say something far wittier off the cuff than you and I could ever concoct.

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Front Cover. A Menken Chrestomathy by H.L. Mencken. From the Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University. Photograph by Ali Cox.

Mencken’s Chrestomathy boasts “his own selection of his choicest writings” with the alleged motive to make some of his unobtainable, out of print writings, obtainable. With options from an archive of well over five million published words (which Mencken humbly shares on the third page of his preface), one must assume that the selection of works as well as the arrangement into a single volume is indicative of his values, his understanding of his life’s work, and perhaps even his character (though I’m sure this assumption has Mencken rolling in his grave).

“No moral man—that is, moral in the YMCA sense—has ever painted a picture worth looking at, or written a symphony worth hearing, or a book worth reading…”  (H.L. Mencken, “Art and Sex”, Chrestomathy, pg. 61).

If Mencken’s words are even the least bit representative of his personal dogmas, I can safely postulate he was a man who believed in very little (aside from himself, that is) and his goal in life was nothing more than to be remembered, to not be glossed over in the study of literature long after he was covered with dirt. How he was to be remembered, I believe he did with utmost intent, and I believe he succeeded. Full of ribaldry and unapologetic criticism, his publications judge almost every aspect of society, and thus I applaud him for his unprejudiced way of being prejudiced.

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Table of Contents. A Menken Chrestomathy by H.L. Mencken. From the Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University. Photograph by Ali Cox.

If we examine the Table of Contents to Mencken’s Chrestomathy, we see he has ordered his writings categorically into books. Starting with I. Homo Sapiens, he progresses onward through human development to II Types of Men, and then of course, after men comes III Women. He continues onto Book IV, Religion, and then so on and so forth through the critical elements of human society to XX Quackery, XXI The Human Body, and XXII Utopian Flights. Then, toward the end of his volume, he begins to present surprisingly serious works. In the books XXIV Criticism, XXV Literature, and XXVI Literati, we gain a clearer picture of the genius behind the curtain of bigotries, and see Mencken as an unequivocally talented critic. Why he put this specific order together, I can only speculate. It is clearly a forward progression through society, perhaps from what he finds most vulgar to most tolerable. Or, perhaps, he assumed only an intelligent customer would make it to the end of the compilation, where they could appreciate his more serious work. I would put my money on the former.

“Thus I incline to suspect that some of the planets may swarm with life, just as the earth does, and that it is just as useless and obscene as it is here.” (H.L. Mencken, “The Universe”, Chrestomathy, pg. 339).

Perhaps Mencken’s Chrestomathy does precisely what he intended, in that it remains, however offensive and full of ribaldries, in the minds of scholars and students alike as a specimen of some of the greatest critical works, both comic and severe, to be compiled in the same volume.

“I do not believe in democracy, but I am perfectly willing to admit that it provides the only really amusing form of government ever endured by mankind.” (H.L. Mencken, Chrestomathy, viii).

Further Reading:

Mencken Catalog: https://catalyst.library.jhu.edu/multi_search?q=h.+l.+Mencken&search_field=&utf8=✓

The Mencken Society: http://www.mencken.org/wordpress/

H.L. Mencken Internet Archives: https://archive.org/search.php?query=creator%3A%22Mencken%2C+H.+L.+(Henry+Louis)%2C+1880-1956%22

The “Tough Guy” Persona

The Black Mask was launched in the 1920’s by H.L. Mencken and George Nathan; it quickly became a magazine primarily dedicated to crime fiction, although it also published westerns and adventure stories. As an advertising scheme, the covers of the pulp magazine were adorned with images inspired by a key story from the issue. Interestingly, the covers were not illustrated by the authors of the stories, but by an independent illustrator. For example, author Dashiell Hammett had no say in the image depicted on the cover of the March 1930 issue of the Black Mask, even though it featured a substantial excerpt from his new book, The Glass Key. I was able to read The Glass Key before witnessing the Black Mask magazine where it was featured, and thus my reading experience was not influenced by preconceived ideas or expectations introduced by the arresting cover illustration. If a reader saw the cover prior to reading The Glass Key, they might have held certain notions about the text that were subliminally constructed by the cover image. Using the image on the cover of the Black Mask’s March 1930 issue, I will compare it to the text of Hammett’s The Glass Key, and examine the disparities between the illustration and its provocations with the actual text and Dashiell’s descriptions.

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Cover. Black Mask Magazine. March 1930. Courtesy of the Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University. Photograph by Ali Cox.

While the cover certainly garners attention with the sizable illustration of the ‘tough guy’ I assume to be the main character Ned Beaumont (protagonist wouldn’t exactly be an accurate description); the most glaring disparity I detected was how different Ned looked on the cover versus how he was described in the text by Dashiell Hammett. According to the darling Dash, Ned was “tall and lean” with “dark eyes” and a “mustache he twirls”; whereas the cover image depicts a heavily muscled man with light hair and a mustache that seems as though it would be very difficult to twirl. Amusingly, the cover illustration actually strongly resembles Dashiell Hammett himself. I cannot help but wonder if the famous writer of hard-boiled crime fiction inspired the illustrator.

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Portrait of Dashiell Hammett. (Maltese Falcon. Hammett, Dashiell, San Francisco: Arion Press, 1983). Courtesy of the Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University. Photography by Ali Cox.

As for the quote at the bottom of the cover, “NOW YOU AND I WILL TAKE A RIDE,” all caps for emphasis, I can’t recall Ned Beaumont (or anyone in the novel for that matter), taking a ride with anyone. In fact, Ned Beaumont never drove a car. He took quite a few taxicabs throughout the story, but even if he did utter the words, “Now you and I will take a ride” at some point, it was certainly not prominent enough for me to notice. Therefore the cover page is not only misleading in its image, but also in its text. The bold quote paired with the well-dressed man holding a gun gives the impression of Ned as an overtly ‘tough guy’ while my unhindered impression of him was more of a mysterious sleuth, (and unabashed alcoholic) although his ‘toughness’ was certainly present . I wonder what Dashiell might have thought about the cover illustrations; as I think any author would find it frustrating. But at the same time, I can’t resist my inclination to think he would be ‘too cool’ to care, or at the very least, ‘too cool’ to show it.