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Directed by Wim Wenders
Running time 97 minutes
Hammett, Wim Wenders’ first English language film (at least in production terms, The State Of Things which was based on Wenders's initial experiences with the making of Hammett was released before it) is a disappointing affair, a film so hollow (literally so) as to appear like some kind of simulacrum of the real thing.
How much of this was Wenders fault or intention is another matter. Apparently it was nearly completed by when the production shut down due to arguments over how to end it. When it resumed over a year later much of the film was reshot and some of the cast changed. One suspects that the hand of executive producer Francis Ford Coppola had much to do with the finished result as the stylistic artificiality of the film has much in common with Coppola’s One From The Heart which came out the same year. Although that film was a massive financial and critical flop, in the setting of Las Vegas the artificiality worked. With Hammett it does not.
Frederic Forrest (who starred in One From The Heart) plays Dashiell Hammett, a former detective with the Pinkerton agency who has turned his hand to writing penny dreadful based on his experiences. One day a former colleague, Jimmy Ryan (Peter Boyle) asks him to help him find a missing Asian girl who had been sold into the sex trade, Crystal Ling (Lydia Lei) and they head down to Chinatown...
As a murder mystery the film is never remotely convincing, looking as if it was made on a sound stage designed to reproduce the look of 1940s noir film. This imitative sensibility means that one never engages with the story as such but as a kind of smart in-joke about the interface between fact and fiction (30s/40s staple Elisha Cook Jr who was in the John Huston classic adaptation of The Maltese Falcon appears here as Hammett’s cab driver Eli, Roy Kinnear does a Sidney Greenstreet and so on) – the film doesn’t really have enough to trade on.
Hammett is watchable but largely because one hopes that something will come of it. It never does.