Wednesday, December 18, 2019

HAMMETT HERALD-TRIBUNE: The Enduring Myth of "Roadhouse Nights"

L.A. Times, Sept. 29, 1929

If you google "Roadhouse Nights," you'll learn that Sally Cline, in her 2014 book, Dashiell Hammett, Man of Mystery, said the film was based on Red Harvest. And you won't learn much else. 

But that piece of misinformation has been kicking around for more than thirty years, and it's time it was put to rest. Back in 1969, in William F. Nolan's Dashiell Hammett, A Casebook, the author noted that the film was "based on" Red Harvest. The quote marks were his, implying that assertion was questionable, but some folks took the statement at face value, and some apparently still believe it.

Richard Layman got it almost right in 1981's Shadow Man, calling it "a totally rewritten version . . . with a screenplay by Garrett Fort based as much on a Ben Hecht story as on Hammett's Novel." (It's the as much part that was misleading.)

Nolan finally explained his "based on" remark in 1983's Hammett: A Life at the Edge, noting: "Afraid of the book's violence and political implications, Paramount insisted on a neatly laundered 'action-comedy.' Garrett Ford was credited with the final screenplay, from Hecht's treatment, and nothing of Hammett's novel remained."

Well, almost nothing. There is a roadhouse in the book. And a rumrunner. And a police chief. But that's it. Any resemblance to the book's storyline was washed away. All the names were changed. There's no detective. The protagonist is a reporter - and if there's a reporter anywhere in the book, I don't remember him.

So to call the movie "based on" (even in quotes), is a wild exaggeration. It would be more correct to say "loosely inspired by a reading of the novel by Ben Hecht," or "the result of Paramount being too gutless to get within sniffing distance of the story." But I guess that would require too much explanation, so I fear many Hammett fans will go to their graves believing this farce was truly "based on" Red Harvest.

Sadly, I have never had an opportunity to see the film, but Walter Albert has, and he reviewed it several years back on Steve Lewis's Mystery*File. You can read that HERE, and peruse the contemporary evidence below.

Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Mar. 16, 1930

Central New Jersey Home News, May 18, 1930

Dayton Herald, Mar. 10, 1930

Ogden Standard-Examiner, Mar. 9, 1930

Baltimore Evening Sun, May 8, 1930

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Feb. 22, 1930

Pittsburgh Press, Feb. 22, 1930

Boston Globe, Feb. 28, 1930

Pittsburgh Press, Feb. 25, 1930

Sedalia Democrat, Mar. 12, 1930


Otis Criblecoblis said...

The film is available on Internet Archive, under the title "The River Inn." I haven't watched it yet, but the cast alone should make it worth seeing (for me, at least).

Todd Mason said...

That Archive link: