Friday, May 29, 2020

WATCH IT HERE! Forgotten Books on Film: WOMAN IN THE DARK by Dashiell Hammett (1934)

"Woman in the Dark," the novella, appeared as a three-part serial in Liberty Magazine, beginning Apr. 8, 1933. It's about a German "strumpet" who comes to the U.S. with a wealthy asshole, then tries to leave him. The male lead is a just a few months of prison, whose trying to get reacquainted with freedom. He was in for swatting down a guy who needed it, but who had powerful friends.

That's what the movie is about, too, except that the strumpet is now an American singer, and the rich guy (marginally less an asshole) was "investing" in her singing career, which bombed. 

The film, all but forgotten today, was made in the wake of the first Thin Man movie. THE THIN MAN was such a success that it made Hammett a hot property in Hollywood, resulting in MR. DYNAMITE (based on an original screen story by Hammett), THE GLASS KEY starring George Raft, and SATAN MET A LADY, a cockeyed adaptation of The Maltese Falcon. And this one, WOMAN IN THE DARK.

When I started my Hammett collection, the original story had been reprinted only once, as the title feature of a 1951 Mercury digest collection. And when I first read it, I had no idea it (and dang near every other story in those digests and mapbacks) had been severely edited, probably by EQMM guy Frederic Dannay. (This despite the fact that all those books claimed to be "complete and unabridged.")

The full version was finally reprinted in hardcover in 1988, and now appears in the 2001 Library of America volume Crime Stories and Other Writings, where I read it the other day. Then I watched the movie.

I was surprised. I haven't seen many films that lifted more dialogue directly from the original work. Some scenes are almost word-for-word.

Because this one was adapted from a novella instead of a novel, they didn't have to condense the action. They not only used all the scenes from the Hammett story, but they added new ones to fill up more screen time. Most of those extra scenes are based on things alluded to, but not actually seen in the story. 

The only story character missing from the film is a reporter who makes a brief appearance in the hotel restaurant scene. In the movie, his role is filled by the hero's pal Logan. 

There are also a couple of bits added for comic relief, which I'd call a good thing. There was certainly none in the Hammett story. 

For no apparent reason, most of the character names have been changed. The "woman," Luise Fletcher in the book, is Louise Loring. The male lead Brazil is now called John Bradley. 

The end result, of course, still leaves much to be desired. But truth to tell, the story itself is one of Hammett's lesser efforts. Ralph Bellamy's portrayal of Brazil/John Bradley rings true. Fay Wray as the Woman could have been a little more hardboiled, but it would have made her less likable, so I guess that was a tradeoff. 

The version you'll see here, you'll note, has been retitled WOMAN IN THE SHADOWS, possibly for television, and possibly to avoid confusion with the unrelated 1952 film that stole the name. 

Yesterday I posted newspaper articles about - and ads for - the film from 1934 and '35. That's HERE

You can read Hammett's unabridged story, including an Intro by Robert B. Parker, HERE.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

HAMMETT HERALD-TRIBUNE: Woman in the Dark - the Movie (1934-35_

Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph, July 6, 1934

 Kokomo Tribune, Nov. 16, 1934

Cincinnati Enquierer, Dec. 15, 1934

Nashville Banner, Dec. 27, 1934

Missouri Herald, Jan. 11, 1935

Allentown Morning Call, Jan. 29.1935

Allentown Morning Call, Mar. 14, 1935

Oakland Tribune, Apr. 11, 1935

Deadwood Pioneer, Apr. 17, 1935

Edmonton Journal, May 20, 1935 

Tomorrow: Come on back! Like it or not, I'll be showing the movie.