Dashiell Hammett’s ground-breaking 1930 detective novel “The Maltese Falcon” is often credited as being the seminal novel in the hard-boiled detective genre. In addition to being a major influence on pulp detective literature, it spawned what is arguably the greatest private eye film ever made in John Huston‘s 1941 Academy Award nominated adaptation of the same name — starring Humphrey Bogart, in his first A-List role for Warner Bros., as Sam Spade; the sardonic, smooth-talking P.I. with his own personal code of ethics. Spade refuses to be the pawn in a dizzying plot involving a trio of criminals (the fat man, the Levantine, and the deceitful femme fatale), the police, a clingy widow, and a priceless black enameled bird statuette. Hammett’s story had been filmed twice before Huston’s 1941 masterpiece; once as a pre-code production in 1931, and again in 1936 as a lighter comedic picture starring Bette Davis called Satan Met A Lady. I will focus on the 1941 Best Picture nominee, since I have not seen the other two versions as of this writing, and their reputations are far from rivaling that of the Bogey film seeing as few people are even aware of their existence.
“Le Carre’s Panama – the young country of 2.5 million souls which, on December 31, 1999, will gain full control of the Panama Canal – is a Casablanca without heroes, a hotbed of drugs, laundered money and corruption.”
This is how the inside dust jacket of John le Carre’s The Tailor of Panama introduces us to the spy yarn. It’s a seedy world, not meant to titillate so much as to intimidate. A brief history lesson for those who may be unfamiliar with the story of the Canal might be in order. Prior to the completion of the Panama Canal (which opened for business in 1914), any vessel wishing to traverse from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific had to circumnavigate all of South America. The chance to traverse through a canal in Central America held great appeal for obvious reasons. The United States considered a canal route in Nicaragua, but after the French abandoned their efforts in Panama, it was decided to pay $40 million to purchase their leftover work and equipment and pursue the completion of the Panama Canal. Read the rest of this entry »
A common thread that runs through all of Bret Easton Ellis’ books is the exploration of hollow persons. People who are generally well-off financially yet dead on the inside, so numb to the world around them that even acts of horrific violence and depravity can’t faze them more than momentarily. Ellis has populated his stories with these characters, often set in the 1980s to satirize the excessiveness of the time period. While reading all the books back-to-back is probably not recommended, the author manages to find enough variety and different themes to explore to make them all have some value. If he seems one-note, one does not look closely enough. Read the rest of this entry »
“THE SCENT and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning. Then the soul-erosion produced by high gambling – a compost of greed and fear and nervous tension – becomes unbearable, and the senses awake and revolt from it.”
This is how Ian Fleming introduced us to the world of James Bond in his 1953 debut novel, Casino Royale. We learn throughout the novel of Bond’s background; he served as a naval intelligence officer during World War II where he proved himself more than capable. Fleming explains the basic machinations of MI-6, embellished of course with lots of cloak and dagger stuff borne of his own imagination. Read the rest of this entry »
There is perhaps no one better at writing about the contemporary “average Joe” than the English born Nick Hornby. This could very well be one of the reasons that his novels adapt so well to the screen. We see characters that remind us of both people we know and ourselves, and we become enthralled by their stories. We want them to find happiness, we want them to achieve some measure of their dreams, and we want them to grow emotionally as people. If they can do it, then there’s no reason we can’t as well.