Samuel Dashiell Hammett (May 27, 1894 January 10, 1961) was a pioneering writer of Hardboiled Detective fiction. His stories were backed up by personal experience; he had been a Pinkerton Detective himself. He left the job after refusing to assassinate a union leader, an event that marked much of his life and politics. He was a Marxist and this, despite his popularity, led to him being a victim of the blacklists.
Hammett's first major character was The Continental Op, an anonymous operative of the Continental Detective Agency, who first appeared in print in 1923 and went on to feature in over 30 stories and two novels, Red Harvest and The Dain Curse. Red Harvest is thought to have been an influence on Akira Kurosawa's film Yojimbo, and combined with The Glass Key is a heavy influence on the Coen Brothers' noir film Miller's Crossing. The Coen Brothers also named their film debut Blood Simple, after an expression coined in Red Harvest; the phrase refers to the addled, fearful mindset people are in after a prolonged immersion in violent situations.
Hammett's third novel, The Maltese Falcon, introduced the world to prototypical private eye Sam Spade, and is perhaps his single most famous work, though many people know it only via the 1941 film version starring Humphrey Bogart, which is one of the defining examples of Film Noir.
His fourth novel, The Glass Key, was adapted for film several times, is another influence on Kurosawa and the Coens, and has a crime fiction award named after it.note
Interestingly, he also teamed up with Flash Gordon artist Alex Raymond on a newspaper comic called Secret Agent X-9; while it was not a success for him (he left after the first year), it carried on with other writers and artists until 1996.
In 1982, the German director Wim Wenders made a Biography à Clef Hammett (produced by Francis Ford Coppola) which casts the author in a mystery that ends up a pastiche of his most famous stories, as an Homage to the man.
Works by Dashiell Hammett with their own trope pages include:
Other works by Dashiell Hammett provide examples of:
- Anti-Hero: Sam Spade is generally the Pragmatic type; the Continental Op comes close to Unscrupulous at times (especially in Red Harvest).
- Blown Across the Room: Though Hammett worked as a Pinkerton Detective and had firearms training from his military service, he happily embraced this trope for dramatic effect.
- Cane Fu: Steve Threefall, the protagonist of "Nightmare Town", always carries a straight cane, weighted at both ends, and uses it to defend himself multiple times, with great effect.
- Femme Fatale/The Vamp: Several of each over various stories.
- A Fistful of Rehashes: Red Harvest and The Glass Key
- Gambit Pileup: Hammett loved double, triple, and higher multiple crosses— see Red Harvest, "Nightmare Town", "The Whosis Kid", "The Big Knockover" and its sequel, "$106,000 Blood Money".
- Hardboiled Detective: One of the Trope Codifiers.
- Outlaw Town: "Nightmare Town" and Red Harvest.
- Private Detective: some of his detectives didn't quite fit the hardboiled category.
- Private Military Contractors: A lesser known aspect of Hammett, especially in Red Harvest, is that he emphasizes the role of Pinkerton agents and law enforcement as serving just like this for the wealthy classes.
- Punched Across the Room: Also shows up from time to time.
- Self-Plagiarism: Some have noted that The Maltese Falcon in particular draws on ideas from some of Hammett's previous works.
- Stealth Parody: Hammett wrote the novella Nightmare Town in response to the two-fisted non-stop violence that he saw pervading the genre of detective fiction. It opens with a woman almost being run over and ends with an entire city exploding in flames. He may have failed because, while it is no where near the quality of his usual work, Nightmare Town is gorgeously written and certainly a cut above the works he was lampooning.
- Survival Mantra: In The Glass Key, Ned Beaumont has, "I can take whatever I've got to take."
- Town with a Dark Secret: "Nightmare Town" seems like a weird town where people act strange, there seem to be more houses than people, and the guy running the town is openly threatened by his son. The secret is that it's run by, and for, murderers and thieves, and the protagonist happens to get there a few days before the place is burned down for the insurance money. It's one of the few examples where the secret isn't supernatural, and yet still manages to be just as nightmarish. Only a handful of people don't know the secret.
- Twilight of the Old West/New Old West: "The Man Who Killed Dan Odams" is a Hammett short story that carries the conventions of The Western into the Twentieth Century. "Nightmare Town" and "Red Harvest" both have Western aspects, and the latter inspired the outright Western film A Fistful of Dollars. The Continental Op story "Corkscrew" is also a good example.