October 26, 2016
When you see Gabriel Byrne’s character in Miller’s Crossing carefully getting the two local warlords to go to battle with each other, there is the hand of a long-dead writer of hardboiled detective stories at play. The Coen Brothers have always been fans of Dashiell Hammett; in fact their first movie was named ‘Blood Simple’, that memorable turn of phrase in Hammett’s “Red Harvest” to describe the panicked, jittery, excitable mindset of people who are exposed to continued, senseless violence.
Who was Dashiell Hammett? What was Dashiell Hammett? Perhaps the best way to describe Hammett and his revolution, was to quote the other great writer of hardboiled mysteries, Raymond Chandler.
“Hammett gave murder back to the kind of people that commit it for reasons, not just to provide a corpse; and with the means at hand, not with hand-wrought duelling pistols, curare, and tropical fish. He put these people down on paper as they are, and he made them talk and think in the language they customarily used for these purposes. He had style, but his audience didn’t know it, because it was in a language not supposed to be capable of such refinements…. He is said to have lacked heart, yet the story he thought most of himself is the record of a man’s devotion to a friend. He was spare, frugal, hardboiled, but he did over and over again what only the best writers can ever do at all. He wrote scenes that seemed never to have been written before.”