Picks and Pans Review: Hammett

UPDATED 06/13/1983 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 06/13/1983 at 01:00 AM EDT

No, this isn't a biography of (Samuel) Dashiell Hammett, one of the founding fathers of the hard-boiled detective novel. This film, set in San Francisco in 1928, is rather along the lines of Michael Apted's Agatha, which starred Dustin Hoffman and Vanessa Redgrave in a tale extrapolated from the life of Agatha Christie. Frederic (The Rose) Forrest, fedora atilt and cigarette dangling insouciantly from his lips, plays Hammett. At the request of an old Pinkerton colleague (Hammett actually worked for the detective agency for a few months), Forrest goes off in search of a young woman, prowling the claustrophobic, cacophonous streets of Chinatown, looking world-weary and talking in machine-gun bursts. En route, he and pal Marilu (Taxi) Henner encounter Peter Boyle, Lydia (Doctor Detroit) Lei and even Elisha Cook Jr.—Wilmer the "gunsel" in the movie version of the real Hammett's Maltese Falcon. Francis Ford Coppola was the film's executive producer; its director was German New Waver Wim (Kings of the Road) Wenders, who, with the help of production designer Dean Tavoularis, provides the film with a wealth of atmosphere. The surprises and quadruple-crosses are snappily handled, and the acting is appropriately stylized. Hammett himself, who eventually all but forsook writing to serve as Lillian Hellman's mentor, probably had little in common with the character created by Forrest—though his stories certainly did. (PG)

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