Hammett: “One Hour”

Guest Blogger Terry Zobeck returns with another look into the edits made by Fred Dannay, and this time finds that the blue pencil smote lightly back in 1944! Plus he discovers yet another “pure text” Hammett story available in a modern edition, figuring one of the editors must have had access to Black Mask — my guess is that they took the text of “One Hour” from its appearance in The Pulps (1970) by Tony Goodstone, a standard collection everyone had in a home library at one point in time. Thinking about it, that appearance of “One Hour” might have been the first “pure text” treatment of any of the Op tales in modern times (if 41 years ago still can be considered “modern”).

And while I agree that “One Hour” is fairly minor compared to such Op extravaganzas as “The Gutting of Couffignal,” I always liked it because it shows Hammett displaying his significant chops as a mystery writer, setting the scenario up so that the whole shebang takes place in just one hour — a nice little tour de force. Here’s Terry:

In an earlier post, I indicated that the 1999 collection Nightmare Town, edited by McCauley, Greenberg, and Gorman, did not use the original texts of Hammett’s stories. While for the majority of the contents this statement remains accurate, it is not for “One Hour.” Apparently one of the editors had that issue of Black Mask.

I was surprised to find that Nightmare Town is a curious mixture of original and Dannay-edited texts — the editors make no statement about the source of the texts. At least five other stories rely upon Dannay’s edited versions: “The Second Story Angel,” “The Man Who Killed Dan Odams,” “Women, Politics and Murder,” “Bodies Piled Up,” and “Mike, Alec or Rufus” — the latter three use Dannay’s re-titles of “Death on Pine Street,” “House Dick,” and “Tom, Dick or Harry,” respectively.  There may be other stories in this collection that use the original texts — after I’ve reviewed “Ruffian’s Wife,” “A Man Called Spade,” “Too Many Have Lived,” “They Can Only Hang You Once,” and “His Brother’s Keeper” I’ll let you know.

“One Hour” was originally published in the April 1, 1924 issue of Black Mask. When Dannay reprinted it in the May 1944 issue of Ellery Queen — and collected it the following year in The Return of the Continental Op —he made very few edits. The only changes were dropping the three chapter numberings, a splitting in two of a single paragraph, and deleting characterization of speech by some employees of a business being investigated by the Op as being “red” — surely a concession to the times.

While “One Hour” is one of the weakest of the Op stories, there are two things I like about it: 1) a couple of observations indicate the Op knows what he’s talking about, especially his comment “a gun isn’t a thing of miracles. It’s a mechanical contraption that is capable of just so much and no more.” And 2) the description of the Op’s predicament facing down five bad guys in a small room and the beating he takes. Even with the least of Hammett, there is something of interest.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about this story is the editor’s notice that appears at the end of the story:

“The paintings from which the cover of any issue of The Black Mask is made will be sold to the highest bidder. Bids of less than $10.00 will, however, be rejected. All bids for covers prior to this time must be received by May 31st; and all bids for covers published hereafter must be received within 30 days after the date of issue (i.e., bids for May cover by June 1st, etc.). No printing of any kind appears on these original paintings; they make ideal pictures for your den or living room.”

Imagine acquiring a collection of original Black Mask cover art for a few hundred dollars — or less! I wonder what the response to this notice was and how much of this art still exists today.

Next up: “Ruffian’s Wife.”

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