Hammett: The Sam Spade Stories

Frequent Guest Blogger Terry Zobeck returns, to survey the three short stories featuring Sam Spade that Hammett sold to the slicks in 1932. I echo his opinions on these tales — compared to the best of the Op yarns, the Spade stories don’t have much going for them, except the presence of the archetypal Private Eye. One of the questions hovering over this set is why Frederic Dannay would edit with such a light hand — Don’t Tread on Uncle Sam! — but beat the hell out of a story such as “Death and Company.” Here’s Terry:

Among Hammett’s short stories, perhaps none are more disappointing than the three featuring Sam Spade: “A Man Called Spade” (American Magazine July 1932), “Too Many Have Lived” (American Magazine October 1932), and “They Can Only Hang You Once” (Collier’s November 19, 1932). Spade’s adventure in The Maltese Falcon is such a masterpiece that any subsequent appearance must surely pale in comparison. That these three stories are weakly plotted and indifferently written doesn’t help (“They Can Only Hang You Once” borrows its plot from an early Op story, “Night Shots” — it didn’t work any better then).

However, because they feature Sam Spade they are better known than many of Hammett’s other short fiction. They were among the first of Hammett’s stories to be reprinted by Dannay: “Too Many Have Lived” in the premiere issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine (Fall 1941) and “They Can Only Hang You Once” in the March 1943 issue. All three were collected in The Adventures of Sam Spade & Other Stories (1945) and most recently in Nightmare Town (1999 — the editors relied on Dannay’s versions). It is a little curious that he did not first reprint “A Man Called Spade” in EQMM.

In reprinting the stories, Dannay exercised a light but odd blue pencil. No edits were made to “A Man Called Spade,” only one to “They Can Only Hang You Once,” and a handful to “Too Many Have Lived” — all at the conclusion of the story as Spade explains the crime and identifies the culprit.

I compared the texts of the original magazine appearances with those included in The Adventures of Sam Spade; all page numbers refer to that collection. The corrections listed below follow my now usual practice of page number, line number, whether it is from the top or bottom, and the relevant text; those portions that are underlined are Hammett’s original text which was deleted by Dannay.

Page no.    Line #     Top/bottom     Text

“Too Many Have Lived”

22              7             top                   for wanting Eli dead.  Seventh — but do I have to go on like this all day? You get the idea.

22              12           top                   took the borrowed gun away from him, maybe waited a little longer until the streets were empty,

22              16           top                   tossed the gun in the water, and came home —.  Then he got these mugsnote and had to come down to see what they had on him and whether —

22              8             bottom            and then by yourself.  There’s a lot of old-time carnival men still alive, and you know how they remember other old-timers.

“They Can Only Hang You Once”

28              17           bottom            and went away, shutting the door.

Next time out we’ll see what Dannay did with Hammett’s “Albert Pastor at Home.”

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