Hammett: Two New Collections On the Way

Our peripatetic Guest Blogger Terry Zobeck roams the mean streets looking for news, when he’s not laired up pulling pure Hammett texts out of moldering pulp magazines. Here’s Terry:

Last month I was in St. Louis for Bouchercon — the World Mystery Convention. While going through the book room I ran into Otto Penzler, editor, publisher, and proprietor of the Mysterious Bookshop in New York City. I stopped to chat with him and thanked him for including the original serialized version of The Maltese Falcon in The Black Lizard Big Book of Black Mask Stories, which he edited last year. Hammett made substantial revisions to the serialized version of the story for its publication by Knopf, so it was nice to get the original version.

Otto then told me that he had just obtained the rights to publish two new collections of Hammett’s work. The first will be a collection of the (mostly) previously unpublished short stories archived among Hammett’s papers at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of
Texas, Austin. Otto previously published the story “Faith” in his 2007 anthology Pulp
Fiction: The Villains
, and The Strand Magazine published “So I Shot Him” earlier this year. This volume is tentatively scheduled to appear about a year from now.

The second volume is a collection of three screen stories Hammett wrote in the 1930s when he was working in Hollywood. A screen story is the plot line upon which the screenplay is based.

The first story is On the Make, originally written for and rejected by Warner Bros. but eventually filmed by Universal as Mr. Dynamite (1935). This story featured
prominently in Hammett’s legal tussles with Warner Bros. over the rights to the
character Sam Spade. Hammett, in his deposition, claimed he wrote a screen story (On the Make) in 1931 for Warner Bros. featuring Spade. In Warner Bros.’ deposition, they correctly note that the story does not include the character of Sam Spade. They further note that Hammett submitted two versions of the story, both of which were appended
to their deposition (my copy of the deposition does not include either version of the story). Several years ago, I bought a photocopy of On the Make; the version of the story I have appears to be the second draft based upon the page count (90 pages) noted in Warner’s deposition.

Hammett lost the first two rounds of the suit, but eventually won following the suit that Warner Bros. brought against CBS radio and Hammett over the broadcast of the radio serial The Adventures of Sam Spade. The decision became landmark copyright law, establishing an author’s rights to a serial character unless these rights are specifically transferred to another party.

The other two screen stories formed the basis for the second and third Thin Man movies. The first of these, After the Thin Man, was published in two parts in The New Black Mask (numbers 5 and 6, 1986), the paperback quarterly edited by Richard Layman and Matthew
Bruccoli. According to Layman’s introduction, it is Hammett’s second draft, following a 34-page summary that formed the basis of the first draft of the screenplay (by Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich). Hammett then revised his story based upon that screenplay. The second screen story was for the film Another Thin Man. This story has never been previously published.

Thanks to Otto, Hammett fans will soon have two more volumes of Hammett’s writings to enjoy.



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